Le Tour de l'Ain stage 4

Saturday 14th August 2010  (Weight 67.8kg Hr min43/max185, Bp 115/73)

GPSies - La Tour de l'Ain

http://www.tourdelain.com/   Route: Culoz – Grand Columbier – Belley

The professional Tour de l’Ain ranks about 4th in terms of importance in France, after the Tour de France, the Paris Roubaix and the Dauphiné Libèré. This year’s tour incorporated France’s first ever “cyclosportive” tour in parallel – with the option for amateurs to enter either the full tour or individual stages.
Basically, the fastest amateurs are slightly faster than the slowest pros – so it makes a beautiful overlap, catering for all sporting levels.
The winner of the pro tour was Haimar Zubeldia of Radioshack – Lance Armstrong’s successful Tour de France team – he won by a few tenths of a second over the 4 day tour.
The overall winner of the Cyclosportive event was 23 year old Benoit Paris – and as can be seen in the photo the event is celebrated almost as seriously as the pro event…

Some of the participants in the amateur event were actually professionals. John Thomas – an excellent rider and British ski teacher based at Peisey Vallandry – had a fight with one during the race. The Cofidis team rider apparently threatened to push him off the road if he didn’t comply to his desire to ride in a certain way. Unfortunately it didn’t really matter because John had misjudged his food intake and bonked on the biggest climb of the day – having to get off his bike and walk anyway! That must have been a seriously bad day for someone who is used to ending up on a podium.
My day started well and finished well. That’s unusual!
The night before I had parked the van right next to the small town center in Culoz and had a good night’s sleep, rising at 6am to breakfast on porridge with an apple. Previous disasterous attempts to “carbo load” discouraged me from attempting it again. The day before I ate a pasta meal in the evening but that was my only consession. I didn’t want to start a race again with a bloated stomach through ridiculous overeating. While driving to Culoz though in the evening I did crack and buy a Magnum almond and chocolate coated ice cream – but perhaps that’s why I had no energy probems during the race the following day!
After breakfast I went out on the bike to find the race registration and entered both myself and Chris Harrop – paying 38 euros for each of us. In return we were given electronic race numbers and cycling jerseys worth 50 euros each – so it was a good deal. Right next to the center was a small cafe serving coffee – so everything was perfect – except one detail !!! Chris had slept in with his alarm clock failing and it became obvious that despite his best efforts he would not make the 08:30am start despite driving 150km like a lunatic.
The Race
The weather was forecast for rain though it appeared to be clear. I decided to take a rain layer with me – not so much for the race but for after as we had a 17km ride back to the cars from the finish line and lunch in Belley- and that was potentially unpleasant after cooling off.
At the start Chris had still not turned up. I waited at the back of the grid in case he made it so that I could give him his start number – but he didn’t make it. We had arranged that in such an event I would start the race with both numbers – his tucked inside the front of my jersey and my own electronic tag pinned to my back. Chris’s task was now to either intercept me or catch up with me – a long shot but better than nothing. Chris was really depressed and frustrated at the situation and ready to turn back for home, but he spotted the race security just ahead of where he was on the road and realised that the peloton would pass this point, so he parked up and quickly got ready. We were perhaps only 500m into the race and I spotted Chris coming the other way desperately looking for me amongst 315 others – so I shouted and he spotted me, replying that he would catch me up. This was definitely the most audacious start so far – and a happy ending to a horrible moment for Chris. Meanwhile I was on a mission because starting at the back of the pack meant that the main peloton was already disappearing into the distance and we were being stranded with a bunch of slow moving duffers – not a good idea with 63km of generally flat terrain ahead. I found myself out in front pushing on my own to try to bridge the gap. This anaerobic effort could not last long and I made very little ground up on the fast moving massive peloton. At last Chris caught me up and so I passed over his number which he folded and put in his pocket. Chris then took over for a while to help with the chase. For about 20km we were pretty much alone in chasing the groups ahead as the main peloton began to fracture, with several riders tagging along but not helping. Eventually we caught a group that was going fast enough to stay with and conserve some energy. We lost a lot of time due to the poor start, but at least catching this group would make us reasonably effective from now on – at least that was the idea.
At Km 23 and the first hill climb the group fractured and Chris went ahead with two others. I was just behind with two young guys who annoyingly stopped at the top as they had a support team waiting for them there – and so I was isolated and could not catch up with Chris. Soon the young guys caught me up though and we started to work together – but only kept a steady distance from Chris’s group. Eventually after about 20km of hard work the main group behind wound us in and I realised that it was time to rest a bit and hang at the back for a while to recover. At Km 60 eventually we wound in Chris’s group – to Chris’s great surprise as he was engulfed in riders all of a sudden after being sure that there was no-one behind him. I took the lead as I saw a small climb coming up and prefered to be ahead and control the group a bit  rather than being dumped off the back. This resulted in me taking Chris’s place with the two other strong guys as we broke away from the main group – and it let me survive a rather sustained climb without being wound back in again. We continued to reel in some other groups in front and made some good progress, but soon the real climbing would begin in earnest. Up until this point my average heart rate was at 91% max for almost 2 hours and well inside the Super Lactate Threshold zone – but I didn’t feel any adverse effects. I’d given a water bottle to Chris as he had started with only half a bottle and I still had a complete full one, but it made me conserve my drink rather than drink liberally and running out. By the end of the day I’d be a bit thirsty but it didn’t cost me any problems. The worst moment was just after eating an energy bar which immediately caused stomach cramps. Eating and high intensity effort don’t go well together for me.
