Thursday, 23 May 2013

My first rubber glove

Oh, gee, thanks. That's a challenge. What could I say? I'd get a free training video and all I'd have to give in return was my dignity, a large puddle of sweat and the ability to talk for a few hours.

You see, an FTP (Functional Threshold Power) test really means "pedal as hard as you can for 20 minutes, or until you fall off the turbo trainer". I've never done one indoors - they are notoriously difficult to do without some kind of external motivation, be it someone to chase, a man in a car throwing conkers at you or an angry hippo after your energy bars. Outside I generally fail to warm up properly, go off too hard and then run out of road after 18 minutes.

So yeah, I needed to do one.

Once you know your FTP you can calculate your training zones and train more effectively. That's the theory anyway - it doesn't actually make the training any easier. It's also a great measure of progress; if your FTP is going up over time, things are going well.

I replied to the evil geniuses behind The Sufferfest and they sarcastically sent me a code for a free download. I don't know how a simple download voucher code can murmur "mwa-ha-ha-ha-haaa" but this one did. After an hour I now had the video - The Rubber Glove. All that remained was to set up the pain cave.

The Orca in an unfamiliar position
This was one for the good bike - I needed everything to feel right and more importantly I needed a powermeter.

Powertap. This tells me how weak I am.
Sure I could have moved the powermeter wheel to my normal turbo bike, but I needed to save all the energy I could. Talking of energy, time to wake up.

I'd had a coffee shortly before (triple ristretto, obviously) so no need for extra caffeine. Time to mount up and start the video. There was a frustrating ten minutes while I figured out how to play it - Windows Media Player didn't like it for some reason, and I had to download Quicktime - but that just added to the warm up.

The first part of the video explained what was going to happen, like detail driven dentist would before breaking out the big drill. The video had three main parts.

  • An initial warm up of slowing increasing intensity. This would be fine.
  • A series of low resistance, high leg-speed intervals. This would also be fine.
  • The test. This would not be fine.

I mentioned previously that I always, always fail to warm up adequately for tests. This time I was taken through a well designed, well-guided set of intervals as I gradually started to divert blood from my stomach, brain and eyes into my legs. Gotta divert that eye blood. Makes all the difference. The music was upbeat and joyful and the scenes of the early stages of a Belgian Classic race (Dwars Van Vlaanderen? Or something like that?) helped me get in the mood. Hey, this was fun! Easy riding, watching cycling videos, rhubarb and custard gel swimming around inside me... what could go wrong?

Then there was a rest period, intercut with some footage of Spartacus (who's on the wall of my downstairs bathroom) winning some race or other. I won't say much about the other footage used in this section, only that she should turn the heat up. This was the part with the high-cadence (leg speed) intervals - the hummingbird section.

Then... the test.  There were some tips - ride hard but not too hard for the first 5 minutes, then harder for the next ten, then even harder for the final five. There was a countdown. There was a noise. The noise may have been me.

Start. Change up a gear, another, another. Cadence steady, 95 or so. Glance at the Garmin. Hmm, that's quite a high power figure. I'd love to keep that going. Breathing getting heavy now, hope the neighbours are listening. I like to entertain.

Ow. Ow ow ow ow ow. You know that high power figure? You know how you always go off too fast? Yeah that. Ease back a tad. Let the snot dribble, you can wipe it off later. Look at the video. People riding! They look... unhappy. There's some music, I think. I can't really hear it over that bloke having an asthma attack through a megaphone. Weird, I thought I was the only one in here. Close eyes. Open eyes. Look at the clock.

4 minutes gone.

4 minutes.


So that's.... 16 left. You can ride for 16 minutes! Come on, one more minute and that's a quarter done, another quarter and that... um, half? Brain fading. Need more leg blood. Some of it seems to be in my mouth, at least that's what it tastes like. The gel was nicer.

10 down. Into the rhythm now. Come on, it's only a 20 minute interval - just like the ones you did in the winter whilst listening to Rammstein. Admittedly they weren't quite this hard and this music isn't Rammstein (note to self - play more Rammstein for next test).

