Saturday, 17 November 2012

L'Etape du Tour 2013 - The route ridden and documented

Well the ASO have announced details of the route for the 2013 edition of the L'Etape du Tour and it will be held on Sunday 7th July using the same route as the professional cyclists will use on stage 20 of next years Tour de France, although us amateurs will actually be riding a few more miles than the Pro's. So what will the route be like for an Amateur to ride? 

A little further on in this post you will find a link to a recently written blog post by a friend of mine, Phil Sinclair, detailing his impressions of the route when he rode it earlier this week. It's an interesting read and contains some valuable information and insights for anyone taking part in, or contemplating, next years l'etape. (Just in case you don't want to read the Pixies own rambling thoughts on the subject, you can go straight to Phil's account of his day riding the route here!) 

The organisers describe the route as follows "the Etape du Tour will allow cyclists to use roads in the penultimate stage of the 100th edition of the Grande Boucle. Annecy - Annecy Semnoz: 130km of a breaking and selective route in the Alps before a summit finish Semnoz, on the balcony of Mont Blanc."

The start looks like it will be in the heart of Annecy and will then take the following route;
Albertville (D1508) – St-Jorioz – La Chapelle St Maurice – Bellecombe en Bauges – Le Chatelard – Aillon le Vieux – Thoiry – St Jean d’Arvey – La Féclaz – Trévignin – St Offenge Dessus – Pont de l’Abîme – Gruffy – Quintal – Montée du Semnoz

As can be seen from the above profile there are a number of significant lumpy bits that will need to be climbed and the official list is as follows;

Côte de Puget (5,4 km at 5.8%)
Col de Leschaux (3,6 km at 6.2%)
Côte de Aillons-le-Vieux (6 km at 4%)
Col des Prés (3,5 km at 6.5%)
Col du Mont-Revard (16 km at 5.4%)
Montée finale du Semnoz (11 km at 8.3%)

What is the route like to ride? 
In the weeks since the route details were announced I have seen numerous conversations on Twitter and Internet forums talking about how difficult (or not) next years route is going to be. Many of the people taking part in these discussions are seasoned l'etape'ers and have plenty of experience to draw on when putting forward their views, however have they actually ridden the route or are they looking at maps and profiles in order to draw their conclusions?

As I mentioned earlier in this post, Phil Sinclair, who has previously been a guest blogger on my blog, actually rode the route earlier this week and his own blog contains an account of that ride together with photos he took on the day. Phil is a seasoned l'etap'er with many years experience of competing in the event and as such I would say that his thoughts on the route are probably going to provide a valuable early insight into what we can expect on the day of the event.

Phils own account of his day riding the 2013 L'Etape route can be found here 

If you are interested in reading Phils previous blog post on taking part in Sportives and L'Etape it can be found here Phil Sinclair on Sportives and L'Etape 

Many thanks to Phil for providing this useful early preview of what the route is actually like to ride and hopefully if you are reading this and Phils blog post as somebody who will be riding in the 2013 L'etape du Tour, the information provided will in some way inform your training and preparations.

The official ASO L'Etape du Tour web site can be found here

Another UK based site "L'Etape du Tour" for L'Etape competitors which provides a wealth of information and support can be found here (

As always thanks for taking the time to vist the Pixies blog and hopefully you will be able to pop back some time in the future to see how my own training and preparations for next years L'etape du Tour are coming along.

Dha weles diwettha


Saturday, 10 November 2012

Installing upgrades to make riding upgrades easier?

Time for a quick update on the actual bike I am riding and some changes that have been made to it over the last six months.

(There has also been a further update to this blog post, reviewing the conversion detailed below after a few hundred miles of use which can be found HERE ) 

As regular readers of my blog will know, earlier this year Mrs Pixie bought me a new bike for my 50th birthday present (she is a very generous Pixie and I am extremely lucky to share the Pixie cave with her) The bike in question is a Specialized Secteur Elite which was chosen because it offered Sportive friendly frame geometry (taller in the headset and therefore less likely to break an ageing Pixies back), a sensible compromise between price & specification and I liked the colours!

Over the course of the last 6 months I have grown to really like my Secteur, I know there are fancier and more expensive bikes out there that would possibly be a bit more comfortable or maybe make me a few seconds faster in a Sportive, however all in all the Secteur I seem to rub along nicely together. Despite being happy overall with the Secteur there were a few aspects of the bikes specification that I felt would benefit from a bit of an upgrade.

