Thursday, 30 June 2011

Off to France ready for La Marmotte

In a few minutes I will be leaving for Alpe d'Huez, ready to take on the mighty La Marmotte tomorrow.  Training done, carbohydrate loading ongoing and mental preparation commenced.  The only concern I have is that I almost had a cramp in the night when I stretched my leg out.  If it had cramped fully it usually tends to be sore for a couple of days afterwards and that would have been really bad news for La Marmotte.  I will have to keep an eye on that and make sure I try to get the calf muscle more relaxed.

So now it really is time to leave.  I will post the results when I get back on Sunday night.  Enjoy your weekend.  Despite the grueling task ahead I certainly will enjoy mine.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Email from Tour d'Afrique telling us what to expect on the Vuelta Sudamerica 2011 ride

Vuelta Sudamericana Rider Update #2


During the first half of the Vuelta Sudamericana altitude sickness is not much of a concern. However, during the month long stretch between Antofagasta, Chile and Nazca, Peru, we will face some extreme conditions.
The Altiplano is an arid, high altitude region of South America extending from northern Chile, through Bolivia and into Peru. Surrounded by steaming volcanoes, traversing the salt pans and descending into the sacred valley make this a spectacular region to cycle through, but we must be properly prepared in order to ensure a safe and fun journey.
Above 2500m people will begin to notice the effects of thin atmosphere.  We are not summitting Everest so no one needs to bring diomox or be concerned with high altitude pulmonary or cerebral edema.  Where we travel through the Altiplano our average altitude will be approximately 3200m above sea level.  The highest mountain pass we cross is 4600m.  Due to the lack of oxygen, the effects you should expect will be shortness of breath, lack of energy, headaches and perhaps trouble sleeping.  Not everyone will experience the same symptoms.  Being in a good state of health helps to limit the effects of altitude sickness, but it is inconsistent.  An individual can travel to altitude and not experience any symptoms during one trip and suffer from all of them on a second trip.  Medicating your headaches, using sleeping pills or taking energy supplements does not cure the symptoms, it only masks them and is not recommended.
To limit the effects there are several strategies that we will employ.  The most important is acclimatization.  First, a gradual progression to altitude allows the body to adjust to the changing conditions.  Secondly, mountaineers use a tactic called “hike high and sleep low” where you exert yourself at elevation and then descend to rest.  This accelerates the acclimatization process and more specifically helps to adjust all your body’s metabolic processes.  The design of the Vuelta route has taken both of these strategies into account.  Practicing good hydration and nutrition is also a great asset for combating altitude.  Also, alcohol has an increased effect and should be limited.  It may make you into a cheap date, but the effects the next day will be tenfold at a time when you will need all your strength and mental capacity for your day of riding.
For any sectional riders joining in La Paz, it is highly recommended that you arrive at least five days before the tour departs.  Immediately arriving at altitude the effects will be more severe.  You will need this time to acclimatize and getting out for some training rides around the city will help you to achieve the same state of fitness as the rest of the group.   
We will not be operating an oxygen bar at camp each night, but we do have emergency medical supplies to deal with anyone who is suffering from adverse side effects.  In this situation the individual will be transported to a lower elevation where they will rejoin the group.
The Altiplano also provides some extreme climatic conditions.  Altitude and lack of oxygen produces more intense exposure to UV.  Especially when traversing the salt pans because you have a reflection equal that of traveling on snow or water.  Sunscreen is the least you can do.  It is recommended that everyone cover their arms and legs.  Many locals wear scarves to cover their faces, we can learn a lot from the people who live here.  Eye protection is very important.  Make sure your sunglasses have a good wrap and do not allow light to penetrate between the frame and your face.  A helmet visor is also a good idea.
Temperatures at altitude will be wide ranging.  The diurnal flux can be as much as 30 degrees, meaning that during the day it will be in the mid twenties and at night it will drop below zero.  For riding you need to employ a layering system.  There will be some long climbs where you will be raising your body temperature.  But what goes up must come down.  When you stop at the summit to revel in your personal accomplishment and the view, it will be cold, especially if there is wind and if you are wet with perspiration.  On the descent especially, you will need to have a cycling jacket that will protect you from the wind and the longest descent is 70km.  When choosing your shell breathability and ventilation are key factors for performance and for a base layer choose something warm, with good wicking ability and a snug fit.  Also you will need to be able to have space to carry your extra layers either in a rack pack, handle bar bag or back pack when you are riding and not wearing them.
When we are camping you will also need some specific provisions.  Given the extent of this tour and the many climates we will sleep in our recommendations are as follows:
1.       An inflatable sleeping mattress.  It offers more warmth and comfort than foam.
2.      A silk sleeping bag liner.  It is compact, can be easily washed, keeps your sleeping bag clean, adds some extra warmth on cold nights and you can use it in hostels as well.  Fleece or cotton liners are also an option but silk is preferred.
3.      A synthetic fill sleeping bag rated to 0 or -5 degrees.  This will be all you need for the majority of the trip.  Avoid a down filled bag, because they cannot be cleaned and if they get wet you may never dry it
4.      Down jacket or vest.  This will also spend most of the trip in your permanent bag, but at altitude, between sunset and when you crawl into your tent this will provide a lot of comfort.  Most come with a compression sack to save space and are very lightweight.
5.      A two-three person two season tent, with a ground sheet and a rain fly that extends to the ground.  With the sleeping system described above this will be sufficient for the cold nights.  A three/four season or convertible tent is expensive, bulky, heavy and will be too warm for most of the trip

The Altiplano will provide many challenges, but the greater the challenge the greater the reward.  The landscapes are unique and spectacular and the history and cultural sites are equally fascinating.  Although we will traverse this region for nearly a month and a half we will not be faced with the such extreme conditions every day. This is crucial information to promote your safety and comfort and therefore your enjoyment and the success of the tour.

