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.
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