Friday, 28 September 2012

l'etape & Sportives by Phil Sinclair (guest blog post)

This is the first of a couple of guest blog posts from Phil Sinclair who I met via the wonder that is social media and the internet (the internet, its a marvelous thing, without it I wouldn't be writing this and you wouldn't be reading it!) 

In Phils own words he is a "IT Strategist, Process Consultant, IT Quality and Regulatory Affairs Specialist. Author, chef and occasional blogist"

Again in Phils own words he is also a "Lover of all things beautiful: fine cuisine, fine wines and cycling related, especially my bike!"
Phil has competed in many major Sportives including multiple l'etapes over the last nine years or so. 
Phil Sinclair competing in l'etape
I contacted Phil some months ago with a view to obtaining some insight into what l'etape is actually like to compete in and to hopefully benefit from Phil's experience of competing in multiple l'etape's and other major Sportive events. The upshot of a few exchanged e mails was Phil's kind offer to write a few words for the Velo Pixie blog. (Anyone who has undertaken to keep a regular blog will understand why offering to write material for somebody elses blog is such a kind thing to do - Its never easy finding the time to write material for one blog, never mind writing material for somebody elses!)
Phils own blog can be found at Phils blog   
Phil can also be contacted on Twitter @swisssinclair
Anyway, enough of me introducing you to Phil, lets move on to his first guest blog post which is his thoughts on training for cycling endurance events, sportives and more of his personal history with cycling.

What's involved in L'etape, sportives and training for cycle endurance events?
First. You need to decide what you,
A) Can do.
B) Are prepared to do.
Having said that. What type of thing do you want to do?
Challenge yourself to the maximum, full on professionally assissted coaching programme, maybe you fancy a belend of longer distance riding and lots of climbing, tourist type riding, Stop a little, not to fast, Blah, Blah. Stop for tea and cakes (or stronger)! Maybe a holiday training camp?

What are you good at? What do you want to improve?
  • Climbing
  • Flat and fast
  • Time Trialing
  • Gentle hills
  • Descending
  • Group riding
  • Very mixed
Given that, you need to look for the type of event that fits this needs. This is of course the non scientific approach!

You may wish to consider joining your local club, as they are full of good ideas, support and good for networking. The downside is that you may encounter some older folks who could be a bit stuck with how the cycle world used to be, and hate Sportives (which are not races to them)! I would still recommend it regardless. Be sure to find the club that has the same interest. Cycle tourism, Audax (very long rides), Time Trialing, etc all have their different clubs and proponents.
So now, some history. I restarted cycling about ten years ago. I was previously a heavy smoker, and drank probably a bit more than was healthy. In 1998 I stopped smoking. In 2000, I decided not to drink anything stronger than wine. By 2001 I realized that I suddenly had no problems getting up staircases. Although previously, I never realized I had a problem. I swam all my life, and am a qualified diving instructor. So was always reasonably fit.
I bought a Scott road bike, and didn’t even know how to change the gears! Locally, there was a 80 mile tourist ride (randonée), every September. About three months away. Gulp. I could even get up the road for more than 30 miles, and certainly not up the mountain! I tried three times in a week to get up the same mountain that the randonée used and failed miserably. It was at this point I realised that I had a real challenge, and had to break it down in to easy steps.
From this point on I set myself training goals. Always little steps, always a bit of a challenge. That mountain was twelve kilometers of climbing. I broke it down into four three kilometer stretches, allowing myself to stop, just for a little breather after every three kilometers. Then my next challenge was to do that mountain, plus it’s smaller neighbor. Then I got really carried away … I wanted to descend faster, and do some sportives. Then I got a masters licence… and and and.
What is the point of this? Just decide what you want to do. Then work out a way to make it easier for you to achieve your objectives. Keep records though of what you do. (I keep all my Garmin data going back to 2007).
There are many good training books. I have a few, and they are always good as they provoke thoughts and ideas. However, I prefer to be less scientific. I want to enjoy my cycling and I am never going to win a race at my age. Having said that, I do have a complete training plan, which I don’t really follow. Focused on improving my weaknesses, and maintain my strengths. I will do two stages of the TDF next month (L’Ètapes) and need to be fit for those. I am happy with personal bests, and in fact managed three of those today.


