Base Training

Winter training.
     The Base period.
          Zone 1-2 rides.
               Low intensity.

Back in simpler times, I would roll next door to my friend Jody’s house for our group ride. Our route took us down to the end of Gill’s driveway where a bridge indicated the intermediate sprint point and the turnaround spot. Easier said than done on training wheels.

I don’t recall specifically classifying our November rides or making any special consideration as to heart rate or power zones. I’m fairly certain we were just riding our bikes and absolutely loving it.

Not much has changed since then. Mostly just the vocabulary. I’m okay with this progression. As long as big words and prescriptive programs don’t take the fun out of riding my bike, I’ll try them out.

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Cannell Plunge

I felt a tiny sting above my left elbow and instinctively slapped at it. The carcass of a mosquito came away on my right hand and a tiny splatter of blood was left behind. “These ‘squiters are eating us alive!” At the Cannell trailhead at roughly 9,000′ in elevation I didn’t expect to see so many of the blood thirsty bastards.

After an hour and a half shuttle ride up from Kernville our group of 11 were eager to get on the trail. With clear skies and temperatures at this elevation in the 60’s we would be descending down to 2,500’ and temperatures around 100° F.

Sherman Pass

Cannell trail started with a quick singletrack descent and I struggled awkwardly to find my flow. A few years with my butt firmly planted on a road bike has left something to be desired in my MTB handling skills. Plenty of trail lay ahead for me to work out the kinks. The dusty trail quickly gave way to a small meadow. We snaked our way around its perimeter and then continued to descend. I kept to the left to avoid a dry rain gully that had developed in the middle of the trail when I came upon a handful of well placed rocks. As I cursed my instinct to brake, my front wheel wedged solidly between two rocks and brought my bike to a sudden halt. Elegantly, my momentum carried me directly over my handlebars and threw me into a thorny bush. More embarrassed than injured, I picked myself out of the dust and quickly checked my bike. My brake levers were a little askew, but nothing was broken. My right hand stung as I threw a scraped and dusty leg over my bike and got moving again, thankful that no one had seen my blunder.

After a few short lung burster climbs and more technical descents we dropped into a small camp and then made our way along a fire road for a few miles. To our left stretched a large meadow. We stopped to refill our water at a natural spring that our shuttle driver had assured us was clean.

After more climbing and descending (this is the abbreviated version of the story) we came across the barb wired fence that indicates the start of the plunge. In the next 8 miles we would drop 5,000′.

Isabella Lake

We descended for hours. With each foot of elevation loss we felt the temperature rise. Breathing dust and warm thickening air I smiled ear-to-ear. The trail was a plethora of singletrack, sand, rocky sections, switchbacks, short technical sections, and long fast ones.

My fingers hurt from braking. My hand and leg hurt from my fall. I coughed dust from my lungs. My feet burned from newly found hotspots in my shoes. I couldn’t have been happier.

Six hours after our shuttle drop at the top, we rolled back into town and went directly to the Kern River Brewing Company. We were greeted with air conditioning, cold beer, and friendly service.

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Valley of the Guil

After the blazing horns and blaring music from the caravan dissipated through the Pine trees, up the canyon walls and down the river the canyon took on an erie silence. There was a scattering of fans who made the trek to this remote part of the Guil valley between the Col Agnel and the famed Col d’Izoard. Just inside the start of the feedzone, Ashley and I hoped to get a good view of Tour riders as they passed.

The silence left by the caravan stretched on for what seemed like ages, broken occasionally by an official vehicle or Gendarme motorcycle speeding down the narrow mountain road. When the sun peaked through the partly cloudy skies it brought with it heat to the point of discomfort. However, when it went away and the wind blew we shivered from the cold.

Just as the anticipation mounted to a breaking point, a pack of blue Gendarme motorcycles burst around the corner and with lights flashing they flew past. Next in the carefully orchestrated procession, a red official Skoda car blew by, followed quickly by a French television camera moto carrying a daredevil driver and fearless cameraman. Microseconds behind them four men raced on bicycles. In the brief instant that we shared in time and space with these athletes, the lead rider turned his head backwards in a plea to his breakaway companions to help pull through the newly encountered headwind. Having just completed the harrowing descent off the 2,700 meter (9,000 foot) Col Agnel, through ancient villages with streets no wider than a horse drawn plow, they were now faced with a stiff headwind and a short prelude before the massive 15 kilometer climb up the southern approach to the Col d’Izoard.

Although the four breakaway companions belonged to four competing teams, they worked together to conserve their collective strength in a futile attempt to stay ahead of larger masses of energy behind them. The four leaders were soon followed by several chase groups each of about a dozen riders. The first chase group swept by with Levi Leipheimer attached in last position. He swept past with a copy of L’Équipe between his teeth. He must have just pulled it from his jersey where it had been stuffed in an attempt to keep his chest warm on the fast descent. Having served it’s purpose, it was tossed aside and scattered into the wind.

More chasers and then the full peloton followed at a blistering pace. Small gaps that had opened up in the peloton on the descent now needed to be closed and the teams of the favorites were highly motivated to close them down and bring everyone together before the start of the Col d’Izoard. The headwind didn’t make this an easy task and the faces on the chasers told the story.

