Thursday, 30 May 2013

It's getting hot in here...

Despite all of today's modern sports science, the old adage that to get cycle fit you have to put miles into the legs still rings true. There is no escaping it - time spent in the saddle,  and using that time effectively, eventually equates to better performance.

However, there are certainly benefits to supplementing your training with different activities, particularly ones that will compliment your main event. This is called "cross-training", the theory being that it helps your usual activity muscles recover and freshens you up without sitting around idly, risking the loss of those hard fought gains.

My bit of extra-curricular activity has been the introduction of Bikram Yoga into the regime. Bikram (or "hot yoga") takes the form of 26 postures and two breathing exercises, carried out in the same order over a 90 minute session. What's more, this is done in a room heated up to around 40c. Getting a sweat on is guaranteed. The idea of the heat is to induce the sweat, helping to flush out toxins, but also create an environment for your muscles to be at optimum temperature for stretching.

I was reluctant at first to try out Bikram, worrying about my lack of flexibility, wasted time which could be spent on the bike and, frankly, outright emasculation. However, once I had taken the plunge these fears quickly evaporated. In the studio I visit (Hot Bikram at London Bridge), men and women of all shapes and sizes, and varying degrees of flexibility, attend. Despite being able to turn my hand to most sports, I was surprised how challenging I found the exercises, as well as getting to grips with the heat. However, the environment at the studio is supportive, with patient instructors who even encourage having a lie down during the session if you are finding it hard going. They also put up with the horrible postures I am putting together at the moment and offer top tips to improve. I'll get there.

In terms of the TdF, I am sure Bikram will help my flexibility and core strength in the saddle, making sure I do not put overbearing strain on my lumber region day after day. However, most importantly it is helping me improve my focus and getting to grips with the heat I'll be facing during July in south France. The variation from the monotony of turning the cranks and the challenge of improving my postures has been a good motivator.

If you want to give Bikram yoga a try in London then I would check out the Hot Bikram Yoga studios Olga and her team have been particularly supportive of my TdF endeavours and, from what I've seen, apply the same principle to new and advanced yogis alike.


Monday, 20 May 2013

Yorkshire Dales - domestique's delight

I have not felt this good the day after a bike ride for some time. Yes, the legs feel like they did a ton and ground out 3,000m of climbing, but this morning I don't feel like someone slipped a sedative in my recovery shake. Maybe some more good signs of efficient recovery and Tour readiness? Or maybe I am just riding the wave of euphoria that is Champions League football at the Emirates next season, whilst our "noisy neighbours" enjoy the Europa League and mid-week appearances on Channel 5.

The Etap Du Dales was a glorious ride yesterday. Predominantly dry roads, no wind, some sunshine and spectacular scenery. What's more my misguided and disparaging opinion on the self-righteousness of Yorkshire men was put in the bin. You could not have wished for a more friendly and welcoming bunch to ride with. Shame on me.

I took it upon myself to serve as a domestique to my group yesterday. In cycling parlance, the domestique is the rider who sits at the front slicing the air, ferries bottles and clothing to their team mates, gives up their chances of victory to advance their leaders' prospects. A noble and selfless existence. Those sentiments aside, if I were a pro-rider, this is what I would want to be good at. Every team has them, diligently protecting their lead riders. When you serve long enough with little thanks, and manage to be on the winning team, you earn the "super-domestique" status. Now, we didn't have a team car to get back to yesterday but I did find myself on the front driving the pace a lot of the time for the first 75 miles and setting tempo on the kinder gradients. You know full well that if you are going to play this dangerous game that, as a weekend rider, you risk blowing up. This is what started to happen, the dreaded crack on a nasty climb at mile 75. That's it, race done, limp to the finish. However, that was not the case, recovering on the way back down, the strength returned. By this time it was too late to hop back on my group, they were long gone, but the legs came back to life and gave it everything for the best part of 30 miles to the finish. This sort of surge will come in very handy in France and more good signs that things are coming together. Very pleasing and not a big deficit to the group at the finishing line. They scraped a gold time and I settled for silver by seven minutes. Noble and selfless? Possibly, but my inability to wrench the cassette lock ring tight enough the night before leading to a number of unnecessary pit stops ultimately cost me.

The best part of the day... hitting 50 mph (80 km/h) coming off the top of the Dales and screeching down the tight lanes. Pure exhilaration.   

Friday, 17 May 2013

Training like Wiggo's Giro

Could of, should of, would of. Much like this grammar, training for Le Tour has been awful since May began. In the next two weeks, I am on a mission to ensure that phrase is not ticker-taping through my mind as my body starts crying out for mercy on the slopes of Mont Ventoux in July.

To offset my birthday indulgences (I've hit my thirties and the best years for winning a grand tour!) and inability to hit target miles, I am giving the Etap Du Dales (112 miles of slog round the Yorkshire Dales) a good go this weekend. I then spend three days back-to-back in the saddle at the Tour of Wessex over the Whitsun long weekend, before finishing the build phase with 320 kms in 24 hours on 7 June. That will hopefully do the trick.

Training, and the lack of it, has become so serious that, to my disgust, the turbo trainer has been dusted off and brought back out of the cupboard. Much like the British winter, that magnetic flywheel has not quite been shaken off. Wednesday evening saw me take on Sufferfest's "The Hunted". I beat Gesink up some Swiss climb to win the stage and noticed some good signs on the computer. Despite starting the session at 9pm and feeling fatigued, my heart rate was a lot more stable during the workout than compared to a month ago and noticed that "beats per minute" were coming down quickly after finishing tough parts of the course. When you are starting to recover quickly from bursts of hard effort, then you know good conditioning is around the corner. Unfortunately I have not indulged in a power meter, so for all I know my efforts may only have been powering an energy efficient light bulb. In my mind I was a nuclear generator.

What's more the weighing scales are reading as they should. I started the year at 70kgs, came down to 69kgs at the end of March and now at 67.5kgs. With the intense schedule coming up, I am hoping that May will see me finish on 66kgs - a healthy and useful fighting weight for France. An overdue haircut will play its part as well.

So, whilst best laid training plans have stayed just that, there are some silver linings. Sometimes you just have to accept that whilst you may be about to ride the TdF, you ain't no pro and have to live accordingly.Difficult to accept as the event approaches and you feel you should be doing more to prepare. Real life just takes precedence. I take some perverse solace in that Messrs Wiggins, Cavendish and Froome wouldn't be able to compete with me doing my day job either.

Sticking to that sphere of relativity, nothing can be going as badly as Sir Brad's Giro D'Italia. When luck leaves you in cycling, it really does leave you. As a Wiggo fan, it has been painful viewing, although his withdrawal today will add some extra spice to the Team Sky politics at the TdF. As for the Giro, Nibali's to lose, but let's get behind the swashbuckling, best named rider in the peleton, Rigoberto Uran, to bring it home for Sky. The Colombian mullet monstered the final climb of Stage 10 to take the stage win, demonstrating his class and igniting his campaign. More of that please Bert.