So, one week on, where do we stand?
Arriving in France last Thursday afternoon, I’d been up since midnight and on the road since about one in the morning, UK time. We arrived in Auxelles Bas at just after half-past two, French time, so 12 hours on the road, more or less.
To clear my head, I immediately went out for a spin, just 8.5 km down to the bottom of the hill and back up again, 140m of climbing. Nothing I can’t handle, normally, except most of the 140m is just one, non-stop climb. It’s hard, a 10% gradient for some of its length. It’s also a main road and can be quite terrifying as the lorries thunder by. Worse than that, it’s a climb that awaits me at the end of any ride: no matter how far I go and how far I climb, I’ve always got to climb that last 140m in one go.
So there were a couple of days of rain, which I took as rest days. Otherwise, I’ve been out every day, trying to gradually increase the distance I travel and the altitude I reach. On Friday, I went 24 km and climbed 270m. On Saturday, I went 26 km and climbed 395m. It was on this ride that I hit a particular gradient, at an elevation of 599m. It was just too much, too steep for my legs and/or my gears. 10% I can (just about) handle, but this bit is 13%, and I just can’t do it. I ride a compact, and I think my biggest gear is 34/30 or maybe 34/28 [UPDATE: turns out I was very wrong about this. My bike had a mere 34/26, so I was a long way short of the 32 I probably needed.]. Whatever, my legs just wouldn’t turn. So I stopped, had a drink, and headed back down my favourite stretch of road, a long downhill drag all the way from 599m to 430-ish. And then back up the hill.
So this bend in the road, this 13% gradient, has become my bête noir. I’ve been on other routes, but I keep coming back to this one. Yesterday, I got up to 653m and climbed a total of 457m, though I had to get off and walk up that little stretch of road. And again today, I wanted to push further, but found myself unclipping in exactly the same spot. After it, the road keeps climbing but only at gradients between 1% and 4%.
The problem is, by the time I reach this nasty bend, I’ve been climbing steadily for 10-12 kilometres, all uphill, all the way from 430-ish metres to 599. And there’s just nothing there. I’m not strong enough or fit enough to make it stick. So I walked it again today, then got back on the bike and carried on, this time all the way up to 697m, making a total climb for the day of 534m, my biggest yet.
I know other cyclists revel in these challenges, but I kind of enjoy riding on flat roads, and I absolutely love riding on a slight downhill gradient, even if it’s against the wind. Yeah, I’m a wimp, but in a week I’ve climbed almost 2000 metres, and here’s my problem. If I want to go further, for longer, and I do, then I’ve got to keep climbing higher. There is no alternative.
Today, the neighbour invited me for a little ride. Only up to 800m, he said. Not yet, I said.