Closely behind the peloton followed a small army of official motorcycles and team cars. Then they were gone and silence returned to the valley of the Guil.

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Mont Ventoux

Rolling into Bedion, Ashley and I dodged around market traffic before finding a detour to D972 and the start of the 20 km (12 mile) climb up Mont Ventoux. Properly named, venteux means windy in French, the wind was already picking up here among the beech trees. We passed several tour buses unloading cyclists and equipment on the side of the road already scattered with cyclists of all shapes and sizes. From high-end road bikes with carbon wheels to sturdy steel mountain bikes to a rollerblader with ski poles. Also, lots of car traffic. Windows down, cameras out trying to find a few feet to pass.

In this environment, I caught up with a young German boy climbing at about my same pace. He slipped onto my wheel and together we ascended. Every time I glanced back, seeing him just off my wheel gave me a little extra motivation to push the pace. Eventually we emerged from the tree coverage to be greeted by a strong and gusty headwind. Turning the hairpin at the Chalet Reynard this same wind gave us a push from behind. I sat up in an attempt to use my torso as a sail. The next hairpin slammed us once again into the teeth of the wind. My companion took a turn at the front.

With about 1 km to go we passed the shrine to Tom Simpson and I put my head down and attacked, giving the mountain everything I had left. With 200 meters to go I was alone and approaching the final steep hairpin. From behind I heard, “Let’s go! Let’s sprint!” The boy came around me. I tried to respond to his counter attack, but he took me by a bike’s length. Shaking hands we laughed and assured the other that we were both at our limits.

Mont Ventoux

The wind howled among the crowd gathered at the top, snapping photos. Still clear, threatening clouds loomed to the north west. Soon Ashley joined me at the top and we wasted little time in descending towards Malaucene and lunch.

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l’Etape du Tour – Modane to L’Alpe d’Huez

By 6am we were lined up in our assigned stall alongside nearly 10,000 fellow cyclists ready to test ourselves on a Tour de France stage. Shivering as I watched a dark cloud obstruct the rising sun, I hoped the sunny and warm weather forecast held up.

The VIP’s and those deemed worthy to start in the first wave rolled out off just after 7am. Slowly the rest of us crept forward, walk-a-biking towards the start. Finally, around 8am we charged out the gate.


I followed a few old Frenchmen’s wheels as we dodged dangerously between slower cyclists and made our way to the base of the Col du Telegraph.

Crowds were gathered cheering us onto the climb. With over 5,000 people starting ahead of me, the course was packed with a consistent stream of bodies. I settled into my pace and took in the scene.

The clouds had in fact given way to sunshine and warm temperatures and it was impossible not to marvel at the beauty of the Alps. The forested slopes of the Telegraph shone a magnificent bright green. In stark contrast, the roads were filled with a wide variety of colorful cycling kits, bikes and languages.

The numbers we had pinned to our jerseys roughly indicated our starting order. I was in the 8th starting wave, proudly carrying number 5628. As I passed people I made wild guesses as to how far ahead of me they might have started based on their number.

The stream of bodies didn’t faulter a bit as I began the second climb of the day, the Col du Galibier. Looking up towards the pass there was a spectacular trail of color twisting through the switchbacks. It’s not the steepness of the Alps that make them so challenging, it’s their length. Setting a manageable tempo for yourself is extremely important.

Col du Galibier

The long descent to l’Alpe d’Huez was, luckily, mostly uneventful. The tunnels brought on a few white knuckles, but I made it to the bottom of the last climb safely.

For me, the best part about riding Alpe d’Huez is the history. It has been ridden nearly every year in the Tour de France since the 1970’s and won by names such as Fausto Coppi, Bernard Hinault, Marco Pantani and Lance Armstrong. Each of the 21 switchbacks has a plaque bearing the names of past victors. These distractions and a number of entertaining fans along the route made the hour long climb seem much shorter.

I finished with a smile on my face in just under 5 hours (expect the top pros to complete this course in close to 3 hours).

Special thanks to Ashley Drum for the photos.

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Predicting Climb Times – Results

First off, let’s just get one thing out of the way. No, this wasn’t a scientific experiment. Instead, let’s call it a fun experiment and get on with it.

I set off with my good friend Jody from Ukiah around 9am Saturday morning. Temperatures were already around 80 degrees Fahrenheit and on the way towards the upper 90’s. We rolled across town, cyclecrossed through a vineyard, through a drainage ditch, and onto Orr Springs road. We hit the climb full speed and I settled into a tempo. My legs felt good and I tried to keep a steady pace, but my heart rate remained about 5-10 bpm faster than it was on Cavedale. I crested the first summit at 24:55, beating my predicted time by about 2 minutes. Success or failure?

