Indoor Mountains …

The Peaks Challenge at Falls Creek entails more than 4,000 meters (13,100 feet) of climbing. Living in the flat land makes it hard to prepare the legs. One answer is an indoor trainer that can simulate the resistance that would be experienced climbing hills. I settled on the Tacx Neo 2T and with the help of Youtube got it up and running. I’m currently enjoying, if that’s the right word, a one month free trial of the Tacx software.

Here’s a shot of the pain cave …

I’ve repurposed a superseded lap top and thunderbolt screen and added an ANT+ dongle to the computer so that it can read my heart rate monitor. In this shot I’m setting off to climb the Jaufen Pass. The video advances to match the speed that you’re making whilst the software adjusts the resistance to reflect the gradient.

Here’s a screen grab nearing the top of the pass …

On the left of screen you can see speed, power, cadence, heart rate, time elapsed, the gradient and in the tiny letters the most important information is the distance to the top.

The real Jaufen Pass is in the Alps in the far north of Italy. On the Tacx the ride to the top is a little over 15 km and climbs 1,087 meters. Average gradient is 7.2% and it maxes out at 9.4%. You can continue down the other side but I can’t for the life of me see why you would, you reach impossible speeds with no effort and round corners in a fashion that would be lethal in real life and are too dizzying to look at on screen.

How does it compare with the real thing? It certainly feels pretty realistic and I think it will substitute well for the missing mountains.

As well as a library of videos there is a workout section where you can set up an interval session with control over gradient if that’s your thing and there’s a built in ramp test and FTP test.

The trainer will work with other apps such as Zwift and RGT. They have free introductory offers that I will probably make use of before choosing which way to go in the long term.

Meanwhile there are 54 days until the big event which equals four Jaufen Passes plus a whole load of connecting asphalt.

Four Days On …

and one day off.

The week was invented by astronomers not physiologists. It just divides the lunar month into neat quarters. From a fatigue management perspective shorter regular blocks suit me better than a seven day week. The biggest problem is that the calendar and the program don’t stay in sync. If Wednesday is the group ride and Saturday is race day the system runs off the rails.

Within the block I like to ride hard then easy, easy, hard then the fifth day is a day off. There is nothing sacred about that order so that’s where group rides and race days can be accommodated – just change the order when necessary. The day off though is well worth preserving even if it means ending a block early.

Occasionally it runs to plan and last week a block looked like this …


Distance kmClimb mTimeTSS
Wed1013293hr 52m289
Thur57692hr 38m111
Fri551682hr 6m174
Sat1098134hr 18m377

The Training Stress Score (TSS) is one of a number of tools designed for quantifying training load. It uses power, time and intensity. Riding flat out for an hour would give a TSS of 100 and leave you gasping on the side of the road. Riding at lesser intensities for longer periods will enable you to achieve higher scores and still be able to walk!

Strava has a similar tool called Relative Effort and my Garmin Watch comes up with Training Effect. Today’s ride for example had a TSS of 154 or Relative Effort of 147. Training Effect in the Garmin universe is expressed for Aerobic and Anaerobic scores separately 3.6 and 1.1 today.

A TSS of less than 150 is considered Low Intensity, recovery will take less than 24 hours. 150 to 300 is moderate, you should be fit to train the next day, over 300 is high and some residual fatigue may last 2 days. The Peaks Challenge will likely generate a TSS over 400.

A hard day may be a long ride, a big climb, intervals or hill repeats. I’m probably as guilty as anyone of making my easy days too hard and my hard days not hard enough.

My Garmin Fenix6 watch gives me access to a coaching program. It’s an odd situation being coached by your watch. It has no idea of my goals. Tends to suggest workouts that aim to improve functional threshold power and criticises me frequently for a lack of anaerobic effort. For someone preparing for an event that will have me in the saddle all day long rides are essential. The watch often dismisses these as unproductive. Given the money I paid for it I think it should show its owner considerably more respect.

