A tunnel. Cold and dark, scary yet soothing, entry to another world. A rewarding moment of quiet and calm, the cool relief much welcome after climbing a mountain for mile upon mile, toasted beneath the mid-summer sun.
Darkness. The world turns black. A quick mental check to see if you’ve passed out, the effort finally taking its toll. Still moving, your eyes fail to adjust. Gravel crunches beneath your tyres at the road’s fringes, the small white dot at the end of the tunnel your only focus.
The Transcontinental Race (TCR) is a bike race across Europe or perhaps more accurately, a voyage into the unknown mental and physical capabilities of oneself.
The rules are simple. Ride unsupported across Europe following your own route via four checkpoints before reaching the finish line. There’s no official cut-off time for this c.2,500 mile (4,000km) race but many riders aim to finish within 14 days to be a part of the finish line celebrations.
Following an ultra-distance cycle race is fascinating (and tiring!). Forget about the theatre of the Tour de France and the other so called ‘Grand Tours’. TCR is the real thing, very real, a vivid drama on a human scale, an adventure both relatable to most cyclists whilst being equally unfathomable.
Mountains everywhere. Surrounded. An alien land for a city dweller. Mesmerising. A child looking up to the heavens, agog. The only way out is to ride up and over. Bliss.
This is cycling in the Dolomites. Jaw dropping views at every twist, every turn. Waterfalls and snow-capped peaks, ribbons of tarmac with more hairpins than your grandmother. Cycling paradise.
Let’s talk cobbles. Why oh why would anyone think riding over gap strewn paving would be fun? It’s pure evil I tell you!
I went cycling in Flanders recently, heading to Belgium to ride the famous climbs and routes from the Tour of Flanders, or Ronde van Vlaanderen, as it’s known to the cycling mad locals, or simply The Ronde. Here’s my routes, along with an insight into cycling in Belgium, riding the cobbles, bergs (hills), and wind, plus a certain type of cyclist.
Cobbles and cycling. Belgium right? The Classics of the early season calendar. Moules et frites. Passionate fans, grim weather, steep climbs. Not Halifax, England. Pie and chips, bleak post-industrial landscapes and well, cobbles, steep climbs and the desolate moorland.
This is the scene for the Ronde Van Calderdale route, a tribute to the Spring Classic races in Belgium but most definitely British. The route climbs a whopping 3,000 metres over 75 miles, many of which are up very, very steep cobbled climbs.
Who is the creature who returns home exhausted, depleted? Dry salt caking face, heavy black rings lacing eyes, more aches and pains in legs than your average nursing home. This is the cyclist who has ridden too far, too high. Bitten off more than they can chew. The route too big for their legs.
The clue is in the name. Peak District. The road is either up or down, rarely flat. Hard up, terrifying down. Short yet sharp climbs to test the legs followed by twisting, snaking descents to test your grip on the brake levers.
Yet the ever changing landscape is magnificent, one minute rolling moorland, the next craggy cliff faces, a twist and turn here, there, a glorious ravine, a wooded valley, a bustling twee village blurring on by.
Is a time trial a race? A race of truth say some. No wheel sucking, no team to power you to the line. Was I racing others? Yes and no. I was very pleased with my position in the race and the er, first prize money of my budding career, he says, just shy of veteran age!
Yet I wasn’t really racing others. How could I, riding a TT on a road bike, loaded with two water bottles, a saddle bag, and a full loaf of Soreen bulging out of my jersey pocket. What? Some of us were heading off for a proper ride after the TT.
Brutal. Coast to coast, sea to sea, and back again, in two days. 224 miles. Easy. 5,800 metres of climbing. Ouch. Heavy rain and riding into a 43 mph headwind hour after hour. Eugh. What the hell was I thinking?
Truth is, I have no idea why I attempted a double C2C ride in March, the tailend of the UK winter. The classic sea to sea route doubled as I figured it was logistically easier to drive to the centre of the route and ride each way and back. A lot of effort to avoid taking panniers or catching a train!
Yet once an idea forms, it becomes difficult to shake, even with the daunting prospect of howling headwinds and more rain than Noah’s nightmares.
The FTP test is the cornerstone of cycle training plans and workouts. Without knowing your Functional Threshold Power you’ll never know which power zones you are training in and as such your workouts are likely to be less effective. Knowing your FTP will also help you pace efforts on the road or in a race.
Consider this blog a beginner’s guide to FTP, focusing on the different kinds of FTP tests, providing FTP test tips and strategies, plus a look at the best ways to improve your FTP score with better pacing.