Cycling Breakthrough!


Well friends, as you know, I’ve been training for the Etape du Tour. I say ‘training’ – it’s been more of a prolonged exercise in how not to whinge week in, week out about how much I dislike cycling. Running is far more enjoyable for me and nowhere near as stuck up (yeah, I said it). But I have been nothing if not determined to see this challenge through. Trying to figure out what exactly isn’t clicking for me mentally with cycling has been just as interesting for me as the training itself. And so, when the opportunity came up to go on a training camp to Nice with some ladies from Rapha, I thought this would be the perfect chance to really get to grips with the two wheeled demon that’s been haunting me the past couple of months.

And I’m delighted to say, I finally enjoyed riding! Woo hoo! Let’s all breathe a sigh of relief. (Don’t get too excited though – I’m still a runner and that will always be my first love.) We did a four day trip to Nice and rode with a cycling tour company called Cycle Cote d’Azur, run by two badass women called Claire and Emma. They organised the daily rides and anyone who knows that area of France knows there’s some mountains involved. Yup, this would be my first experience of long climbs on the bike. I had so much to learn.

And I figured out this has been part of the issue for me. I’ve basically been thrown into this thing, given all the fancy kit n’ kaboodle, but essentially no instruction on what to do with it. I’ve had the bike since the end of December. I went on two rides in January, then stuck myself on the turbo trainer for about six weeks, so have really only been riding outdoors, consistently, since March. I had no idea about technique, gears, how to do inclines, descents, corners, anything really – I’ve just been winging it the past couple of months and getting frustrated.

Then I arrived in Nice and it all changed. Having someone ride next to me and explain exactly what was going on and what I needed to do was absolutely invaluable. On our arrival on Friday, we did an easy two hour ride along the coast, then on Saturday, we were thrown in the deep end with our first climb; a 80km ride with a 10km climb of Col de Vence, which averages around a 6% incline (10% in parts). I was the least experienced rider in the group and as I watched them all take off up the mountain, I tried to stay calm. The first three kilometres basically involve trying to get to grips with the fact that there is no end in sight to that incline – it just goes on and on and on. There is no respite for your legs. You just have to keep going til you get to the top. It was hard, I breathed heavily and my legs hurt, but I did it.

Day two, we took on an even bigger climb. On a 75km ride, we did the 14km climb of the infamous Col de la Madone. Legend has it this is the climb Lance Armstrong used to test out his EPO on, so they say. This incline averages 8%. It’s intense, yo. At the start of the ride, I was petrified, but by the time I got to the beginning of the incline, a calm took over. I knew what it would feel like. I engaged brain, I engaged legs and I got on with it. I was slow, but I accepted that that’s OK, because three months ago, there’s no way I would’ve found myself doing a 14km climb up a mountain on a bike. Plus, you can always make up time on the descent.

On the final day, we took on one last climb, Col d’Eze, a 10km climb averaging between 6% – 9% incline. This time, My confidence grew again. I kept my slow, steady pace up the climb and released my fear by letting go of my death grip on the breaks on the way down and did probably some of my best riding on that descent, where I averaged 50km per hour.

I took in the sights as I went up and down the mountains. I listened to everything the guides from Cycle Cote d’Azur told me and I’ve come out the other end of that four day trip feeling like a completely different rider. Had I not done that trip to Nice and just gone to the Etape du Tour the way I had been training, frankly, I’d have been screwed. Nothing can prepare you for those kind of inclines unless you actually do them. There’s no way you’ll know what it feels like otherwise.

And I gotta tell ya, it feels kind of awesome.

I cannot thank the ladies of Cycle Cote d’Azur enough. Their kindness, patience and coaching was invaluable. I’ll be dedicating each triumphant climb of the Etape to them because I for sure would not get through those mountains if not for the four days spent in the company of those women.

Tomorrow, I’ll share the tips I learned about how to climb and descent inclines, so keep an eye out for that post.

