30 June 2006

Epic France — Day 5

Col du Tourmalet, Col de Aspin, Col de Peyresourde enroute to St. Gaudens

We had a beautiful clear morning to start the day on top of the mountain. We did find some relatively flat x-c ski trails to run on so that was a real treat. 50 minutes for nearly every one. Michael Peters did a bit more and had me wondering if he hit his head pretty hard when he crashed yesterday. We had a huge ride on the schedule today and every one was warned to be careful to save plenty for it.

After a massive breakfast we said good-bye to our mountain top home and rolled out towards St. Gaudens. There was 2 groups today as some people wanted a bit more time to relax going over the Tourmalet. I was left with Mike Montgomery, Ed, Michael Peters and Gordo so we motored right to the base of the Tourmalet which turned out to be way too hard for me. I should have cruised as it takes about 10km of solid uphill to get to the base of the Tourmalet from that side. The sun was out and by the time we hit the real meat of the climb and it was in the high 70’s. This side of the Tourmalet is a little gentler until the last km (10%), but its still 18km and 4500ft. up. I had to stop about 11km from the top to get more to drink and straighten up. I was struggling! And we still had 2 more big cols to do after this one so I thought it best to re-group. I was dead last over the top.

Mike Montgomery got the KOM from Gordo again and is slowly pulling away in that department.

We had a drink stop 4km down the other side at La Mongie and then rolled right into the Col du Aspin, down the other for lunch before the Peyresourde. Since I’m a decent descender and was f..n hungry and tired of being last I was first to lunch. Thank god we didn’t go over the Col du Aspin that way because its about twice as big as the side we went over. So that was third bitchin’ descent of the day. The friendly “Grupetto” that hard formed in the early departure group pulled in about 8 minutes after me for lunch but some of them promptly rolled right out again in order to get a head start on the next Col. It was just Gary Burgess, Colm Cassidy and I left sitting there trying to relax for a few moments when we decided we’d better get moving again instead of having thirds of everything. My gut was about to burst when we rolled out. We cruised up the Peyresourde as it was about 85 degrees F and we had a gut full of food and thought about Brown Mountain in the Aussie camp when I was about to have heat stroke. We did manage to catch the crew on the descent. We descended the longer side and then it was downhill and headwind all the way to St. Gaudens. 180km and about 11,500 feet of vertical gain. The boys were getting a little chirpy on the last 20km into town as Andrew “wrong way” Charles kept surging to the front to take pulls at 40kph to wind every one up.

At 5:15pm we drove to a small lake for a 2km lake swim followed by a fantastic barbecue at Ian and Julie’s place in Luscan. They really layed it on for us. The Sangria flowed! It was a warm summer’s eve too. Keep in mind I could be home in the middle of winter right now. Excellent.
We stayed at a decent hotel tonight and although I could have used about 2 hours more sleep it was nice to sleep in a decent bed.



29 June 2006

Epic France — Day 4

Hautacam, Col du Soulor

Today we started with a 6:15 departure to drive to the pool again in Lourdes. Some people did go for the I.M. set for an extra point, come went for the 6km swim extra point and Gordo went for both. Gordo got a bit of a chuckle when super vet Frenchman Yves Tauberaunt (11th over-all in Nice in ’05) said something like “You must really be a good runner” after watching him swim – meaning he must be coming from waaaay behind to place so well if he swims that slow.!

I took a nap in the van after my 3km. After a snack we drove to the lake in Lourdes where we swam yesterday but this time we went there to run. Yves led us on a nice loop of the lake. That old dude can run! We all did about 50 minutes at varying speeds and then some of us went to the local bike shop for a bit of shopping. I was happy to be shopping here out of season to get a bit of nice winter gear on sale. Gary Burgess, John Newsom and I still have 3 months of winter to look forward to when we return to N.Z. Young Colm Cassidy got a whole new kit! So was looking pretty good on our ride later. CSC jerseys seem to be the most sought after item among our crew. All together I think we dropped about 2,000 Euro in that shop. The shop owner asked if we would be dropping in again before we left town…..

After driving back up the mountain for lunch we headed out on the bikes at 1:30 for Hautacam. On the way down Michael Peters hit the pavement and skidded pretty hard. He was OK but there wasn’t much left of his bike shorts.

We re-grouped at the bottom of the descent before heading over to Hautacam. The climb is almost identical to Luz Ardiden but there is another col you can continue onto if you’d like to. We did 13km at 8-10% incline. Mike Montgomery got the KOM in convincing fashion with G-man just keeping me at bay by about 30 seconds! I’m sure it was a bit silly to go that hard with a massive ride on tap for tomorrow but I definitely felt a lot better climbing today. Hopefully that trend will continue. Besides – I like to give the G-Man a bit of a push now and then. He needs it!

The bottom ½ of the climb was quite warm before we hit the misty clouds again. Ian met us at the top with food and drinks and then we bolted down the mountain, the short way back to Argeles-Gazost and then back up to the Col du Soulor again. All up it was 75km and about 7,000ft. of vertical gain. Some people went back up the Abisque again! To get 90 km for an extra point. That was very staunch. Glad to be finished with my run early today.

