“At the peak of tremendous and victorious effort, while the blood is pounding in your head, all suddenly comes quiet within you. Everything seems clearer and whiter than ever before, as if great spotlights had been turned on. At that moment, you have the conviction that you contain all the power in the world, that you are capable of everything, that you have wings. There is no more precious moment in life than this, the white moment, and you will work hard for years, just to taste it again.” Yury Vlasov, legendary weightlifter of the 60s.
The final push
With my gilet open and flapping behind me in the wind like a superhero’s cape, I focus my world down to the 10 metres in front of me. Heart pounding, and yet with a clarity of thought and focus that belies the situation, I hammer on the pedals knowing that every second matters. The burning in my legs is a constant reminder that I’m at my limit – maybe even over it – as the road rears up once again, winding its way towards the top of the mountain. Nothing else matters now; my mind is free, I have, as Vlasov says, got wings carrying me.
Start from the beginning of our 3-month program with Part One.
My race within the race at Haute Route Ventoux has come down to this one last effort, the final push back to the summit of a climb that has, over the past three days, etched itself into my mind and muscles. The ‘Giant of the Provence’ is a mountain steeped in cycling history, the scene of some of the sport’s most iconic moments, as well as one of its most tragic, a Mecca for cyclists the world over, although rarely the scene of a mountain time-trial.
Stood behind the start ramp, with those riders immediately above me in the general classification further back in the line, there may have been some who felt that I would be an easy catch further up the road. On appearances alone they might have been justified in their thoughts – me with the build of a track sprinter amongst a band of wiry climbers, but inside there’s a growing confidence built on the foundations of the previous two days of riding.
It’s a belief that wouldn’t have been built but for the journey that I’ve been on over the past three months, during which time I’ve worked closely with sports scientist Daniel Healey to utilise the real-time blood glucose data provided by Supersapiens to refine and hone my nutrition and training in order to arrive in Bedoin in optimal shape. And yet, for all of Daniel’s expert knowledge, for every insight provided by Supersapiens, for the countless training sessions perfectly executed and every day’s nutrition meticulously adhered to, there remained an element of doubt, a little voice wondering how it would all come together when it mattered most.
Day one: Back to the beginning
Experience has taught me that the only way to quieten this voice is to start pedalling, and yet as we roll out of Bedoin on day one, a mass of riders swarming past me, it does the exact opposite. It rages louder, telling me it’s all been for nothing, ignoring my logical counter-arguments that the pace will soon settle, that people are just too eager and will pay for their over-exuberance further up the road. I resist the urge to up my power, reasoning that 350 watts is high enough when there’s still over 100 kilometres and almost 3,000 metres of climbing to go.
Sure enough, as the race settles into its rhythm and having eased back on my own power, I start to pick off riders now paying for their earlier, misguided exertions. My legs feel good, I’m climbing smoothly, my mind is quiet and with every passing kilometre my confidence is growing. Not long after the first feed-stop, I find myself in a group of fast, serious-looking riders, all intent on pushing the pace. I fall into line, fastidiously doing my fair share of work, but equally enjoying the ability to sit in and save my legs a little. That is until I puncture and they sail off into the distance.
The ensuing 60 kilometres, whilst considerably more taxing riding alone, give rise to further optimism, as once more I pass riders, continually spurred on with every successful catch. It’s only when I hit the lower slopes of Mont Ventoux that I begin to feel the effects of riding solo, and with it the return of the little voice. Only this time it’s cajoling me up the mountain. A voice of calm, rational reason pushing me forward at a time when my legs might have said otherwise, until eventually there’s no more road to ride. I’m at the summit, a wave of euphoria washing over me.