First things to get changed were the seat and seat post for items that promised a ride that would insulate me from "road buzz"  and be easier on my bum, namely a new Specialized S Works carbon seat post and a Selle Italia Max Flite gel saddle. I am pleased to be able to say that both of these modifications have been a complete success, ride quality has been much improved and my bum no longer gets numb!

Selle Italia MaxFlite and S Works carbon seat post

Swiftly following the saddle and seat post was a wheel change. A bit of an impulse e bay bargain saw me becoming the new owner of a brand new pair of Shimano RS10 wheels complete with new Schwalbe tyres and a new Ultegra 12-27 rear cassette for not a lot of money. The Shimano wheels and some Continental GP 4 seasons tyres were installed together with the original Shimano Tiagra 12-30 rear cassette. Again these changes made quite a bit of difference to how the bike rides and definitely made it feel a bit livelier on hills. 

Next up was a need to look at the brakes. My wet Welsh hill climbing trip with Simon from Total Cycling Performance had highlighted how inadequate the standard fit Tektro brakes were on long fast descents in the wet, providing only minimal retarding capabilities which were "we'll stop eventually but not anytime in the immediate future" in nature. As luck would have it, Wiggle had a sale on (actually I think it's a continuous sale) and I picked up a very natty looking pair of FSA Energy brakes. The FSA brakes were supplemented with some Swissstop green pads and as they say the "job was a good 'un" We now have stoppie inducing brakes on the front and more than enough power in the back. As a bonus they even work in the wet.

FSA Energy brakes

The Secteur actually stayed in this specification for about 6 or 7 weeks and to be honest I was really happy with how it was riding and performing - reliable, comfortable, quick enough for a Sportive newbie and good fun. However, some time ago I decided that for l'etape I wanted to have the perceived security of a couple of really low "bale out" or "granny gears" of the sort provided by the new generation of 32-12 and 34-12 MTB type rear cassettes.

The existing Tiagra 12-30 cassette when combined with a compact chainset provides for a pretty wide set of gear ratio's, with the lowest two gears being low enough to stay in the saddle on all but the steepest of climbs, however what this does mean is that there is one big gap between the gears where a a 16 tooth cog would normally be found on a 12-27 cassette which can make itself felt when trying to "crack on" on flat roads. What I wanted was a set up that would provide for a low set of granny gears for later in the day on long hilly Sportives, whilst maybe tightening up the gaps between the intermediate gears and decided a conversion to a "triple" set up might be able to provide this in conjunction with a 12-27 cassette.

There is a weight penalty when converting to a triple set up, however for a rider at my level I think the increased range of gears that are made available is probably beneficial enough to outweigh the increase in weight. Besides, I can just lose a couple of pounds of body weight to counter the weight of the new crankset.

Of course a conversion of this type isn't as simple as it at first seems and as usual my "inner perfectionist" surfaced and took the opportunity to "upgrade" some components that were working perfectly well but were ripe for upgrading at the same time.   

So whilst I say the Secteur stayed in it's then current specification for 6 or 7 weeks, this was only because I was I was collecting together the various components that I wanted or needed to fit as part of the triple conversion. 

In the end I had a pile of new parts that contained the following;

  • Shimano 5703 levers
  • Shimano 5703 Triple cranks and chain set
  • Shimano 5703 front derailleur
  • Shimano 5700 GS rear derailleur
  • SRAM 10 speed chain
  • Hope stainless steel bottom bracket
  • Front chain catcher
  • Jagwire Pro Racer cable set
  • New gel type bar tape
  • Red hoods for the 5703 levers

I elected to utilise my trusty copy of "Zinn and the art of road bike maintenance" and complete the instalation of the new components myself. This decision was made on the basis that if I can rebuild a 1978 XS650 Yamaha motorcycle, I should be able to cope with a push bike! Well, the conversion took me probably a day to complete, over the space of a week, working on the bike when I could grab an hour or two. 

Shimano 105 50/39/30 crank set

Shimano 5700 105 GS rear Mechanism

Hope road specific stainless steel bottom bracket

Chain catcher

Shimano 5703 / 105 levers and after market hoods

Look no cables!