The serious climbing began at Km 62.6 and I’m glad I didn’t know what was ahead or I’d never have worked so hard from the start of the race. Basically this climb is considered the Ventoux of the North – perhaps the toughest climb Hors Categorie next to the Ventoux itself. The climbing starts 30km from the summit, and goes up in stages with the final stage being 12km and averaging 8%. This is not a particularly hard average gradient, but the problem is that it is stair cased – going flat and then really steep – all the way up. Gradients of 22% are frequent and the final kilometer is scary to even look at from below. Chris predictably pulled away form me on the climb and as climbing is a case of “every man for himself” I was happy to see him go and then just get on with surviving. The mental strain of just hanging in there was really tough – especially near the beginning. Once a rhythm sets in then you settle down and get on with it. I was surprised to hold my ground with those around me and only two riders overtook me on the entire final section. Back at Km 72 there had been a food and drinks stand and I had stopped briefly to get some water. Filling the bottle was too awkward so I just filled my stomach with as much as I could rapidly swallow. Just at that point the main group that I’d left behind earlier got in front of me. I then regreted not having just stayed with them and conserved more energy – but you can never really tell. Most often a group disintegrates anyway and then if you had stayed back you would lose out in every away. The climb itself was gruelling but at least it was not hot, in fact it was threatening to rain but fortunately only started to spit at worst. The roads were lined with people setting up for the pro tour coming through later on, but they were relentless in their encouragement. 
At the top of the climb we were just entering the clouds. I’d kept on my arm warmers so didn’t bother with the rain/wind layer and didn’t get too cold on the descent. The descent was fearsome, reaching over 70km/hr on some nasty surfaces. One rider ahead of me did a “tout droit” on a sharp steep bend but safely survived the event. The long scary straight sections higher up suddenly changed into an incredibly windy section lower down. My left hand, operating the front brake (European setup) became totally numb at one point but I couldn’t let up. I wanted to try to stay with one or two fast guys by the bottom of the climb so as to have people to work with on the flats. In the event I did become isolated anyway at the bottom. I’d even missed the apparently stunning views of the Lac du Bourget during the descent – focus had to be 100% on surviving. The flats at the bottom of the climb would have been welcome except for the pain that now appeared in my legs – deep pain in the thighs signalling the effort from the climb. I probably just didn’t notice it when descending as it was a life threatening descent. Now the pain grew and I knew it would be a while before it disappeared. The right thigh started to cramp so I consciously removed most effort from it but continued to pedal to flush the lactic acid from the muscles. Eventually two riders caught me from behind at a strong pace and I jumped in behind them to both go faster and rest for a while. Fortunately the legs recovered quite rapidly because it was about to become considerably hilly again. It rapidly transpired that I would be the strongest on the climbs as I could keep up a high pace on short climbs, the strength having returned to the legs. One of the guys dropped out on the climbs and I was left with one other who I waited for on two climbs to work with on the following flats. We worked well together and kept up a good pace catching a few riders ahead. Finally, two kilometers from the finish there was a very steep short climb
Photo of the guys at the back – with the Voiture Balai hoping to collect them…  
After Race
Immediately after the race we each had to find the reception for getting our meal – which happened to be a kilometer away. Thankfully they did have an organised enclosure with tickets to protect the bikes. The meal however wah absolutely horrible. I thought it was scrambled eggs and sausages but it turned out to be a horrible yellowish polenta with diots (tough Savoyard susage) whihc was completely inedible after such a race. I had lots of water to drink, a small desert and a small coffee but that was all. I’d found Chris straight away in the enclosure so we chatted about the race for a while and then decided to find our way back to Culoz, 17km away where the race had started and our cars were parked. This entailed navigating our way past the closed streets and barriers and somehow finding the right road which would hopefully take us on a flat journey alongside a river all the way back. The road had fast flowing traffic so we stayed single file with Chris in front and kept a pace of around 34 Km/hr – another complete workout really! On arrival at Culoz we went straight to the town center where leading pro peloton was just about to arrive. I went to get some money from my van and Chris installed himself at a table of a roadside bar and ordered coffees. We made ourselves comfortable just in time to see the charge of the leading contenders for the tour fly right by in front of us. Their speed was pretty impressive. Zubeldia was in front. It was great watching all the pros go by  from our roadside vantage point while chilling out in comfort.
Leaving Culoz the rain started almost immediately and it was torrential. We had had a very lucky day all round.
315 entered the race and 248 completed it. Apparently the Col du Grand Columbier claimed many victims.
My placing was 197th in 4hrs 47mins with the only two women finishers being 8 and 12 minutes ahead of me. The faster of the two women is the current Olympic cross country skiing champion. Chris finished strongly 18 minutes ahead in 145th place in 4hrs 29mins. Chris was 24th in our age category and I was 35th out of 53 finishers


The fastest professional was Wouter Poels in 3hr 15mins (Zubeldia same time) with and the fastest amateur Jean Francis Pessey at 03hrs 44mins.

The slight bug that I had during the week meant that nasal breathing was impossible. I can’t really explain why as the nose isn’t really congested. I had to breathe through the mouth the whole way so I tried to focus of at least keeping the breathing pattern correct and making the exhalations longer that the inhalations. Listening to the others around me they tended to get it the other way around – long deep inhalations and sharp exhalations. It must be the first time I’ve ever paid attention to the pattern of other people’s breathing.

Heart Rate Zones
Rode in total 3km completely anaerobic! No idea how my heart rate can stay so high in the sub anaerobic zones for so long – this being the longest ever with no clear sign of tiredness. It seems that the three enforced days of rest prior to the race might have helped a lot.

Performance charts (1st chart Distance based,  2nd chart Time based)

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