One thing I always enjoy every year, is cycle training camps. With or without club friends. This year I have been twice to Mallorca to a cycling specific hotel (Czech national team use it), organized by an old English ex-pro. Have made many cycling friends, and it is always fun to share ideas and listen to others. Even the old luddites! We mostly watched the classics in a dutch bar, where I am now an honorary Dutch (think that could be an insult)!
Bottom line. Give yourself a target. Then work out what you need to do to get there. Make it sufficiently challenging. Give yourself little rewards for achieving certain things. Regardless, enjoy yourself. Think about joing the BCF and a club.
The issue of sportives, for some is sensitive. Especially in the UK where older riders do not see them as races. More as touring rides, (randonées) as they are unlicensed and not normally on closed roads. There also exists Audax rides for which the challenge is long or ultra-long distances. Recently there has been a huge upsurge in the popularity of sportives.
MHO sportives are very definitely races, with a timed start and a timed finish. With winers in different categories and non financial prizes. Depending on the country, and laws you may need a licence (or day licence bought at registration), a medical certificate and third party and personal insurance. Normally sportives offer up to three routes of different lengths and difficulties.
In the early 2000’s the UCI, under their sport for all program, involved themselves in, regulated and labelled a number of international sportives as ‘UCI Golden Bike Races’. These principally included:
  • Cape Argus Pick n’Pay - South Aprica
  • Ronde van Valanderen (Tour of Flanders) - Belgium
  • Amstel Gold - Netherlands
  • Felice Gimondi - Italy
  • Quebrantahuesos - Spain
  • Ariegeoise - France
  • Pascal Richard (now La Gruyère) - Switzerland
  • Röthaus Riderman Bad Durheim - Germany
The were also two sportives in Canada (Montréal and Quebec), these were dropped from the calendar early on.
I first rode the Pascal Richard, and thought I would die. 155 kilometres, four big mountains and over 3,000 metres of climbing. I was actually in tears when I finished. I was completely biten by the sportive bug. In fact I had it so badly, I rode all of the above sportives, plus others, in under twelve months, two years afterwards.


Sportives may not be for the feint hearted. They can be dangerous. Just like the pros, there are many accidents. People get injured. Starts are often the most dangerous places. Often frenetic with people vying for road position and trying to get near the front. Ripping the road up through a town with all the road furniture in abundance. This for the pros would be the neutral zone, not for the sportive!
One of the first things you have to learn in non-verbal communication: Hand signals. Warning others, who will be blind sited, where holes, bumps, parked cars, railway lines, sleeping policeman, roundabouts and roads narrow. Crucially slowing down and stopping, for obstacles and junctions.

Next learning how to ride in a bunch. Etiquette. A bunch has a certain speed and it wants to stick to it. Riding of the front (soft tapping), slowly increasing the speed is frowned upon. If you want to go faster, then you ride clearly off the front. Then others can decide if they want to chase you. If you want to go back, move of the front, flick your elbow up, then move towards the centre, to the crown of the road. This way the bunch knows to pass inside you.
You ride as close as possible to the wheel in front. In this way you benefit from the slipstream effect, and reduce your energy expenditure by up to 30%. Riding next to other riders less than inches away can be very disconcerting. If you feel a rider is to close, placing a gentle and friendly hand on their shoulder and just gently nudging them a way is ok. This way you probably end up talking to them and find a friend for awhile.
Mountainous sportives for the grimpeurs, are very different from flat sportives for the rouleurs. For both you need to learn new skills. I am really not a grimpeur, physically I should be, physiologically I am not. One of my best friends and I compared heart beats cycling up the Col du Soler in the Pyrenees. He had 135 bpm, and taking it easy. I had 165 bpm, and was approaching my lactate threshold. Physically this meant I was not going to go much faster, and was burning a lot energy. I have learnt to take it easier uphill to save energy for later.


We both descent, very fast. I learnt this skill to make up for my climbing deficiencies. I also used to be a GP motorbike test rider, and find high speed cornering fun. It is important to get the breaking, breaking modulation and the lines right. I have seen people crash much slower and getting it wrong. You have to read the road as well. In 2012 Etape act I, from Albertville to La Toussuire, I made up 800 places on the descents. Unfortunately I lost 1200 place on the climbs!
Back on the flat, my friend and I compared heart beats again, he had 165 bpm, I had 125 bpm. We were doing over 55 kph and a faux plat downhill. He told me that I was killing him. Payback time! Clearly a physiological difference. I also ride the track in the winter, so muscle structures are going to be different.
For a flat ride, you would be surprised at the speed you can maintain. I did the Hamburg Vattenfäll Cyclassic for 120 kms we were averaging 42.6 kph, the same speed as Alessandro Ballan who won the pro race that year. However, we hit a rain storm and slowed, finishing with an average of 40.6. I finished 223 out of 20,000 starters, and was dead chuffed. On a flat race, as happened to me in this years Tour du Lac Léman, someone nearly crashed in front of me, we lost contact with our peloton, despite chasing at over 52 kph on a slight uphill climb, we never got back on to the main bunch. Finally finishing fifteen minutes down on my friend.
Most importantly you have to look after your self. As Robbie McEwan once said: ‘Eat like a horse, drink like a fish’. Make sure you are well stocked with energy drinks, bars and gels. Two warnings: do not drink pure water, you will dilute your blood stream and this is dangerous. Called, hyponatremia, cyclists can lose 1-2 grams of salt per liter of sweat per hour. Replacing this loss of sodium with isotonic drinks containing electrolytes during the event is critical to performance and safety. Secondly, some gels are so concentrated, that you must drink lots at the same time, otherwise you may find yourself cramping, vomiting or worse.
Lastly, I never forget to get myself a pint, when I get to the end. That is always the best pint :-)
Many thanks to Phil for contributing this post to the Velo Pixie blog. 
As always thanks for taking the time to read the Pixies ramblings and hopefully you will be able to find the time to visit the blog again in the future.

