Saturday, 21 February 2015

The Pilgrimage

There is definitely a hint of spring in the air. It's still cold, but nothing like the ice and snow of a few weeks ago. So today, I decided to make a pilgrimage to the only climb anywhere near where I live that comes close to reproducing some of the feel of an Alpine col.

The climb up from West Dean village to the top of West Dean hill has lots of the characteristics found in the Alps. It's just a lot shorter. It's over 20 miles from where I live, so there is plenty of opportunity to warm up, and plenty of shorter climbs on the way to keep things interesting.

Leaving West Dean, the road kicks up for a short distance, hitting 8% or so before flattening out at a road junction. Turning onto the hill, the gradient starts out at a fairly comfortable 5 or 6% for a kilometer or so, until a hairpin is reached, leading onto a ramp of about 0.5 km. At this point the road kicks immediately up to 10% and stays there for a while, before gradually steepening, reaching 14% for the last third or so. As the gradient eases at the top, the road swings left before plunging down the far side. Reaching the top, I turned round and headed back. The round trip is nearly 45 miles, quite enough for an early season ride. It's a great climb, though.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Finding Climbs

We're well into 2015 now. The days are starting to lengthen significantly, and thoughts are turning to the summer. We're going back to the Alps again this year, with a new set of climbs to try.

One of the difficulties in preparing for Alpine climbs is in finding anything comparable in the South of England. The best I've found so far, near where I live, is on a 40 mile loop. There are couple of sections on this ride that provide significantly long climbs, albeit at moderate overall gradients.

The frst starts in the village of Easton, just to the east of Winchester. A short steep climb leads out of the village onto the top of the downs, then flattens for a while before ramping up again to the top of Cheesefoot Head. In the 7km or so the total height gain is only around 150m, but Cheesefoot Head is a decent climb that is a good work out if taken at reasoable speed.

The second climb starts in the village of Ovington, just to the west of Alresford. Alresford is a pretty market town that is one end of the Watercress line, a preserved steam railway. A short, steep ramp leads away from Ovington, and, after a brief drop, a gentle climb leads into Alresford itself. Once through Alresford, which can resemble a car park on weekends and holidays, the climb to Bighton is moderate, with some steeper sections. From Bighton, the climb steepens for a while, before a short respite. Just before the village of Medstead, the climb steepens once again, hitting 10%, a sting in the tail before reaching the top in the village itself.

Neither of these climbs is anything like Alpe d'Huez or the Col du Galibier, of course. But it is possible to get some level of preparation by riding them in a gear that is slightly higher than optimal, rehearsing the kind of low cadence, high torque effort that is needed when you run out of gears in the mountains

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Early Morning Crash Landing

One of the problems associated with riding early in the morning, especially at this time of year, is dozy wildlife. Pigeons in particular seem to wander around in the road paying very little attention to what is going on. I've got used to shooing them out of the way, and of hissing at cats to get their attention and make sure they don't run back into the road. This morning, however, on a 60 kilometre ride on Hampshire lanes, I had a couple  of novel experiences.

The first was when a pheasant tried to land in front of me. It was on final approach, heading straight for me when it must have realised that I was there. There followed a full blown crash landing! The bird tried to land and turn and run away, all at the same time. It didn't go well. It ended up on the lane on its back scrabbling to turn the right way up, and to run away. Of course, it couldn't outrun me, so after a frantic effort, it finally scrambled into the air again and flew away.

The other thing that happened, on two separate occasions, was squirrels jumping into the road, taking one look at me and dashing back into the undergrowth. And finally, I saw two weasels dashing across the road. And unlike pigeons, pheasants, cats and squirrels, that is very unusual.

Monday, 25 August 2014

First Ride Back

So, we were back in the UK after a couple of weeks away, dining on French food and pedaling up various Alpine passes. You can follow that trip at Fatman in the Alps. Now it was time to find out how my normal, Hampshire rides felt.

On Saturday, some 5 days after completing the Col d'Izoard, my last ride in France, I set off around a slightly modified version of one of my normal weekend rides. The track is available on Garmin Connect.

This ride includes the steepest hill we have locally, which tops out at 12% but for less than 50 metres, as well as some longer climbs in the 5% to 7% range. Of course, this being England, the gradients don't remain constant for very long. There is little chance to settle into a rhythm before a hill kicks up, or flattens off. Nevertheless, the tricks I learned in France paid off. Watching power output and heart rate and modulating effort on the steepest parts in order to attack as the gradients eased certainly seemed to pay off. The confidence to use 220 watts as my normal climbing power also made the ascents faster. I was in higher gears than before too, and happy to push power output beyond 350 watts for specific sections.

The ride certainly felt faster, and the average speed was pretty good too. It would have been better but for the strong westerly breeze that picked up while I was out and which I was cycling into for the latter part of the ride.

All in all, this felt pretty good.