Seasoned cyclist and Veloforte Ambasador, 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 how it feels to build his competitive form, and eventually the race itself.
De-training Camp & the Flourishing of Fatigue.
After the highs of the beautiful scenery and glimmers of form in the legs during my trip to Andalucia (see Part 1 of this series here), the three week run-in to my trip to Nice was a definite low and what follows is something of a dashing of dreams, yet such is the way with training… what needs to be true in our minds doesn’t always fall into our laps.
The recovery process from the training in Spain was lengthened by my own poor judgement, or, perhaps, over-keenness. A perfect storm of rushing back to training too soon, being a little too careful with my diet, moving home and a period of illness led to stagnation... I could feel the gains I made in Spain seemingly reversing, rather than consolidating. So, I was both nervous about how my body would react to another big load of work in Nice, but also desperate to press on and re-gain some form.
I rushed out to Nice the day after moving home without being able to give it much thought, so I wasn’t sure what to expect, nor the nature of the riding ahead. What had been initially marketed as a ‘racer’s camp’ by the tour company had turned into a social visit for friends due to insufficient registrations.
Some riders would be elite level, and others casual club riders, but I was more preoccupied with concerns of how the malaise in my legs would perform in the Maritime Alps; whether I would struggle or the change of scene and company would perhaps reinvigorate me.
The Nice Riviera, with it’s private yachts, mansions, and busy traffic, doesn’t lend itself too well to solid steady riding. However, once away from the coastline, into the foothills of the Alps, this playground of so many pros through the recent decades – from Armstrong in the 90s to Team Sky and so many others in the present day - is just stunning.
The mountains inland from Nice are as beautiful as they are infamous; big name climbs such as the Madone and the Eze, and further inland, the Vence, Braus and Bruis, are beautiful.
The contrast between the snow of a cold winter on the sides of the road, and the ragged fortresses dating back as far as medieval times contrasted perfectly with the hectic urbanisation below them.
In the hills, I felt calm and at peace, with the stress of the past month decreasing as I climbed higher from sea level. The numbers were unremarkable but not disappointing.
However, as we came back into the endless urbanisation, the unavoidable path between the mountains and our accommodation, I could feel my disquiet return.
The weather in early March on the Cote d’Azur cannot be guaranteed, but is typically a reliable 12-15 degrees and dry. Not so on this trip.
The Paris-Nice Challenge, a sportive that our group had planned to ride, fell on the penultimate day and was greeted by heavy rain and heavier winds. The event carried on nonetheless, but the groups enthusiasm was sufficiently dampened by the poor weather we’d had to abandon our plan of attending. So we spent the morning staring out of the window at the dense clouds, wondering what could have been - frustrating and dispiriting.
The following day too was a similar experience, with the storms developing to a point where the rain took more of a sideways trajectory, so those final two days were spent attempting to follow yoga DVDs, gazing idly out of the window, one short interval session, and some work. Of course, back home in Oxfordshire, the sun was shining. Ce La Vie.
All in all, I felt the trip had become a de-training camp. What had been booked in the expectation of hard riding and spring warmth had been something of a damp squib of junk miles and twiddling thumbs. I’d neither gained quality training nor the period of rest I possibly needed to stem the tide of fatigue after Spain.
Training is a rollercoaster of emotions with peaks and troughs as sharp as the summits and valleys of the Pyrenees and Alps that I had set my targets on. And experience had taught me that you need to not get bogged down in those valleys. You can either let dips in fitness eat away at your resolve, and wallow in the frustration that comes with them, or you can think positively and take action.
Rest... Resting is the most important day of your training week.
Adapt... Conditions don’t always pan out the way you’d hoped. What builds you as an individual and a rider is learning how to work around them.
Enjoy what's real... It can be too easy to get bogged down in numbers and training metrics. Sometimes you need to step away from the head unit and remember why you started riding your bike. The places your bike can take you and the experiences it opens you to will always be beautiful.
With lessons learnt around how to manage fatigue and my own health front of mind, I put my frustrations in a box, threw it away, and moved on.
Looking forward, we’re approaching April/May, and warmth is returning. With the time to Haute Route ever diminishing, the resolve is there, and I’ve experienced some new things, new places, and learnt a few things about myself.
Part 3: Coming soon... Onward and upward, towards the high road.
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