Dha weles diwettha


Sunday, 23 September 2012

August Training Update

Captain Tardy here, yes I am still alive and still on the long road to l'Etape 2013.

Well August has come and gone, and yet again I seem to be writing a training update at the end of the month that followed the one I am writing about (note to self; really, really must try and do the update more promptly!) What can we say about August? It was wet, no make that very wet, and unseasonaly cold. It was also the month Mrs Pixie and I chose to go on holiday for a couple of weeks which had the potential to disrupt the training programme.

I had originally planned to minimise disruption to the training schedule while i was on holiday by taking the bike on holiday with me, which would have allowed me to continue to "get the miles in" and minimise the risk of going backwards in terms of cycling fitness. In true Pixie style, work, life and procrastination seemed to get in the way of putting that plan into action and on the day we flew out from Bristol to Menorca, the bike was in the garage rather than in the hold of the plane.

Was I worried about not having the bike with me and not really having a training plan for the coming two weeks? For the first two days I convinced myself that it would be a good thing to have a proper break from training and just relax by the villa's pool, partake of a G&T (or two) and stay in bed in the morning. That plan lasted exactly two days, on day three of the holiday I got up at 6:30am (to avoid the daytime heat) put on my running kit and went for a quick run around the resort. It was only a quick run of maybe 20 minutes duration, I was on holiday after all and at this point I still faintly believed myself when I was telling myself I could probably get away with doing nothing for two weeks.

Day four of the holiday and I'm up again at 6:30am and off for another run around the resort, today however I had a different plan. The previous day Mrs Pixie and I had laboured our way up a set of steps which led from the beach to the top of the cliffs where the main resort centre was and while I was walking up them I couldn't help wondering what my heart rate would be if I ran up all the way up to the top of the 193 steps? and the inclusion of the steps into what was to become my daily run would add some much needed hill work. By the time I had actually got to the steps on the morning of day four I had convinced myself that simply running up the steps once wasn't worth the effort and it would almost be like doing some interval training if I ran up and down three times. So, 193 steps had become 1158 steps in the space of less than 24 hours. The steps in question weren't just any old nicely constructed gradual incline steps either...........   

The bottom third of the steps to the beach

Day six of the holiday and having conquered the steps the previous two days it is time to change the  now daily run. Day six saw the daily run direction reversed and the distance extended to include a section of cliff path that Mrs Pixie and I had strolled around the previous day in the midday heat (what is it they say about mad dogs, Englishmen and the midday sun?) The inclusion of the cliff path section did mean that for every remaining day of the holiday I was able to enjoy the sight of the sun rising over the cliffs and some lovely views of the resorts beach and bay. 
Cala en Porter bay

Sun rise over the cliffs at Cala en Porter
Reversing the direction of the run had another effect on the amount of effort needed to finish the run, because instead of running down this hill at the start of the run, I now had this hill as the finishing stretch just before I got back to our villa each day.
Was going for a run everyday enough to stop me from thinking about training schedules and diminishing fitness levels? Yes and no, the final addition to the daily exercise regime happened at the end of the first week, when I decided to include a daily one mile swim into my poolside "relaxation" programme. Swimming a mile in one session in the Villa's pool proved to be just to boring for me so it was very quickly turned into two half mile sessions, one in the morning and one in the afternoon which suited me much better. 
The combination of running and swimming every day seemed to suit me quite well and it definitely had the desired effect of keeping the muscles and heart "ticking over" while we were on holiday.
I think something I have learnt during August and whilst on holiday is that exercising daily has become a habit for me and like most habits, any break in the routine or habit can be difficult to deal with. The other thing I have learnt is that with a little thought and creativity it is possible to exercise at a worthwhile level whilst away from home and without all of the "required" kit and clothing
What did the month look like in numbers?
  • 30 training sessions completed over the month
  • Total training time was a little under 30 hours (so just under one hour a day on average)
  • Average recorded heart rate during training sessions was 115 beats per minute (this fall is probably due to swimming sessions)
  • Average maximum heart rate during training session was 151 beats per minute
  • 9746 calories burnt as a direct result of exercise (so just under 3 pounds "lost" due to exercise)
  • Weight remained static although approximately 1-2 inches lost off of waist size
  • 242 cycling miles completed in first two weeks of the month

For those of you that read what is in effect my training diary on a regular basis you will know that one of the things about our holiday I was most looking forward to was being able to fit comfortably into an airline seat. I am happy to report that for the first time in many, many years I was able to fit into the seat comfortably and didn't feel like somebody had booked me into a child's seat. Happy days.

What impact has all of the above had on our holiday arrangements for next year? Well, Mrs Pixie isn't convinced I can relax without being able to train on the bike, so next year we are going to Majorca one of the worlds best cycle training destinations and yes I will be taking the bike with me. Next years holiday accommodation is already booked, but do I need to take myself off on a pre l'etape training camp in Majorca sometime in the early Spring of 2013?

As always thanks for taking the time to read the Pixies ramblings and hopefully you will be able to find the time to visit the blog again in the future.

Dha weles diwettha


(Apologies for the change in font size towards the end of this blog post, I am trying to sort this out over the next few days)