I'm actually really pleased with how the conversion has finished up, the 5703 levers and concealed cable routing have really tidied up the look of the bars and the shifting action of the levers seems to be a lot crisper than the old Tiagra levers. The SRAM chain went on with no drama and was chosen because it allows the use of the SRAM powerlink system for joining and making roadside repairs. The chain catcher may be working but as the front set up is shifting flawlessly it hasn't had to do any work yet! The rear 105 GS rear derailleur feels like it is providing a cleaner shift than the old Tiagra component (although to be fair, the Tiagra rear mech' performed well and was only occasionally reluctant to shift cleanly when under load) The Hope bottom bracket? Its a bottom bracket, it looks nice in its anodised red finish and it feels buttery smooth. Hopefully it will provide long and trouble free service over the winter? 

In theory the conversion to a triple set up has increased the number of available gears from 20 to 30. However the actual ratio's achieved in each gear mean that their is some overlap between what is actually produced by each of the front chain rings, so the actual number of unique gears is a little less than 30.   

At the present time I have kept the Tiagra 12-30 cassette on the rear wheel to see what a 1:1 or 27 inch low gear will be like to ride with in the real world. I suspect it might be a touch to low and I wont be surprised if I find myself swapping it for the new Ultegra 12-27 cassette that I acquired with the RS10 wheels as this should in theory give me a lowest gear that is the same as the compact/12-30 set up and provide me with the missing 16 tooth cog.

Testing of the new set up has so far been limited to very short local rides, however I have another session in the Welsh hills with Simon and a couple of hilly Sportives, planned in the next month, so I should start to get a feel for whether either of these cassettes are going to give me the spread of gears I want or whether I may want to try another cassette.

I'll report back sometime in the future on how this set up is performing and I will provide an honest assessment of whether the expense and the slight weight penalty of the triple conversion is actually worth it when compared to the compact/12-30 cassette set up.

Whilst sitting in the garage this morning getting the bike ready for a training run, I realised that the only original bits left on the bike are the frame, forks, bars and stem.

Hmmmm....that means I've got nearly all the bits required to complete the build of a second bike sitting in the garage. I feel a new project coming on, anybody got a cheap frame and forks they don't need?  

As always thanks for taking the time to stop by and read about my journey to l'etape and associated Pixie ramblings. I hope you can pop back again some time in the future to see how I'm getting on.

Dha weles diwetthaVP 


Tuesday, 6 November 2012

2012/13 Event Diary - Events the Pixie is entering

I have decided it would be a good idea to diarise the events that I have entered, I'm awaiting confirmation of entry or are planning to enter.

The primary purposes for doing this is to inform training schedules and to allow Mrs Pixie to have the opportunity for planning our non cycling related social life in the run up to l'etape 2013.

The planner will change from time to time as events are added, however when this happens I will try to post the new version of the planner as quickly as possible.

If you are a Sportive rider and are planning on entering any of these events please feel free to get in contact as it is always good to meet up with other riders before, during or after an event. Likewise if we "talk" on Twitter and you are going to be at an event, please let me know as it is good to put a face to the Tweet!

Velo Pixie Sportive Events Diary 2012/13

PS, the date error for the 2013 Exmoor Beast date will be corrected in due course!

Thanks for looking, hope you can pop back to the blog soon.



Friday, 2 November 2012

Out on the wiley, windy moors - The Exmoor Beast 28/10/12

Hi, Captain Tardy has been given a few days off and the Pixie is going to write a blog post about an event that only happened a few days ago - Don't get excited or expect this type of thing to become a regular occurrence, I'm sure Captain Tardy will be back soon!

I entered the Exmoor Beast Sportive sometime during the late summer, thinking it would be a good event to finish the main riding season off with and to use as a bit of a measure of how I was progressing as a Sportive rider. My original plan was to ride the event on my own and simply take any opportunity to ride with other people if they arose on the day.

Following on from my ride with Alex and Tony on the Cotswold Classic I had been out for a further two or three rides with them and some of their other riding buddies. During the first of these rides it transpired that Tony and a couple of the other guys had also entered the event and were also doing the 100k route. 

