How to prepare and survive an epic cycling event with good training, great natural nutrition and the right mental attitude.
We re-connect with Hans-Peter Knudsen after his transformative experience on Rapha's Cent Cols Challenge to learn more about how his riding (and thinking) has evolved.
The hArdennes playground
People liberally and sometimes inappropriately term bike rides ‘epic’ nowadays; however, Hans-Peter (H-P) Knudsen ride in the Cent Cols Northern Alps in September 2017 was a truly life-affirming experience.
During these 10 days, H-P experienced a psychological purging of past demons, and learnt more about himself, and how to handle his mental and physical resources, than many lab tests or university studies could unveil.
Fast-forward to the Spring of 2018, and though seasons had passed and situations changed, H-P was able to put into practice some vital learnings from his time in the Alps during his ride on Phil Deeker’s exclusive hArdennes challenge; an eight stage event featuring rides averaging 200km and 4-5000m of ascent, through the tough, twisting roads, and hideously steep climbs of southern Belgium and Luxemburg.
No pain no gain… When numbers matter
H-P eschewed the scientific and objective approach to riding of watts, cadence and heart rate during the Cent Cols Challenge. His abandonment of the hard metrics of training served as a means of allowing him to focus on the fundamental pleasure of cycling, embracing the beauty of the world around him, and the sensory joy it provides – something that helped him to manage the physical and emotional challenges that arose during the ride.
However, H-P knew that the objective numbers have a place, and have a value that cannot be denied. As the harsh Danish winter descended, H-P’s motivation to better himself and take on higher challenges lived on.
At the time, he was planning on riding a second Cent Cols Challenge, this time in the West Pyrenees, and so he knew that sometimes, ‘no pain, no gain’ and maintaining fitness – whatever method possible – was essential.
A return to structured indoor training was therefore on the cards.
Inside H-P’s home ‘hurt box’ – a training room equipped with smart trainer, big screen, and presumably an even bigger fan - interval after interval was performed. Using online training platforms such as Sufferfest, and Elite’s library of video footage of bucket list climbs, H-P reverted to the focussed approach of wattages, power zones, and heart rate monitors.
Despite this approach being a world away from H-P’s attitude when riding in the Alpine mountains, he was able to gain great satisfaction from it.
Those eye-popping intervals were effective, a means to an end, and H-P found the efficiency of this training satisfyingly clinical, and appealed to the different side of cycling.
‘I know its efficient, I know it works. It’s so clinical, it’s so pure and there’s no hiding’
Managing expectations, managing your mind
As a rider, there are times when you need to push hard and strive for more, and there are times when you need to understand your current goals, fitness, and longer-term plan.
Having signed on to the hArdennes at the last minute, H-P wasn’t in top form, and was instead planning to use it as an event to build towards his plans for the Summer.
When riding the hArdennes Challenge, H-P returned to what he knew worked when riding and managing his mental and physical resources...
That focus on nature and the environment that had served him so well in the Alps.
Power, cadence and heart rate had also served their purpose – they had got him fit and strong. But he could now, somewhat ironically, eschew that platform, and allow the himself to enjoy the hArdennes even more, in a true testament to how hard work can pay off.
Whilst H-P wanted to ride well and push himself, he was also free of lofty expectations. He knew it was too early in the year for that, and he revised his attitude accordingly.
With a larger group on the road and a more relaxed approach, H-P thrived in the tough terrain. With company around him, he was able to turn his mind from just how hard the riding was:
‘The friendships and fun to be had with the group distracted me from the lactic searing through my legs’.
In a parallel to how H-P learnt to shift his focus away from training metrics in the Cent Cols Alps as a coping mechanism, he found himself here learning to also free his mind of burden; the baggage of self-expectation that can weigh so heavily on your head and be detrimental to performance and headspace.
Fuelling better, riding stronger
One key thing that lasted the harsh winter since H-P’s Cent Cols was his belief in great natural nutrition. Having learnt in his long days through the Alps exactly what his body needs and when, he was able to fuel himself to feel at his best through the multiple 8-10 hour days in the Ardennes.
Using Veloforte Bites - his ‘Golden Nuggets’ H-P found the wholesome ingredients drip fed his muscles with energy perfectly, neither spiking his blood sugar nor leaving him feeling depleted.
Just as he knew he’d trained the best he could through winter, he knew he had his nutrition plan tried, tested and perfected.
Whilst others relied heavily on the immediate rush of energy gels, H-P found them unnatural in his stomach, creating an unpleasantly uncontrollable rush of energy. And this disparity in approach between the hArdennes peloton was noticeable on the road, whilst others flagged towards the end of the attritional rides, H-P felt strong and consistent. The Alps had taught him how to fuel, and those lessons remained true in the altogether different Belgian terrain.
During a life-affirming ride in the Cent Cols Alps, H-P learnt how to manage his mind and manage his body. He went into the hArdennes Challenge feeling unprepared and underpowered. However, the toolbox of knowledge accumulated in the sweltering French peaks of the Cent Cols served H-P even more effectively than he could have expected.
Deploying methods he knew that worked – focussing the mind and stomach on nature – allowed him to ride stronger and more capably than he could have expected, and allowed him to relish the ride to the full.
And whatsmore, that toolbox of tricks was added to in the Southern Belgian bergs, with learnings of managing expectations and liberating the mind of pressure.
No cyclist is a fait-accompli, and we are always adapting, learning and improving. H-P Knudsen is no better an example of this.