I never was very coachable. At least the watch doesn’t shout at me when I ignore it.

The Training Plan …

An athlete should do the least amount of the most specific training that brings continual improvement.

Joe Friel.

In other words specificity and efficiency. What you can do this week depends in the main on what you did last week and the week before. If the objective is an endurance event and you aren’t confident on the basis of what you did last week then you need to do more this week. If it entails a great deal of hill climbing then you’d better climb some hills.

The other side of the coin is the more you do the more fatigue you accumulate. So I need to increase the training load but allow sufficient time for rest and recovery.

A training plan seems a good idea. Bicycle Network are the organisers of the Peaks Challenge and they offer three training programs devised by Dr Stephen Lane. It’s suggested you make your choice based on how much time you have available in your regular week. The least, perhaps the most efficient, calls for 10 hours a week, the biggest for 16.5 hours a week. I downloaded the intermediate one aiming for 12 hours a week.

They all give you a 16 week lead up to the event. Each starts with a measurement of your Functional Threshold power (FTP). Workloads are specified with reference to your FTP. They call for six days training followed by one day off. Hard days alternate with easy days and the fourth week of each block is an easier week. Long rides are prescribed for the weekends. Finally they wind up with a taper. Dr Lane has more advice and encouragement in video form all of which can be found <HERE>.

At the core of all three programs the quality work is much the same. Extra time in the more time consuming programs is largely more long slow distance. Up hill interval training figures prominently.

The programs have been designed to suit working people. They stay in sync with the calendar and don’t bite too deeply into weekdays.

The guru of my running days was Dr Ken Cooper. In his view exercising 5 times a week was the optimum. The additional benefit from a sixth session wasn’t great and came at the cost of possible injury and increased fatigue. In those dim distant Marathon running days there was never a time when I arrived at the starting line with as much training behind me as I would have liked but I never withdrew from a race (nor did I ever win one!)

Given the entrenched belief that six days in a row is too much and the fact that I’m not a slave to the calendar I have opted for working in 5 day blocks – Hard day/easy day/easy day/ hard day/day off. The second easy day includes a weights session.

The base that I’m coming off has been fairly consistent over the four months August through November with an average weekly volume of 365 km and 2,040 meters of climbing. Time invested has been 16 hours a week. In December I made a serious effort to increase the climbing, time stayed about the same but I climbed 3,120 meters a week, distance was slightly down.

I have no mountains on my doorstep so 15 minute intervals up hill pose a problem. The best hill in the neighbourhood offers about 5 minutes of climbing. I’ll cover the solution to that problem in a future post.

I also have a few treats lined up for myself to spice up the training.

Really … ?

I have seen the Peaks Challenge describes as the hardest one day mass bike ride in Australia. My mother would have suggested I was trying to run before I could walk. The prize for those that complete the 235 km and 4000 meters within the 13 hours allowed is a cycling jersey.

Preparing for any endurance event requires the outlay of emotion, time and money. There is a gulf between romantic notion and reality. To arrive at Falls Creek in the sag wagon would be to drop right into the gulf … public humiliation and no jersey. What makes me take the gamble?

It’s not entirely a leap in the dark.

Experiment number one. 200 km ride.

This on a fairly flat course.

Nutrition – 2 bananas 1 litre of water.

Results – Average speed 24 kph, sore bum, sun burn.

Lessons learned – sunscreen, more water.

Experiments 2, 3 & 4. Ride up and down Mt Hotham, Falls Creek and Tawonga Gap.

These are the three major hills on the route. Each is a worthy challenge in itself but I made it to the top of them. Falls Creek from WTF corner to Mt Cope is the toughest and that’s the one that comes last!

I’d ridden most of the course in segments before shelling out the entry fee and booking accommodation. Can I put all the segments together in the allotted time?