A plan was soon formed to travel down the afternoon before and try to do the ride together or at least all start together. Our group for the day would consist of Tony, Chris, Welli, Cal and the Pixie, with all of us excepting Welli travelling to Minehead the day before to complete registration and generally prepare ourselves for the following days exertions. Welli was working on the Saturday night and had decided to elect for a 5:00am alarm call and a two hour drive on the morning of the event to allow him to get to Minehead in time for the start of the event.

The event start and finish was in Butlins holiday camp on the outskirts of Minehead and close to the sea front. Having the event HQ in Butlins meant that there were plentiful facilities for riders to get breakfast prior to the event and most importantly there were plenty of toilets that weren't of the portaloo variety.

The weather forecast had been very favourable for the week leading up to the event, however the forecast changed dramatically during the 24 hours prior to the start with torrential rain and relatively high winds being forecast for race day. 

Sunday dawned and the weather forecast had been right, it was raining and it was a windy enough to make riding a bike into the wind "interesting" Actually "rainy and windy" doesn't really do the weather on the day justice, "miserable, grey and gloomy" probably describe the conditions more accurately.

The following photograph of the moors was taken by freelance photographer Andrew Hobbs on the morning of the event and I think it really portrays the type of weather and conditions that competitors would be enduring for much of the day. More of Andrews photo's of the event can be found at  

We had intended to start as close to the 7:00am opening time for the start as possible, however Welli was delayed on his journey down and we eventually got away in what must have been one of the last groups to get away before the 8:00am cut off time for starting the event.

The start of the route takes you around the outside of Minehead on the main road before heading towards the moors. Ordinarily you would think early on a Sunday morning that this would be a safe environment for "competent" cyclists who are about to take on the task of "taming the Beast", but no, within minutes of the start I could hear the unmistakable sound of bike frames scraping on tarmac, wheels becoming entangled in other bikes and the dull thud of human bodies landing on wet tarmac. Swift avoiding action was required to miss the heap of bikes and bodies that had resulted from somebody losing concentration while opening a packet of jelly beans. Everybody involved in the incident seemed to be fine and it was a timely reminder that today was not a day for day dreaming.

The initial part of the route was an easy run up to the edge of the moors on A and B roads. At around the 7 mile mark we arrived at the first real test of the day Crook Horn Hill. 

The gradient on Crook Horn Hill varies between 10% and 14% as it works its way up through some woodland. On a dry day, it would be a challenge, on a wet day in autumn with leaves and mud on the road it was carnage! The combination of the weather, the road conditions and hundreds of riders in such a small space meant that for many riders the hill had to be walked and for some it meant accidents and intimate contact with the ground. It was at this point that our group got split up with Tony and myself making good progress through the crowd and surviving the crossing of the cattle grid to make it to the top in one piece and having not suffered to much (if an average heart rate of 179 beats per minute during the climb isn't suffering!)

The route then took us further into the woods and onto the famous river crossing that features in so many reports on this event. There are two options for crossing the river, a foot bridge, which requires dismounting and walking across or riding through the Ford - slowing down to queue for a bridge was never going to be an option, so the ford it was...

Following the crossing of the river the route took us on long climb up through the woodlands and out onto the open moorland where we found ourselves riding in wind and driving rain. The severity of climbing relented for a short while until in the distance we could see a steady stream of cyclists working their way up a long gradual ascent. Looking at my Strava records the hill in question was only around 6% but on the day it felt much steeper and longer than it actually was. The following photo is a shot of the hill viewed from the direction we were coming from and the photo immediately after it, is yours truly cresting the top of the hill.    

 Thankfully there was now a respite from continual climbing as we headed out across the moors and onto the coast road as we made our way to the first feed station at Lynton. The going was pretty tough on the coast road as we struggled into a headwind and continuous rain, whilst trying to reclaim some lost time and increase our average speed. Tony and I took turns at leading and punching into the head wind and wherever possible we briefly rode with other groups as we caught them on the road.

Soon we were on the approach to Lynton and the descent down Countisbury hill. As you can see from the following photographs Countisbury hill is quite steep and on the day the road surface was more than a little bit damp. 

This photo taken by Andrew Hobbs really portrays what type of day it was and the bleakness of Countisbury hill on the day of the event More of Andrews work can be found here Hobbs Photography 
The Feed station at Lynton was particularly busy so Tony and I decided that we would only stop long enough for him to fill his water bottle. Even with my limited Sportive experience, I have learnt that you can lose an awful lot of time stopping at feed stations and if a personal best time is being chased it is best to carry what you will need with you.

