Friday, 4 September 2009
Wednesday, 2 September 2009
Tuesday, 1 September 2009
The second of our multi-stage MTB races for 2009 – the Trans-Alps – was supposed to be the easiest of the “big three”, despite the 22,117m of climbing (much more than the Cape Epic, at 16,650m, and the Trans-Rockies, at 17,618m). As there would be only two weeks between the Alps and the Rockies, our intention was to use the Trans-Alps race as an “overload” training week, sticking rigidly to our (lower) heart rate zones to ensure that we would be in good shape for the race in Canada.
When we rode the Cape Epic our strategy was to stay within 10 heart-beats of each other. To be more precise, I would ride at 10 heart beats lower than Jon. This worked OK for the first three stages, but on Stage 4 Jon suffered from fatigue and was unable to stay in the zone. While I pushed on, riding at the limits of my target heart rate zone, Jon was constantly being pulled above his target zone. After 2 hours of intense racing, Jon “hit the wall” and was unable to recover for the remainder of the stage and indeed for the remaining three stages. Our plan for the Alps was much simpler – we would ride to Jon’s target heart rate zone.
Our first test of the new heart rate strategy was delayed by “inclement weather”. The day before the Trans-Alps kicked off we enjoyed a gentle spin in temperatures in the mid 20s. On the morning of Stage 1 we were greeted by driving rain and a chill wind. Up on the mountains it was snowing. In fact, there was over 40cm of fresh snow on the course, forcing the race organisers to abandon the stage. With true German efficiency we were quickly transported from Mittenwald to Reith im Alpbachtal (Austria) where Stage 2 would start the following day.
As often happens, the best-laid schemes of men can fail in the face of unanticipated events. Our heart rate strategy was exposed on the first climb of Stage 2 when Jon’s heart rate shot up to his peak zone, even though we were riding at a very steady pace up the long climb. At first we thought the cause might be overheating – all the riders were wearing additional layers as there was still snow on the mountains – but after 2 hours Jon began vomiting. Long after there was no food in his stomach he was still retching. With frequent stops and me pushing Jon up the last big climb, the stage seemed to take an eternity.
The diagnosis by the medics at the stage finish was that Jon had probably picked up a virus. Despite being advised to visit the local hospital for a full check up, Jon decided to rest at our hotel and ride again the next day.
The next morning I was awoken by the sound of Jon talking to God on the big white telephone – head down the toilet moaning “Oh… God”. Our worst fears were quickly confirmed on the 32km climb to Pfitscherjoch at the start of Stage 3. Jon’s heart rate was again “in the red” and after an hour he started vomiting. Jon can be really stubborn at times but on this occasion he took the sensible option and rode back to the start in Reith im Alpbachtal. I rode the rest of the stage, and indeed the rest of the race without a partner, with the exception of the first 50 minutes of Stage 5. Jon decided to rest on day four but ride again the next day. On this occasion we parted company early on, although Jon decided to turn his heart rate monitor off and finish the stage!
Stage 5 was dominated by the biggest climb of the race, a 20km ascent rising from 500m to 2,200m. Once over the big climb, however, it was “single-track heaven” to the finish. The first three stages of the race could probably be ridden on a cyclo-cross bike. Stage 4 persuaded me that a hard-tail was the ideal bike, but Stage 5 was full-suspension territory. It was also a stage for strong wheels. Having conquered the big climb, Jon’s day really went “Pete Tong” when he popped a spoke out of his rear wheel, and then another, and another, and another. It wasn’t long before only a handful of spoke were still attached to the rim, forcing Jon to walk the best riding of the entire race.
Stage 6 was another rest day for Jon, another 3,000m of climbing for me. Once again the stage was dominated by a big climb and some great single-track, but the biggest change was in the weather. The race had moved on to Italy and the temperatures were now well into the 30s. As the sweat began to pour, saddle sores made an unwelcome appearance. Dancing on the pedals on the long climbs brought only momentary relief.
Jon’s “on-off” week continued as he decided to ride at the back of the race again on Stage 7. His reasoning on this occasion was that as it was his birthday he deserved to ride. Having survived this stage he decided to ride again on Stage 8. On this occasion he turned his heart rate monitor off again and rode hard, finishing in the first half of the race.
It was disappointing not to ride together, and especially disappointing for Jon not to be able to complete the race. For me, the race had gone exactly to plan in terms of our “training” schedule, with all stages completed at an average heart rate within the target zone set by our coach. I was ready for the Rockies. Jon was still on the rocks.