5 left. Go harder? How the hell am I supposed to... oh, OK. Pedal faster. That works.


Sweep the gears to minimum. Try and keep the legs moving, even slightly. Breathe. Don't forget to breathe. Recover. Look around, impressive sweat puddle on the floor. Spin. Focus. Done.

I wandered back upstairs, out of the cave and into the light. My girlfriend was asleep on the sofa. She opened an eye, shook her head disparagingly, and went back to sleep.

I hosed myself off in the garden, dried myself with sackcloth and plugged in the Garmin to look at the numbers. The result of my Functional Threshold Power test?

Not enough. You can never have enough.

The verdict
The Rubber Glove is a bad, bad thing. You won't like it, but you will appreciate it - like a good vomit after a heavy night or getting your genitals waxed. I was surprised how much more it was than just "ride hard for 20 minutes" and how well it managed to motivate me through the test.

Everyone should get probed now and then.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Sardinia Part 2 - holidays with random people

You know those stories in magazines and blogs, where people describe their rides in astoundingly remembered detail? You know, the "we rode for 300m up the slightly stony track before taking a left across a field, diverting slightly around a rather large puddle that could have been tricky" kind of thing?

Well, I'm terrible at both remembering rides like that, and reading write-ups like that. So instead, I'll avoid misremembering all of the routes we did - suffice to say they were varied and excellent - and instead concentrate on why I really enjoyed this trip.

It felt like a holiday, with just enough cycling to stop me getting restless.
I'm terrible on holidays. I can laze around and relax for maybe an hour or so but any more than that and I'm itching to do something - go to a bar, an attraction, for a wander, for a shop. I'm not cut out for beaches or spending all day by a pool. However, I don't want to be wearing myself out all the time. This trip had that variety. I could laze for a bit.

Use for Buff No 17.
I could walk for a bit:

Sardinian Jungle
I could even ride for a bit:

No pictures of me riding exist, so here's Sir Shagalot, a very friendly puppy

There was food. Lots of food. And drink too.

About 10% of one night's antipasti
Some beer.

Meeting strangers
I've done quite a few trips like this one, and with the exception of one trip (which had some really odd characters - about 8 years ago) all the groups have been great. Everyone on this trip was a stranger (with the exception of David - and he's pretty strange too) and we embraced that - we all had different backgrounds, experiences and views, yet a shared love of eating. Oh, and bikes. I think most of us had bikes too.

The scenery (shamelessly stolen photos from Jenny!)
We were in Sardinia at a brilliant time - the Spring rains had turned everything green and bright and yet we didn't really get wet and basked in warm sunshine.

There were green forested hills

Pretty flowers

And the odd waterfall too.

And.... well, you get the idea. Everything was stunning.

The guides, the routes, the accommodation
Our guides had come first, second and third in a "Most Sardinian Bike Guide" competition. At least, I assume that's how they were selected. Laid back, helpful and enthusiastic, they could describe a route in minute detail ("It goes up a bit, then down, technical up, some more up, then some technical down, some up, then 4km down, then 3km up. Then we'll have a coffee stop"), spend 10 minutes animatedly discussing some minor detail (Was it 2.3km to the junction or 2.4km?) and give a lesson on stone age settlements whilst spanking our arses on every technical descent.

The routes were well balanced between technical, mile-munching and practicality. We had adventure, we had rivers, we had some scary-but-you'll-probably-not-die challenges. We also had at least two coffee stops and two snack stops. Before lunch.

We stayed mainly on farms, in converted outbuildings or purpose built blocks. There were a couple of luxury hotels thrown in too, just so we could kick back and spend two hours in a bubble bath. Never underestimate the power of bubble bath.

Finally, baby animals
We met baby dogs, pigs, sheep, goats, horses, cows, donkeys, wild boar, lizards (probably) and were even presented with a one-day old kitten.

This is the internet - of course I have to finish with a kitten picture.

At first, we thought it was a rat...