The route out of Lynton took us back up over a particularly steep feeling climb ( Strava says between 10 and 11%) and out onto the open moorland where we were once again riding in the driving rain and wind. At this point the field had become more drawn out and it was becoming clear to us that there must have been a significant number of people dropping out and abandoning the event. The run across the moor was tough but it was also an experience to be remembered, it's not often that you find yourself in such a remote place in conditions that actually lend the landscape a sense of majesty and history.

After around 45 minutes the route was taking us off of the top of the moor and into small villages and farm land, the change in scenery also brought a well received respite in the weather, with the rain relenting and the wind was dropping.

Despite not being on the top of the moor or on the coast, the route still managed to throw up a good number of testing hills with one in particular at around 45 miles, which was only around 7%, however when your tired and wet, 7% suddenly feels like 14%. My legs were tired, arms were tired, head was aching (I think it was the constant cold and damp) and my feet felt like blocks of ice, the last thing I needed was another long steep(ish) hill!

I don't know who the chap behind me in black is, but he does look as though he was pretty determined to stay on my back wheel! Tony is behind the chap in black and no he wasn't being scruffy with his jacket open like that - the zip broke early on in the event and as a result Tony was probably wetter and colder than I was. 

With around 53 miles covered the route takes a very welcome turn back towards Minehead and descends for around four miles towards the village of Timberscombe. The descent is very fast and spends much of its route threading it way down narrow tree lined lanes. Remember what I said earlier about rain, mud and leaves, and the fact that they make riding a bike uphill a little more treacherous than in the dry? Yep, it's true going downhill as well. 

On our descent I was following Tony, accelerating a little, then on the brakes, then leaning over for a corner, then accelerating some more, whooshing downhill like a pro on an alpine descent, then a corner tightens mid bend and there is mud on the road. Heart is thumping, I'm wrestling with the bike and I know I can't lean any more or I'll be off. The mud bank opposite is getting larger and closer, I need to slow down but using the brakes will lead to an "off" There's nothing for it, I'll have to lean it over and hope I get around without coming off - I have a moment where the back wheel is coming round to meet the front and I skirt the edge of the mud bank, but I'm still on the bike and heading in a straight line down the hill. Did I slow up after this? Nope, Tony was pulling away from me and that will never do! 

The descent takes us into Timberscombe and my arms and hands are aching from the constant braking, my legs are aching even more than before and then I spot the event photographer. Can I summon up enough energy to try and look like I'm not hurting and I'm attacking the last leg of the route?

The remainder of the route took us into Dunster and then through some country lanes that emerged on the outskirts of Minehead. The run into Minehead and back into Butlins was completed without any dramas and soon we find ourselves riding into the indoor finishing area. The indoor finishing area certainly makes the Exmoor Beast stand out from some of the other events on the Sportive calendar and it was certainly very nice to be finishing inside rather than outside in the wind and damp.

So how did we do? Tony and I finished the 100k in 5 hours and 2 minutes which placed Tony 123rd in his age group and 303rd overall and I was placed 42nd in my age group and 304th overall. There were a total of 1650 entries for the event so although I missed a gold standard by 7 minutes, I'm actually quite pleased with that result.

The rest of our group all individually had eventful days with Chris being knocked off of his bike on Crook Horn hill, he did however get back on and finish the event in 6 hours 32 minutes. Welli had an encounter with a hedge on the long descent into Timberscombe and finished in 5 hours 51 minutes. Cal had problems early on in the event with his breakfast and ended up feeding the local wildlife finishing ahead of Welli (I don't have a time for Cal at the time of writing)

How tough is the Exmoor Beast compared to other Sportives? It's a tough event, the running of the event in the autumn means the weather is likely to be poor and the route is a lot hillier than some of the "flatter" routes used by other Sportives. To be able to finish even the 100k route most people will need to do some training beforehand.

Elevation Profile of the Exmoor Beast 100k route

The event has a reputation for being run with military precision and this reputation is well deserved. Will I be back next year? Absolutely and probably to do the 100 mile route.

As always thanks for taking the time to take a look at my blog and read the rambling thoughts of the Pixie as he continues on his journey to l'etape 2013. 

I hope you are able to come back to read more Pixie ramblings some time in the future.

Dha weles diwettha