The hardest ride that I’ve done so far is Omeo – Falls – Omeo, 150 km, 2,400 meters of climb. Lets call that experiment 5. It took 7hrs 30min at about 20 kph. If I could hold that pace the ride would take 11hrs 45min. That doesn’t account for all of the 4,000 meters. Let’s assume that meters climbed are far more influential than kilometers on the flat and divide the time by 2,400 and multiply the result by 4,000 we have a prediction of 12hrs 30min.

It might be possible. The job in hand is to make it probable. Climbing is the key. There are 74 days.

Peaks Challenge …

Is this madness?

I just submitted my entry for the 2021 Peaks Challenge at Falls Creek. It’s run by Bicycle Network and this is how they describe it …

Peaks Challenge Falls Creek is a 235km ride with 4,000+ metres of climbing, set among the backdrop of the beautiful Victorian Alps.

You’ll tackle the ascents of Tawonga Gap, Mount Hotham and finally, ‘The Beast’ that is the back of Falls. The back of Falls will hit you like a tonne of bricks. With 200km in your legs, you’ll quickly learn why the first pinch is called WTF Corner. It’s a steep and relentless climb with little reprieve.

D Day is Sunday March 7th.

The challenge must be completed within 13 hours or they will cart you off the course in the sag wagon. It is further than I have ever ridden before and entails ascending up half an Everest. So you see I have set myself up for a very public humiliation.

Success depends on loading the legs and I’d better get cracking with that soon! I’ll share my preparation. If you are inclined to join up here’s the link BicycleNetwork.

Full Cycle

A year ago, this very day, I came home from Ballarat with a brand new ebike.

The next day, the first of December, I cycled for the first time in about 30 years. A good friend had encouraged me to take this bold step so I wrote to him …

Hi John

Went for a ride this morning on my new bike. I rode 37 km at an average speed of 16 kph. Top speed was 35 kph which I can assure you was down hill with a following wind. I was praying not pedalling. I ended up buying a Merida tourer/mountain bike with a Shimano motor. I hope to be able to walk tomorrow.

Cheers

Rob

I turned the engine off a few days later and soon after I bought a Mountain Bike. That kept me happy for a while. There are plenty of gravel roads and forest trails around home. Not too many mountains. I still use it occasionally. Variety is the spice of life.

But quite soon I was unable to resist a road bike. Or a head unit, a heart rate monitor, a power meter and lots of lycra.

In 12 months I have ridden 12,900 km and climbed 65,500 m, my longest ride so far is 200 km and the biggest single climb 1,358 m. I’m 14 kg lighter today than I was a year ago.

This is the highest point on the Great Alpine Road. I am a tortoise rather than a hare but reached more than 60 kph on the way down. It is testament to how far I’ve come that I didn’t start praying. I was too distracted by the smell of burning coming from my brakes.

And I could walk the next day.

So Much Cycling …

Because a certain pandemic has rearranged everyone’s schedule we had overlapping Grand Tours. The Giro d’Italia finished yesterday. The 7th stage of the Vuelta a Espana goes off tonight Australian time.

The last stage of the Giro was a 15.7km time trial with the leaders, Jai Hindley and Tao Geoghegan Hart separated by just hundredths of a second. It was hard to decide who I should barrack for. Jai Hindley is an Australian like me. Tao Geoghegan Hart is a pom, like me.

When it come to the cricket I go for Australia over the poms but Tao is a Hackney boy as am I. Apparently he played soccer on Hackney Marshes as did I … and my father and my grandfather. On the other hand Jai is from Perth, WA. Although I affirmed my allegiance to Australia the Covid virus has clearly demonstrated that I am a Victorian not an Australian. State borders are closed to Victorians, indeed the WA state border is closed to everyone.

Both lads have done remarkably well. Both started the race as domestiques not anointed GC riders. Rather than get out the voodoo doll I decided that I would be happy whoever won.

Congratulations to the Hackney boy! When are you migrating to Victoria?