To learn more about Cycle Cote d’Azur (or even better, book your trip there, pronto!), check them out. And of course, a massive thank you to Rapha for putting the trip together.

Don’t forget to follow me on Instagram to see more training pics.

13 Responses to “Cycling Breakthrough!”
  1. MizzBusby says:

    I’m so glad you got your breakthrough!
    Cycling can be a bitch, I used to mountain bike and do triathlons as a preteen, and I totally understand the learning curve of getting inclines. That peace you feel when you know you can make it up an incline, even though it’s gonna be muh’fuggin hard, is the best feeling. Plus you know you’ll be rewarded with a lovely descent on the other side. Well done Bangs!

  2. Angel Dee says:

    I am incredibly in awe of you right now. I have wanted to cycle for a long LONG time, but am to scared to ride a bike as I don’t want to be near trucks/lorries and you’re on these crazy inclines and averaging FIFTY kilometres an hour. Bloody hell.

    Very glad it’s feeling much better now you’ve had a chance to be out in conditions that match your challenge, I have always believe that you’d boss this thing. The photos looked like you did have fun as well. Nuff respect x

  3. Caitlin says:

    It makes me so happy to read this because it tells me that there is hope for me when it comes to cycling. I’ve had my breakthroughs with running and swimming but cycling is still such a bitch for me.

    That said, that ride sounds amazing. I would love to do a guided group tour like that one of these days…if I can ever get my hands around the actual act of cycling.

  4. Rowan says:

    I’ve been following your progress with interest. More than once you’ve alluded to cycling being “stuck up” or “elitist”

    Speaking personally, cycling was my route back to fitness. The simple act of turning the pedals was something I enjoyed, and I discovered a route to freedom as I went on longer more exploratory rides.

    In what I perceive as a contrast to you, I’ve found cyclists to be generous with both their time, advice and experience. It attracts a broad spectrum of people, most of whom have been very down to earth. The one thing that connects them is their simple enjoyment of bikes.

    What specifically has led you to the position that it’s somehow a snobbish activity?

  5. Vicki says:

    It was great to read your post as I’m in a similar position to you. I’m also doing the Etape, started cycling on a trainer in January and finally made it outside for a real ride in March. I went out to the Alps in April to see if I could manage the climbs and I finally got why so many people cycle up mountains, the feeling when you make it to the top is amazing.

  6. Bonnie` says:

    I bought my first road bike in December and rode on the trainer at home until April, when Toronto weather permitted me to go outside. I have the full kit: $$ road bike, the lycra shorts, the three-pocket jerseys, the leg warmers, the cleats, the gloves. I thought I loved riding my bike until I got on the road. I have to say, after my first few road rides I’m scared to death of the traffic. Trucks, cars and pedestrians? My fear is hampering me from training – because I can only go out on the road at 6 a.m. weekends when traffic is minimal to say the least. I manage a 2-hour ride and then I need to get home because the traffic starts building by 8 a.m. This week, I tried riding when I got home from work on a weekday – whoah!!!!! I walked my bike back home. I’d love to hear from other women riders about their experience overcoming fear of traffic. And by the way, yes I am a car driver myself and I’m always very courteous to cyclists – I acknowledged their chutzpah, long before I ever thought about becoming a cyclist myself!

    • Grace says:

      I was a little scared of traffic at first, too. Then motorcycle training kicked in: cagers don’t SEE anyhing but other cagers. But honestly, don’t fear it. Keep your head on a swivel & pay attention to your surroundings. If you have to, hog the lane. You’re easier to see that way – they may get impatient & honk, but they still have to wait to get around you. And wear blinkies (I don’t leave the house without at least an LED taillight) – if you don’t have super visible head & tail lights, get some. Wear bright gear, reflective gear. All these things make you easier to see.

      Basically, ride like you have a right to be there, because you do have that right. They’ll go around.

  7. Emma says:

    We are happy we helped you love it. Come back soon!

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