The weather hasn’t been great, and I’ve only been out on my bike eight times since we got here. What with enforced rest days due to weather and outings and entertaining, that’s not much to show for coming up on three weeks. On the other hand, I definitely feel I’ve been working my legs quite hard, and maybe, just maybe, the hills are getting easier.
It’s hard to tell, because you tend to push yourself by the same amount all the time, so you feel just as tired. Anyway, I’ve been building up to a couple of goals, the first of which was met last Friday, when I made my way up to Fresse and then the Col de la Chevestraye, which is the highest point I’ve reached so far. At somewhere over 600m in altitude, this is officially A Mountain, albeit only in the technical sense. I’ve done it three times before, last year, with mixed results.
The first time I did it (on the old bike), I felt fantastic, although I had to walk up the last 50 metres or so of the col de la Chevestraye, and cheated and phoned my wife for a lift up to Auxelles Bas, avoiding the last 4km of climbing (it’s about 140m of elevation from Plancher up to Auxelles). Last summer, I did it a second and then a third time. The third attempt was within a week of the first, and I bonked badly deep in the woods and had to sit by the side of the road for a long time waiting for inspiration.
This (fourth) time, the first of this year, I stopped a few times on the route for 5 minutes or so at a time, to take a drink, snatch a photo, or eat a gel, but there was no walking, and no cheating. But because my old bike had much bigger gears, I was actually slower this year than last.
As I was climbing the hill up to Fresse, I was overtaken by two old men and one young lad. The Old Man Overtake is always hard to deal with. One of the old men wasn’t even in a particularly low gear! There are a couple of factors at work here. First, I have had my bike fitted with a very low gear (32 teeth), which means with my legs pumping away at quite a high cadence, I’m barely touching 12 kilometres per hour. Then there’s my general weakness and low power-weight ratio, which we’ve discussed before.
Although the doctor has poo-poohed the idea, I’m convinced that the statins I’ve been taking for a couple of years have badly affected my leg muscles. There is no way that anybody who spends as much time as me cycling should still be so relatively feeble and slow. But I dunno. When I’m on a flat road, or a gentle 1% downhill gradient, I’m about halfway down the Strava list, which I’m fine with – about average, and not bad for a 51 year old. But show me an uphill gradient over a few percent, and in the words of Patsy Cline, I fall to pieces.
The big back gear has allowed me to cycle up sections I’ve previously had to walk on: the 14% incline in the St Antoine Forest (picture of the road in the woods above, though not the gradient), for example, and the kick up to the Chevestraye). But, but, but, I’m horribly, horribly slow, which can be really embarrassing.
I gave up the statins for a month earlier in the year and was cautiously optimistic about the results. I started taking them again, though, cowed as I am by the authority of the doctor, and worried as I am about having a stroke like my old man. Well, I gave them up again about a week ago, and I guess we’ll see.
My second target of the summer is another attempt on the Ballon d’Alsace. Our neighbour wants to ride up it with me. He’s a nice guy, older (and smaller/skinnier) than me, but nevertheless I feel confident he’d be shocked at how fucking slow I am. But I’m not going up Fresse again (which I know I can do), and I’m going to save myself for one attempt on the Ballon before the end of the holiday. In the meantime, I’ll do my three other routes, and hope to build up some stamina.
In the end, though, I just have to state the bleedin’ obvious: I really hate riding up hills. Always have, always will.