Coming from behind …

Like Uncle Kel I did have a cape for rainy rides. It covered everything from handlebars to saddlebag with just my head sticking out the middle.

I am not so old that I remember carbide headlights but when I bought my road bike I had to ask the shop assistant how to change gears. Things had most certainly changed in the thirty or so years that I had been without a bike. Thirty or so years during which the shop assistant had been born!

Now I carry a couple of CO2 cylinders instead of a hand pump. The bike has a computer on board that displays heart rate and power and keeps track of progress via GPS. Clipless pedals keep me firmly clipped onto the bike (yeah, go figure). Disc brakes help me stop. After the ride I upload to Strava (or it could be Training Peaks or many alternatives) and analyse my effort, record it for myself or share it with others. The lights come off and get recharged via a USB connection. Thanks to carbon fibre the bike is the lightest I have ever owned. I am still the engine but even that is voluntary. And how heartening to learn that my quads are more powerful than the engine in a Nikola truck.

I like the changes. I do not hanker for the good old days. But of all the changes the one that blows me away the most is my radar. Most of my riding is on country roads. They are usually quiet but the traffic is not hanging around. I don’t have eyes in the back of my head and I can’t bring myself to desecrate the bike with a mirror. I have been known to wobble when I turn my head to look behind. My Garmin Varia RTL515 radar unit tells me when it’s safe to look around.

It picks up approaching vehicles from behind as much as 140 meters away. It doesn’t see over hills or around bends so traffic may not show until it’s closer. Mine is married to a Wahoo Elemnt Bolt computer so its behaviour is a little different than on a Garmin head unit. It was a breeze to set up and works like a charm. It doesn’t replace turning your head but you can choose a moment when you know that there’s nothing close (but bear in mind that a vehicle traveling at 100kph covers 140 meters in 5 seconds).

Le Tour …

It’s almost over.  Tonight’s (Aussie time) brings le Tour de France to its conclusion on the Champs-Élysées in gay Paris. The race for the yellow jersey is done and there are no more mountains. It will be a field day for the sprinters and a celebratory procession for the rest.

I have watched it on SBS with all the passion of the born again. The commentators Robbie McEwan, Matt Keenan and Bridie O’Donnell have done a splendid job although some coaching on their pronunciation would not go astray. To call a water bottle a bidon is in keeping with l’esprit de la course but to pronounce it “bidden” is a travesty, not to mention the gender and ending scrambling.

I am certain that the riders are pleased to be reaching the end after 3,483km but I’m wondering how I will fill the void it leaves behind.

And what a finish. Stage 20 was a time trial, a mere 36.2km long but ending with a brutal climb. Team Jumbo Visma had led their star rider Primoz Roglic to the very threshhold of victory. He’d worn the yellow jersey for 11 days. Breathing down his neck was another Slovenian Tadej Pogacar, a debutant in the tour and 22 years old tomorrow. It was Pogecar that rose to the occasion. He gets to take home the Yellow Jersey as overall winner, the White Jersey as the best young rider and the Polka dot Jersey as the King of the Mountains. All he needed to be happy was just to take part!

Meanwhile Richie Porte from Tasmania was in fourth place behind Miguel Lopez and breathing down Richie’s neck was Mikel Landa. He had to recover a minute and a half to overhaul Lopez and ride well enough to stay ahead of Landa in the process. He knocked it off at an average speed of 37.5kph.

Kudos, Richie, kudos. He will be just the second Australian to mount the TdF podium.

Stage 21 is for the sprinters. Can Caleb Ewan, the only other Aussie, add another stage win to his collection and repeat his achievement of last year?

Inspiration …

Youth would be an ideal state if it came a little later in life.     