Stay tuned for updates that will deal with packing systems, health and logistics and much more.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Final day of exercise before the big event - may the rest and carboloading begin

With only a few days left till the Marmotte on Saturday, today was the last day I will do any proper form of exercise.  At lunchtime I did yoga and it was nice to see that yet another one of my colleagues decided to take part.  I think a lot of how hard you find the yoga is how far you are willing to push yourself.  For example a lot of people tend to do the poses rather upright and seem to manage it easily.  But I like to really get down low and make my legs work, and then they begin to shake.  So today was a great workout as I was really willing to push myself.  Yet the moves I was doing were exactly the same as others that only do yoga once a week and nothing else.

I am still experimenting with my Bont heat moldable shoes to change the shape slightly.  So after work I went for a quick ride to see how they feel.  The right shoe seems much better fitting now, after last nights work on it, but the left is still not quite a perfect fit.  I have done some further work on it tonight and tomorrow I will go for a quick spin to try it out.

My bike is in for a quick service just to make sure it is in tip top condition for the weekend.  I only had it serviced a few weeks ago but there are a couple of minor adjustments I want made, and also I think some water may have got into the moving parts from a ride I did a few weeks ago in heavy rain.

Once again I have gone another year using my Giant TCR 97 without trading it in for a newer model.  Every year I consider changing it, but somehow I am attached to my first proper racing bike.  It has got me from one end of the UK to the other, all over Switzerland, all over the Netherlands and various other countries too.  It is really more than a bike - it is a trusted companion.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Not exactly a scientific survey but it seems I am not alone in thinking that choice of cycling shoes makes a big difference

Today at work I went round asking my cycling colleagues if they think that the choice of cycling shoes makes a really noticeable difference.  The reason for my interest was that the other day when I tried out my Bont carbon fibre racing shoes for the first time, I felt a big difference compared to my old mountain bike shoes.  I even put my record time round the Zürichsee down to the new shoes.

Each of my cycling colleagues answered that they really believed it made a big difference, especially when like me you make the switch from riding a road bike with mountain bike shoes to riding a road bike with road shoes.

Today after work I made my first attempt at moulding the shoes to the shape of my foot.  If you recall, my new shoes are fully heat moldable, and by heating them up in the oven or with a hairdryer and then applying pressure with the blunt end of a screwdriver you can start to alter the shape.  The shape they came in straight from the shop was not 100% ideal for my feet.  The shoe feels a little tight width wise, but the owner of the bike shop reassured me that they can be widened when heated.  He also said that I can try them out for a few weeks and if they still don't feel correct I can take them back, as not everyone gets used to them.  He offered to help me mold them better to my feet if I was having trouble doing so.

I used the hairdryer to heat them up, as I was a little nervous about putting them in the oven.  Before heating them up you first need to remove the insoles, as they are very thin and can melt easily.  Once they were getting hot I started to push the blunt end of a screwdriver on the parts I wanted to widen.  I also put my feet inside and heated the shoes up with my feet inside a few times to try and push with my toes on the points I wanted to widen.

I am not sure how successful I have been yet in changing the shape to the one I desire, but I will ride my bike to work tomorrow and try it out.  My first feeling was that they were a little wider where I wanted them to be, but at the same time I was a little cautious when heating them up, and maybe I didn't heat them up as much as I should have.  Let's see how it goes.  One thing is for sure though - I really want to wear them in the Marmotte if possible as they are much lighter and stiffer than the old shoes.  If they don't feel quite right though it will be a risk as I will have to ride in them for something close to 10 hours.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Non training related subject - is anyone going to Lima, Peru? And if so are you looking for an apartment to hire?

Hi folks

I hope you are all enjoying your weekends.  The sun is shining and when that happens everything feels just fine and dandy.  The reason for my post today is not training related.  It just so happens that Anny's family have decided to rent their apartment in the nicest district of Lima called Miraflores.  The apartment is just 10 minutes from the beach and has 2 bedrooms.  The building has 24 hour security and is very well maintained and situated.

I know that quite a lot of us Europeans go to Peru as it has lots of amazing sites to offer such as Machu Pichu, and people tend to fly into Lima and then travel onwards from there.  So rather than just going straight from Lima to Cusco to see Machu Pichu and to do the Inca trail, maybe you want to take a few days repose in Lima itself and enjoy all the hustle bustle and Latino atmosphere that it has to offer.

If you are visiting Lima then drop me an email to and I can send you some pictures of the apartment and put you in contact with Anny's family who own the apartment.  Then you can discuss prices e.t.c.  As a rough guide the price would be 100USD per day for use of the 2 bedrooms, which is on par with other apartments in the same area, but at least here you know who you are dealing with if you know me, and you don't have to worry about getting scammed.

I myself will be staying in the apartment after my Vuelta Sudamerica bike tour from Buenos Aires to Cusco for a couple of weeks.  By the way for those of you who have been following my blog regularly I thank you greatly and I can assure you that it will get much much more interesting once I depart for South America.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend!