Seasoned cyclist and Veloforte Ambassador, Jim Cotton, is no stranger to tough rides through mountain passes. Here, in a series of blog-posts, we follow him through the year as he trains for the infamous Haute Route Iron challenge; a stage event comprising two weeks of tough competition in the high Pyrenees and French Alps, taking place in late August 2018.
From the grinding wet of early-season UK training to the intensity of high-summer Alpine climbing we learn step-by- step how it feels to build his competitive form.
Tapas and Towns in the Sky – Andalucia Training Camp.
Winter was wearing thin to say the least. After the high of finishing the build on my new bike, and having a professional fitting, I was struck by a debilitating fear of getting my beautiful new steed ruined by the mud and grit of UK winter.
Stuck between the rock of needing to get miles on the bike to start my muscles adapting to a slightly different position, and the hard place of not wanting to depreciate my new pride and joy, winter riding predominantly comprised staring at a laptop screen and digital mountains. A fan in my face, a towel at hand, long months were spent willing the time away on that next turbo interval.
The only thing that kept spirits up was the promise of a late winter training camp with Custom Cycle Coaching in Andalucia, Southern Spain; somewhere more commonly known to be the flocking ground of retirees and clubbers in search of abundant sun and cheap cocktails.
The camp was a small and intimate affair, based in the Alpujarra region, a mountainous area just south of the Sierra Nevada national park.
I arrived on camp gagging to get some sunny, mountainous miles. I was feeling happy with how the legs had been responding to the endless interval sessions of winter, but a little unsure how I’d fare on rides over 5 or 6 hours.
However, inspired by the unusual feeling of sun in what was dubbed to be Spain’s ‘coldest winter in years’ (a ‘mere’ 12-18 degrees and blanket sunshine), some great riding company, and the beauty of an area seemingly untouched by tourism and pretension, the legs responded well.
For the week, rides wound their way through orange-blossom lined valleys and breathtaking towns in the sky – settlements that seemingly magically clung to the steep faces of majestic mountains.
The Alpujarra is an inspiring place; rugged rolling hills mingling with ascents to match the superstar climbs of the Alps, only with the bonus of a total absence of traffic.
Re-fuelling was just as much a pleasure as the riding; café cortados and tapa cost no more than 3 euros a piece, and of course, the Veloforte was always at hand… there’s something uniquely empowering about filling bidons from fresh mountain water that flows from the fountains sprinkled throughout the villages, perfectly accompanied by the delicious real ingredients of a Veloforte.
I rode the week hard, listening to the guidance of the coach that ran the camp, but also throwing in extra efforts here and there. Day to day recovery was going well, and the power meter was showing pleasing numbers on a daily basis.
The week finished with an epic 150km trek through the mountains. Starting out in the remote hills bordering the Sierra Nevada, racing down to the coast for omelette and chips overlooking the Mediterranean, and then climbing back over one of the fiercest climbs of the area - the ascent to Rubita - the camp signed off in style, and I felt strong till the end.
I returned from a 27 hour week of training – big by anyone’s standards - feeling invigorated and ready to progress. The ‘sensations’ so commonly referred to by cyclists, those intangible signs of early form, were showing through.
Part 2: Nice (France), in under a month’s time. However, those few weeks were not to go quite as hoped. Highs are inevitably accompanied by lows. What was to follow was far from the build in form that I’d been seeking, but that is all part of the journey towards an event like the Haute Route Iron.
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