There we go!

There we go!
Pushing the Nitro Button

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

The Trials of a Mountain Snail - 2012 Holiday in the Ardeche Southern France

Privileged, that’s how I feel, privileged. Caught in a tricky situation with running shoes but in crazy conditions, 25C min at 7 am, I decided to borrow an old mountain bike and explore! My first forays into the local French countryside included a trip off to the local town, just a quick 12km loop, and a trip up to the top of the Dolmens, a series of Neolithic burial chambers. Lovely as these were they weren’t really going to pull me out of bed at 6am. Then, after just a few days, I saw something that inspired me.
Here is what I saw -

The flat top of the hill in the center of this shot is quite intimidating. It stands like a beacon above the landscape. At just over 1100ft it challenges everyone around to come and see if they have the bottle to take it on. I was hooked! Looking through the bikes in the garage there was not a lot of choice. All mountain bikes and only 1 was big enough for me to get a proper pedal stroke in. So off I went on mega- knobbly tires, and some lovely gearing, just to see what I could do!
First time I approached the hill, 4 days after we’d arrived in France, I had no idea what to expect. Unfortunately, I didn’t managed to take any pics of the route but suffice to say 10% av gradient over the first 1.7 miles then  12% up the final half mile.  This final half mile section was completely unprotected. The path was about 10ft across, gravel, with NO barrier on the side. 1000ft drop is never a prospect I’ve looked forward to but this was just silly!! I decided that that would be the last time I went to the very top of the climb! This first effort was in the region of 20mins, from bottom to very top. HR was not a factor and I had no pretensions that this would be a test of any sort. That was still to come J
The decent off Samson was a process of braking hard and lots of turns. The smell of burning brake pad would become a familiar note by the end of the holiday.
After this ride I was sooo excited – like a young lad at Christmas! You know, the one who actually gets what he wanted rather than the real one J
The following day I was back for more!! The profile of this climb is a beautiful gradual slope (10% av) from the main road right to the car park next to the Chapel. A rise of just under 900ft in 1.7 miles.  The task was set. Earlier in the year I had set myself a task of attacking my local hill, the Little Orme, and thereby increasing my leg strength. This short climb, just 400m, had a climb of 140ft. Quite a challenge, and just 11% grade. My times had dropped from over 110 sec to just over 70 sec during the 2 months I had done these intervals.
 I had a new task – the challenge was to break 14 mins for this climb. While in France I had no idea how long or how much climbing was involved. All my watch would tell me was my time and HR data. I did have my footpod, but that was only useful for running so it was just me, the bike and the watch against the mountain. The only problem I was having was that after the climb, just over 14 mins, I had to decend the hill for recovery. At the bottom of the hill it was just tooooo tempting, and I was fully recovered  – so I did it again J The first day I did the climb 3 times. My average time up the hill was 14 min 40 sec. avHR 140. The following days saw more action up the hill, dotted with a few runs and a one notable TT (J) ride off to Ruoms to pick up some money. You’d be surprised how quick 18mph feels on a big old mountain bike when the timer is set Most of my other rides were with the family, or sometimes just with the wife. Her riding on the bike has been nothing short of amazing!! When we did our rides as a family she was always out front keeping the pace up. Brilliant stuff in mega hot conditions (35-40C) I’m seriously hoping she’ll keep it going when were back home.
After first triple session I was back for more. The next day saw a nice improvement, times of 14 min 14 sec, 13 min 57 sec and 15min 32 sec. After descending for the final time I was just riding back home when I was buzzed by a “proper” biker in full works kit and a “proper” bendy carbon bike!  He flew past me like I was doing 15 mph, which I probably was! I was so keyed up from the climbing I decided to chase him and see what happened. Into top gear and PUSH! I managed to catch him after about half a mile and pulled into his draft. I was pretty sure he hadn’t spotted me so I sat up and took a drink . Drafting is one of the greatest pleasures I know. Especially when they don’t know you’re there J We felt like we were doing 19-20mph and I had almost completely recovered from my effort when I noticed the sign post for my turn coming up in 500m. I decided that what Cav can do  so can I, so I put it back into top and pulled out to overtake him. The look on his face is still with me 3 weeks later J A look of WHAT THE HELL combined with OOOPS As I past him I just said “Merci” and gave him a thumbs up. I must have been a right sight TTing past him on a steel framed old mountain bike! I’m sure it was the shock that did for him as I wound up and pulled past. I looked back briefly just before my turn and he was still shaking his head J
I decided to take a bit of a break from the hills, just for a few days, just to see if I could re-charge and really make a breakthrough.  So 2 day later I was back at the bottom of the climb looking for some action. My first attempt was more like it! 13 min 22 sec was a very hard effort but a proper achievement. The next 3 efforts, yes 3 more, came in at 13.51, 14.00 and 13.44 giving a nice average time of 13 min 44 sec across all 4 climbs.
I gave it another day to recover, just a few family rides, then it was back on on the 6th August.
The day before I had had no energy so I was a little concerned that I might have been doing too many climbs J I went out nice and easy and felt fine when I got to the bottom of the hill. I ended up doing 3 attempts of 13.28,13.27 and 14.09. The final climb I was buzzed by a mountain goat, who I tried to keep up with, an blow completely L Still a nice average of 13.41 for the 3 so still on the upward trend. The day before we left was going to be my final attempt on the mountain. I knew I’d miss it as I don’t have access to anything like this in my part of the UK.
A shot from the Top of Samson

So, fully rested, I set out very easy to give it everything I had. If I could break 13 min then THAT would be an achievement. I got to the bottom of the mountain in good time, and just went all out. I had a few time points along the way where I knew I would have to be in order to really break my record. Everything was going great and I sensed that going under 13 min was on the cards. As I pulled into the top section of the climb I let my HR go above 150 and just went for it!! I crossed the line in 12 min 44 sec! Then a quick recovery saw me coming back up and doing a t 13.05 effort. As I descended off this climb I had seem a few “proper” bikers coming up the hill. Some nice target practice to pull me up J My final effort was a solid but not amazing 13 min and 22 sec giving an average time for all 3 efforts of 13 min and 4 sec!! I will return.
All in all this trip was a complete surprise. I was planning on running and doing core work. Both running AND core work were completely out of the question as the weather was so hot you were sweating just thinking about them!  The reason the bike was such a great option was probably due to the cooling effect of the wind, something which was never going to be an issue for me as I don’t run that fast J
I am delighted I got the opportunity to do all this climbing and I’m now looking forward to getting into the hills on some of my rides at home!

My Sturdy Stallion

I  would love to go back even if it is just to see the scenery. I would hope to take my own bike as the one I used did take a little getting used to and wasn’t as light as my bike. Still a great holiday and a fabulous place to ride your bike!!  If you get the chance – TAKE IT!!

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