Herbert Henry Asquith

      or perhaps lasted for ever but that’s not how it works. What departs with it depends a lot on the accidents that befall us along the way and the less wise decisions that we make. Most of us have the capacity to hang on to a lot more for a lot longer. This is the story of Gayle’s Uncle Kel, largely in his own words.
Kelvin was born in 1927. Before he was big enough to ride in the saddle he would ride his father’s bike standing on the pedals with one leg through the triangle of the frame. This was the era when …

For night riding the bike was equipped with an acetylene light mounted from the handlebars using a sprung trapezoidal frame. The light had a lower compartment to hold carbide and a water compartment above to allow a regulated drip through to the carbide which generated acetylene to be burnt in front of a reflector to supply light.

Kel bought his first bike in 1937 …

with money earned from delivering morning newspapers. This was the only time that I can recall my father being angry. He seized the new 24 inch wheel bike and later returned with a 28 inch bike that I would not grow out of. I rode this bike from Westgarth to Preston for school for three years. On wet days I used a waterproof cape which extended over the body and forward over the handlebars.

He joined the scouts …

In the early 1940’s, preparations were made in anticipation of Japanese air raids and the Air Raid Precaution Organization was formed. Various scenarios were practised, using scouts on bicycles as messengers to relay information between headquarters and “bomb sites”. In other scenarios, the scouts were used to play the part of injured civilians who needed first aid and to be transported to hospital. My family did not have a telephone at this time, so a person living in Regent was rung to pass a message to his neighbour (another scout messenger) that his services were required at Air Raid Precaution Headquarters. This scout would jump on his bike and collect me en route to Northcote Air Raid Precaution Control. The Scouts were allocated roles as messengers or the injured.

During these war years new tyres were not available so we learnt to retread our own tyres by spreading a rubber solution over the tyre and sprinkling the tyre with crumbed rubber. At night, the suburbs were blacked out to prevent any enemy aircraft from identifying the geography of the city. Even our car and bike lights conformed to blackout rules by having shields to cover the front light and thereby permitting only a glimmer of light to escape.

About this time, my paternal grandfather came to live with us and he took to riding my Dad’s bike. I was amazed! He was 81 years of age and still able to ride a bike!!

The bicycle is fun for kids but to most adults of Kel’s generation it was merely utilitarian. The motor car slowly took over. Eventually, though, Kel and his wife, Gwen were blessed with grandkids and they seem to have been a catalyst …

Many years later our young granddaughters were given small bikes, our daughter, Helen, received a new mountain bike for Mother’s Day and I was given a hybrid aluminium bicycle for painting their house. I joined a Bicycle Victoria event and along with my five and six year old granddaughters we rode from Carlton for the 50 km over the Westgate Bridge to Williamstown and back through Footscray to Carlton. Then when the girls were aged seven and eight and I was 77, we completed our first Great Victorian Bike Ride from Port Fairy to Geelong and never once walked nor required the sag wagon! I continued to participate in the Great Victorian Bike Rides for a further six years.

After six years on the hybrid, I changed to a Jamis, steel framed road bike, but changed the handlebars from flat to butterfly bars to give me a better hill climbing attitude.

By 2015, my wife, Gwen’s health deteriorated, necessitating her move to an aged care facility and I began riding my bike the 5 km from Eaglemont to Alphington every day to visit her. Looking for a new activity, I signed up with the Banyule Bicycle Users Group (BUG), made up of a group of retired men and women in their 60’s and 70’s. I was then 87. Banyule BUG ride two days of the week, travelling along bicycle paths, roads with bicycle lanes and some minor back streets over distances of 30 -95 km

Arriving home and feeling tired after the Banyule BUG ride, and still with another bike ride ahead of me to visit Gwen, I began to look for an electric bike. I chose a CUBE brand, step through frame with derailleur gears. I ride this bike in the evenings to visit my wife. It suits the hilly terrain when I have a heavy load and I am feeling tired. The ebike is heavy and ponderous and I find my road bike much more responsive so I prefer it for the weekly BUG rides.

At nearly 93 years of age, I enjoy my bike riding and look forward to active, safe riding for the next few years.

Amen to that and thank you Kel for taking the time to contribute this blog.