Dat two: near perfection
|Monday||60 mins @ zone 2, including 6 x 15 secs sprints TSS 45.0|
|Tuesday||90 mins @ zone 2 TSS 80.0|
|Thursday||60 mins @ zone 2, including 6 x 15 secs sprints TSS 45.0|
90 mins @ zone 2 TSS 80.0
|Saturday||60 mins riding, including 10 x [6 x 10 seconds on / 10 seconds off] TSS 40.00|
|Sunday||3 hours 30 mins @ zone 2, TSS 180.00|
|Tuesday||60 mins @ zone 2, including 5 x 15 secs sprints TSS 55.0|
|Wednesday||90 mins, including 3 x [10 mins @ zone 2 / 10 mins @ zone 3] TSS 105|
|Thursday||75 mins @ zone 2, including 5 x 15 secs sprints TSS 65|
|Saturday||90 mins, including 3 x [10 mins @ zone 2 / 10 mins @ zone 3] TSS 105|
For weeks 1-2 read Part One.
For weeks 3-4 read Part Two.
For weeks 5-6 read Part Three.
For weeks 7-8 read Part Four.
For weeks 9-10 read Part Five.
Day two promises to be a sterner test, with a parkour of 153km featuring 3500m of climbing, and yet in my mind there’s nothing to fear, not even the formidable task of taking on Mont Ventoux from Malaucene. Instead, a quiet confidence radiates throughout my being, which translates into a near perfect day of riding. I find myself almost effortlessly gliding up climbs, relishing the ability to control the pace I want to ride at rather than have the road, or other riders, dictate to me, as has often been the case before.
The kilometres melt away until, after a little over four hours of riding later, Ventoux stands sentinel above me once more. From here on in it’s every rider for themselves and it’s not long before our group is strung out, each of us locked into our own personal battles. I have eyes only for those ahead of me, the pedals light under my feet as I set about chasing down as many people as possible. There’s a 3km stretch, when the gradient hits a constant 12%, where whispers of doubt enter my mind, but I refuse to listen, channelling my energy into wrestling my bike higher still.
Through the worst of it, and free from thought once more, I slowly increase my pace, all the while keeping my energy levels topped up, ready to go all in until the summit. It hurts, but in a weird way I relish the pain. It spurs me on, asks me to give more of myself when previously I may have sat up and eased off the pedals. My legs respond as the summit comes in to view through the trees, its sight adding further motivation and desire to an already raging fire deep within me. It’s all I need to propel me back to the summit, for the first time in my life truly feeling (and looking according to my wife) like a proper cyclist.
Day three: the final countdown
And so to the final day, the individual time-trial and one last effort. Inclement weather means the summit is not safe, and so we will race against the clock only as far as Chalet Reynard, which still represents a formidable challenge – 16km and 1070m of ascent. I set off knowing that the riders on the road ahead of me are behind me in the rankings, and that those behind are the ones I need to take back time on, and so I must avoid being caught at all costs.
What follows is an almost transcendental experience as I ride with a focus that I have never experienced before. To Vlasov’s quote, everything seems clear and white, there’s an unquestioning conviction in my ability to maintain 350 watts for the hour or so that it’s going to take me to reach the finish. The only voice I can hear is that of my recently lost Grandfather, one of my greatest supporters in life until the very end of his, further adding to the near out-of-body experience as I devour the road ahead of me. I rise from the saddle as the finish line comes into sight, squeezing out every last drop of energy, my entire being screaming in pain as I stop the clock and slump over my handlebars fighting for oxygen.
My time, one hour three minutes and 39 seconds, is good enough for 55th on the day, which might not sound that impressive, but to me it represents a huge achievement. I have beaten 33 riders who started the day ahead of me in the GC, as well as finishing in the top 25% of what is a highly competitive field. But more than that I have ridden to the absolute best of my ability, knowing that there was nothing else I could have done, either at the race or in the preceding three months. It was never about going to France and trying to be first, but rather to piece together all of the different parts of the jigsaw from the preceding three months and perform to the absolute best of my ability, knowing that my best is good enough. It’s easy to forget that on any journey it’s the person we become that matters more than the finish lines we cross, it’s the process itself that offers far greater levels of satisfaction than the all-too-fleeting moment of joy at finishing the race.
Through all that I have done, at the heart of which has been the real-time blood-glucose data from Supersapiens, I have redefined the limits of what I’m capable of. I’ve become a far better cyclist, one that now has the confidence and belief to seek out even greater challenges, knowing that this isn’t the end but just the beginning.