Sunday, 12 June 2011

4,155m of vertical ascent over 4 passes

Today I was able to keep to my plan of doing what will probably be my biggest training ride before La Marmotte, which takes place in 3 weeks time.  I woke up at 5am to catch the train to Airolo at 6.09am (yes it really took me a few moments to ask myself whether it was worth it), and I managed to make the train with time to spare.  Before leaving I took a light breakfast but my main food source for the day would be energy gels.  Plus last night I had a huge dose of pasta for a little bit of extra help.

I arrived in Airolo at 8am and immediately set off up the Gotthard pass.  The Gotthard pass is fairly quiet in terms of traffic as there is a parallel road for the cars, and the old cobblestoned pass is pretty much used only by cyclists or maybe people who live next to the road.  It was lovely and scenic and owing to the lack of traffic I really enjoyed it.  I was as fresh as a daisy and the 900m vertical climb to the top posed no problem at all.  At the top there is a little lake and I stopped there to take my first of four power gels for the day, and to take a couple of photos.

Then it was time to descend towards Andermatt where the 2nd climb begins, the Furka pass.  The descent also had a lot of cobblestones and I felt like I was being shaken apart from the inside.  Also my wrist has not fully recovered from when I fell off in the tram tracks a few weeks back, so that was pretty sore going over the cobblestones at speed.  It wasn't too bad though, as after the initial cobblestoned section the road joins a much faster smoother road and that takes you to the start of the Furka pass turn.

Once I reached the start of the Furka pass I knew exactly what was awaiting me, as you may recall I did this part of the route a couple of weeks back (Furka, Grimsel, Susten).  I remembered from the previous time that the Furka and Grimsel pass posed no problem, but that I had been extremely tired on the Susten pass and had stopped quite a few times on the way up, so that was in the back of my mind.  I wasn't worried I would say, but rather I knew I would need to save some energy for that final pass (Susten), which just seems to go on forever.

I made it to the top of the Furka and still felt really good.  The top was full of bikers.  I guess the good weather in the midst of several bad days of weather, combined with the fact it is a long weekend, brought them out in their droves.  I only stopped for a few moments to put on my windproof jacket for the descent (something I always do nowadays after several instances of mild hypothermia in the past from not having additional layers for the descents), and to eat another power gel.

The descent from Furka is a fast one, but it doesn't go on for too long if you are taking Grimsel pass, since Grimsel pass joins Furka pass about half way up.  Rather handily though there is a self service restaurant just next to the turn off for Grimsel, so this was to be my lunch stop for the day.  My strategy this time was not too stuff my face with normal food like last time, and leave myself feeling bloated for several hours, but rather just to take a normal sized meal to supplement my power gels.

The climb up the Grimsel pass is very easy if you take it after descending the Furka, as like I mentioned previously you are joining it already half way up.  In fact the climb on the sign mentioned 400 and something vertical metres in 6km if I recall correctly, which is really not that much climbing at all.

On arriving at the top of the Grimselpass I felt great as I knew I had already completed 3 passes, and there only remained one to be done.  I took another power gel and an energy bar and put on my windproof jacket and then started descending.  The descent from Grimsel has several dark tunnels to pass through, and so this is certainly not one of my favourite descents.  I am fine when not in the tunnels, but in the tunnels I am really on edge as I am trying to look out for potholes in the road (which is hard because it is so dark), and at the same time watching out for cars and motorbikes coming up fast behind me that may not have noticed me.

Once in Innertkirchen I stopped to take off my windproofs and ingest the final power gel I had brought with me.  I really think these did the job as I was feeling much perkier than the last time when I had done one pass less.  In fact I was ascending Susten without struggling too much until the higher sections.  In the initial stages the only thing that bothered me was the heat, although I had been careful to keep myself well hydrated throughout the day.

On the way up the Susten I had plenty of other cyclists for company.   One was almost exactly the same pace as me on average, except he was faster when the gradient was lower and I was faster when the gradient was higher.  As I would find out later though, he hadn't realised how long the ascent would be, and he dropped right back after stopping at the water fountain half way up to ask me if there was much further left to go, to which I had to reply yes there was (as it was in fact the truth).

There seemed to be a nasty accident at some point on the pass, as there were several cars stopped and slowing the traffic, and as I passed I noticed a motorbike that had actually snapped into 2 pieces.  I saw no sign of the guy who was riding it, and I couldn't see any damage to the cars, but then again I didn't want to stare too much as there were already enough people to deal with the situation, and I am sure they didn't want more bystanders.  How on earth the motorbike got snapped into two pieces though I have no idea - I wondered if some kind of metal fatigue might have done that.  When I was higher up the pass I heard an ambulance in the distance, and a little bit later there was also what looked like a Rega helicopter, so I hope no one got killed or really seriously injured.

At the points where I had to stop last time I tackled Susten, I didn't feel the need to stop this time.  In fact I only stopped once and that was to get water from the fountain to cool down as it was pretty hot and I had run out of water.  I felt the fatigue really set in in the last 2km of the climb, but I still managed to climb steadily onwards.  The descent down the other side of Susten towards Göschenen is a pretty long one so I stopped for another meal at the top of the pass, a plate of spaghetti with an ice cream (I felt I deserved at least one sin today for having burnt 5,864 calories).

In fact as the descent down Susten is so long I really got into the flow of taking the curves, left then right then right then left then hairpin e.t.c.  I don't push to the point where I think I may crash, but I take the curves smoothly at a good pace.  I am constantly on the lookout for potholes in the road, as these can cause you to crash on a racing bike if you hit them at the wrong angle or when you are in the middle of taking a turn at speed.  The other thing I am always looking out for is loose gravel on the corners, as that can cause the bike to slide out from under you if you are turning.

The previous time I reached the bottom of Susten, the slight climb back up to Göschenen seemed to kill my already tired legs.  But this time I felt absolutely fine, and when I looked at my GPS and saw that the total distance would end up being somewhere around 135km, I even considered for a second or two to continue cycling another 40km or so (to make it a La Marmotte distance).  I thought this might be overdoing it a bit though as today's ride was already a hell of a lot of climbing, and I don't need to do a full La Marmotte in training.

Here is a quick post ride summary:

Route - 4 passes - Gotthard, Furka, Grimsel, Susten
Total ascent - 4,155m
Calories burnt - 5,864
Distance covered - 137.31km
Average heart rate - 126bpm
Time - 8 hours 49 minutes 50.61 seconds

No comments:

Post a comment