Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Mountain Madness ...

How do I begin exactly .. well, let me first say that riding mountains is like nothing I have ever experienced before. I am in France; I've been here since Saturday night. Sunday involved the first mountain cycling experience of my life.

Training for mountain riding in the flat lands of Ontario is a challenging feat. As you can well imagine, embarking on my first mountain climb in the French Alps was a little intimidating.

Steve, my guide, put it like this, "We'll start with an easy day: descend down to Moutiers from the chalet, climb 9km to Montagny, desend into Bozel, loop back and climb Pralognan la Vanoise, a little 15km hill then we'll add 2.5km climb to Champagny, then descend down to Bozel again and climb the last 8km toward Courcheval as far as Le Praz and descend back to the chalet. Sound good? Its a little 84km ride to warm your legs up and get used to some hills".

Holy crap!! Let me clarify something for you all: this first warm-up ride was 34.5km of climbing!! It may not seem like a lot, however, I can honestly say that after this first ride I thought that I might not make it out of this week alive.

The second day was yet a greater push: 112km starting with a 20km, 1967 meter climb of the Cormet de Roselend (popular in the tour de France for Johan Bryneel's famous crash off the side of the mountain) then a ending with a 10km climb up to the chalet with 50km of riding in between!

By the third day I was pretty much done. Steve decided that my little legs could use a rest and signed me up for a 146km flattish, windy ride which headed conveniently into a rain storm! At this point, I was convinced that Steve planned this and was trying to kill me and sell my bike for a small profit.

Throughout this entire process, Steve continued to talk me through it repeatedly attempting to convince me that "by mid week, something generally happens to people: their bodies just seem to get adjusted to the climbing, the altitude, they find their rhythm and seem to just get used to the abuse". Words of encouragement with every pedal stroke and every puff of breath kept me going as Steve pedalled along side with ease. At one point he passed me a power shot (a little gummy thing filled with caffeine, sugar and electrolytes) .. I thanked him but couldn't even chew it because my breathing was so laboured!!

Today invited quite a different experience: after a night of tossing and turning due to waking with pain whenever changed positions in my bed, I made my way downstairs for breakfast. Every step down hurt and I wondered how I was possibly going to meet the next challenge. Steve and Anna greeted me with coffee and excitment.

"Why don't we climb up the Col de St. Bernard, a 28km (2188m) climb? The climb finishes in Italy; we can stop for espresso in Italy if you like?!" Now we're talking - this was the best idea Steve has had yet! The sun was shining, the weather was warm and I was going to Italy, IF my legs would get me there ..

We embarked on our ride, warming up with a 15km spin and then starting the climb. Something happened today: things seemed to come together and, miraculously, I found my legs, just as Steve said I would! It felt great: I was not puffing, held a nice steadish pace and thoroughly enjoyed the process, the scenery, the beautiful reward of reaching Italy, eating french fries and drinking Orangina!

I will not lie to you: simply touching my legs this evening induces a tender, painful sensation. I've decided to follow Steve's training advice, "if it hurts to touch them, stop touching them"!!

The run down of the last few days is as follows: I have climbed 6548 meters over 434km of riding in 4 days. Mount Everest stands at 8446 meters up which means I need to climb 1898 meters to reach the height of Mount Everest, a feat that is agreeably very do-able in the next two days.

Tomorrow presents another adventure: the Col de Madeleine, a steeper 1993m, 26km climb that is affectionately known as the Serpent of the Alps: a serpent that I am hoping (but am not likely) to tame!

Stay tuned ...

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