Here was my relative power in Watts/kg on Orr Springs:

Gradient factor = 2 + (% grade / 10)
2 + (7.9% / 10) = 2.79

Relative power (Watts/kg) = VAM (meters/hour) / (Gradient factor * 100)
1180 / (2.79 * 100) = 4.2 W/kg

My predicted relative power was 3.9 W/kg, a difference of about 7%. This seems like a fairly large discrepancy. Any number of factors played part, but here are a few:

  • Higher heart rate – possibly due to warmer temperatures, but also an indication I was putting in a harder effort.
  • Lower weight – although I didn’t weigh myself before each climb, I did notice some weight loss over the course of the week.
  • Smoother road surface – Cavedale had several potholed sections, while Orr Springs was in good condition.
  • Mental factor – since I knew I was being tested, it’s very likely that I simply went harder.

Many of these factors can never fully be eliminated when attempting different climbs on different days in different conditions, but I think the mental factor could eventually be eliminated through successive tests. Eventually I should get to the point where I am pushing myself close to my limit each time.

I guess I’ll just have to put together another test!

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Predicting Climb Times

After reading Daniel Connely’s blog post on the effect of road grade on VAM, I thought I’d try using my Strava data from last weekend to predict my climb times this weekend.

Taking liberties to simplify Daniel’s work, I will use my data from the Cavedale climb last weekend to predict my time on the Orr Springs climb this weekend. These climbs are both Cat 2’s and similar in length and average grade. This exercise is really only interesting because I don’t ride with a power meter. Instead, I’ll attempt to ride both climbs at the same perceived effort.

Here’s my Strava data from Cavedale:

Step 1 – Relative Power

Calculate relative power in Watts/kg on Cavedale.

Gradient factor = 2 + (% grade / 10)
2 + (7.3% / 10) = 2.73

Relative power (Watts/kg) = VAM (meters/hour) / (Gradient factor * 100)
1066 / (2.73 * 100) = 3.9 W/kg

Step 2 – Relative Power to VAM

Calculate expected VAM on Orr Springs.

Convert from relative power to VAM:
VAM = Relative power (Watts/kg) * (Gradient factor * 100)
3.9 * (2.79 * 100) = 1088

Step 3 – VAM to Ascension Time

Calculate expected time on Orr Springs.

Convert from VAM to ascension time:
Minutes to ascend = (meters ascended * 60) / VAM
(490 * 60) / 1088 = 27 mins


27 minutes. It’s practically done!

I’ll give Orr Springs a go this weekend and report back.

[1] effect of road grade on VAM on
[2] Velocity Ascended, Metres per hour on Wikipedia.
[3] Uphill Gradient and VAM on 53×

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Pescadero Coastal Classic

Too explosive, but at least I beat the cameraman.

With a full field of 75 under foggy skies we rolled out from Pescadero High School at 7:45am. My legs felt good and I wasn’t put under any pressure over the small climbs along Stage Road or the first time up Haskins Hill. This is an absolutely beautiful course and as the sun came out I almost wanted to slow down and enjoy the scenery. Almost.

The field was somewhat reduced as we made our way over Haskins and I worked a bit at the front on our way back into Pescadero hoping to keep more of a selection.

There was a short surge as we came up on the intermediate sprint prime outside of Pescadero, but once again no one attacked as we made our way over the climbs along Stage Road. A few miles up Hwy 84 one guy broke away and took maybe a 30 second advantage, but the bunch kept him in check.

We caught the solo break at the feed zone just before the start of Haskins Hill. As we made the sharp right turn onto the climb the road narrowed and from my perspective the field blew apart. In retrospect, I should have been closer to the front, but in reality my legs just didn’t have it in them. I clawed my way to the top, battling it out with a few fellow stragglers to finish 25th.

Thanks to Nate Dunn from Data Driven Athlete for posting this video on YouTube (and for letting me pass him just before the finish):

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l’Étape du Tour Preview

On July 11th, I will line up next to 6,000 other cyclists in Modane, France for l’Etape du Tour. This amateur event gives the rest of us an opportunity to ride a stage of the Tour de France just days before the PROs.

The route will take us over three monumental climbs: Col du Telégraphe, Col du Galibier, and Alpe d’Huez. This same route will be used as this year’s Tour de France Stage 19.

I was fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to ride most of this route last July, so thanks to the power of Strava* not only will I be “competing” against the other amateur cyclists, but I’ll also be competing against my own best times up these three massive climbs.

I’ve increased my training substantially this year, so I’m hoping for some solid personal records. Here’s my ride from last year for comparison:

* Disclosure: I’m employed at Strava.

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Grasshopper – King’s Ridge/Annapolis

That was the best tasting Coke I’ve ever had.

Dropped on King’s Ridge climb. Chased with Jim Barkow. Caught front group. Dropped again at water stop. Chased. Two leaders got separation on Tin Barn descent after we were caught behind a dually truck. Chased with a group of about five over Annapolis and Hwy 1. Caught leaders at water stop along Hwy 1. Dropped on the dirt climb up Kruse Ranch Road. Flatted on descent. Soloed Seaview. Caught by a chasing group of around ten. Blown down Hwy 1 by a massive tailwind. Crawled up Willow Creek for the finish and the Coke. Five hours and 90 miles of pain, suffering, and amazing views.

Thanks to Tom Rosencrantz for the GoPro photo.

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