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Sardinia Coast to Coast

I'm sitting here slightly battered after trying to insert the end of my handlebars into my chest cavity... but that's another story. Suffice to say, ibuprofen is a wonderful drug.

Anyway, this time two weeks ago I was basking in the sunshine, indulging in the usual pre-ride faffing that you get when there are more than two mountain bikers trying to go out and ride together. I was probably slightly hungover, full of breakfast and looking forward to the first coffee stop 30 minutes into the ride.

The whole idea of Sardinia was to do a bike trip that was actually (whisper it...) a holiday. Something where the riding would be fun, not too stressful and there was plenty of opportunity to relax and have a bit of a bimble. Compare that to the two bike trips last year - a week in the Italian Alps and Dolomites dragging myself up the big mountains, and a week in the French Alps dragging myself up the big mountains against the clock.

Why Sardinia? Well, somewhere Italian was preferred due to a love of coffee, gelato, pizza and Italian food in general. It had to be warm, it had to be about a week long, it had to be an easyish grade and most importantly it had to fit the schedules of two people - David (Pyrenees, Dolomites, Haute Route) and me. Brochures were studied, calendars cross-referenced until we finally found a trip that would work - the Saddle Skedaddle Sardinia Coast to Coast.

The start to the trip was brutal - getting up at 2:45am! Still, the roads were clear, the check-in was hassle free and we were soon greased up and inserted into the spaces that Easyjet calls seats. We met a couple of the other riders at the other end, along with our guides, and were then dropped into the centre of Cagliari to wait for the rest of the people coming in on other flights. Cold local beer? Oh, go on then.

Our trip started for real at Montevecchio, at a Agriturismo (farm stay). This one had a pool which came in handy for building the bikes around. It was a little cloudy and a little windy so we avoided taking a dip and made ourselves at home in the bar.

Dinner was a preview of what we'd be eating all week - cured hams, salami, cheese, bread, grilled vegetables, wine and beer. And that was just the antipasti. Then came home-made pasta, braised lamb, salad, fruit and liqueurs. Mmm, Limoncello. Only a couple though, for tomorrow we ride.

Ride Day 1
We were staying at Montevecchio for two nights so there was no need to get luggage ready or load up the van. Still, despite the fact we'd built the bikes the previous night we somehow managed to leave about an hour later than scheduled. Adjusting saddles, polishing frames, ensuring valves and tyre logos lined up. We were in Italy - we had to look good.

The ride started with a gentle rocky climb, with a moderate rocky contouring, followed by a YOU WANT ME TO RIDE DOWN THAT? Yes, it may only have been a moderate grade trip but it was time to drop the saddles and get our rocky descent heads on. We don't have rocks down our way so my rocky descent head hadn't been used for a while. I managed to pick up a flat on the first descent - Giant seem to use cling-flim as inner tube material on their off-the shelf bikes - but made it down without too much incident. There were a few cries of "ohshitohshitoshit" behind me which I think was a comment on the trail rather than a comment on my riding. The second descent was slightly harder - tight, slow and twisty rocks - but all still ridable for an XC numpty like me.

Part two of the day was the famous 23 river crossings trail - something that I'd done 10 years before on my previous visit to Sardinia. It may have been 23 crossings but it was a single river, thankfully more of a stream.  We had a whale of a time splashing through and astonishingly, with 9 x 23 crossings in total no-one fell in. We were all mildly moist by the end though. The route came out near the sea, close to the biggest sand dunes in Sardinia/Italy/Europe/the World (delete as necessary depending on tourist hype).

So big they don't even look like dunes
 From here there was some up, some down, some trail, some tarmac, some lunch - cured ham, salami, pasta, cheese... you get the idea. We had two options after lunch - the long, off-road climb or the easier tarmac route back. It was day 1 - of course we took the climb. It was fabulous - steep enough so you knew you were climbing but no so steep that there was any danger of having to stop. It went on, and on, and on. What goes up went down (slightly - our agriturismo was on top of a hill) and then we had the fun of another off road climb, another descent and finally 10km of up on tarmac.

Bring on the beers. And the cured ham, salami, cheeses...