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


No comments:

Post a Comment