We had a nice lasagna for dinner tonight and I think most people will opt for an early night. Not every one is sleeping great on the camp which is normal. Michael Peters moved to the couch downstairs during the night and said my snoring was one of the main reasons. I think he must have been a bit too tired to and dreamt it. I don’t snore! J but sharing a room with 4 guys can get a bit stuffy to say the least. I saw Dr. J on another couch when I came down early for coffee at 5am.

Tonight is our last night here and its been very nice to have the whole place to ourselves. Tomorrow is a long day. We begin at 6:30 with a 50 minute run, followed by breakfast, pack up and head out on the bikes towards St. Gaudens at 8:30am.



28 June 2006

Epic France — Day 3

Col du Tourmalet, Luz Ardiden, Col du Soulor.

There are 3 big climbs on the route today. The Luz Ardiden is actually an optional extra for the camp. If some one decides to skip it they will still be credited for doing the full ride on the plan. Its an out and back to a ski station just off of our loop so it will be pretty easy to skip if the Tourmalet does some serious damage. We had a KOM and lunch at the top of the Tourmalet today.

More later. John has told me to put what I’ve got on the memory stick and he’ll get it off to Brian our web dude to get this up. Since its already lunchtime at day 4 I figure its time to get something up on the site! Needless to say we’ve had no access to internet until now.



Day 3 continued

The Tourmalet is a very prestigious, well-known climb and there were a lot of people out riding it today. We also saw lots of vans with bike racks and some tour company logo on the sides. The number of really old dudes (over 60) out riding the climb was very impressive. Will we be out riding the toughest climbs in Europe when we’re over 60? I don’t f…n think so!!! I was joking with Mike Montgomery today that we’ll be well and truly retired to the golf courses of the world by then. Cuz these mountains are damn hard. To average 10km/hour for the climb is pretty studly for the average cyclist so that’s 2 hours of hard slog for most people who ride it.

Gordo got the KOM on the Tourmalet today just in front of Mike Montgomery. They had John Newsom for company for a while today but his lack of prep certainly showed as he hit the wall with about 4km to go. I passed him just before the top and he said he was completely shattered and he looked it! At a 8-10% incline if you’re shattered there’s just no place to re-group.

I rode up most of the mountain with Ed McDevitt who now lives in Boulder. I’ve been working with Ed for about 2+ years now and he’s traded a life as a successful 50-60 hour/week hedge fund trader working and living in NYC for a life in Boulder being a tri-bum! Needless to say he’s having a pretty good time. He told me today he knows every single inch of the trails and roads in Central Park.

At the top of the mountain Ian had the van there for us and we had lunch. It was a bit rushed as the weather stated to look ominous and at with a 5,000ft. descent to start with we didn’t muck about. We took some photos at the summit and there were a ton of Llamas and sheep running around along with a few hundred tourists. It’s a hell of a sight sitting on top of that mountain so it was nice that we could enjoy it for a few minutes. Then we had a hell of a great time blazing down that sucker. I find it difficult to comprehend how more professional cyclists don’t die descending these mountains. First they have to go to their limit to get to the top and then plummet straight down the other side trying to hang onto the best descenders in the world. Although the roads for the most part are excellent on the highest peaks there is a bit of dodgy roads like most ski areas. The animals that hang out on the Tourmalet obviously have a favorite side to. The side we descended was covered in their droppings.

After the Tourmalet we hit Luz Ardiden right away. That climb is 13km at between 7-10% incline. Not a lot of traffic in summer up to the ski areas that are dead end roads. What a gorgeous valley that ski area sits in. Near the top today we had a hell of a storm roll in and blast the crap out of us. Most people elected to bundle up and head down right away but I knew I wouldn’t be able to get back down in that weather as it was probably less than 10 degrees C at the top. Even though I had a wind vest, my best jacket, nylon mittens and a warm hat it was just too damn cold for me. When doing a major descent like that you get so cold you start to shake and shimmy, its difficult to squeeze the brakes, and can lose control of your bike. Plus its tough to see anything with your glasses covered in rain. So I checked every door to find one that was open and managed to sneak inside. There was one of those nice coin-operated espresso machines in there too and it was turned on! So Jeff Shilt (Dr. J) from Winston-Salem, NC and Jonathan Kelly from Pittsburgh, PA joined me in there to wait out the storm.I could have stayed in there for hours as the coffee was decent and it was warm. It cleared a bit so we headed down but then it returned about 10 minutes into the descent and we f…..n froze. We caught up to Ed on the way down who had a huge cut in the side-wall of his tire and was too frozen to do much about it. Luckily Ian found him in the van to give him a new wheel. My little trio found a casino to hang out in to warm up in with another coffee heading home. When we left there Jeff kindly pulled us the next 20km to the bottom of the next mountain. There was still the 3,500 ft. climb back up to the Col du Soulor to do and it was a pretty slow, just survive it sort of climb.

Some people still needed to do their run for the day so I extended the 7pm deadline that we’ve been using for every one to be done with their training. So some people who didn’t run at 6am this mourning headed out to slog around the mountain in the mist. What a damn long day.

Mike Peters kept going past our accom. to the top of the Col du Abisque again to get to 200km for the day to get an extra 2 points to stay in the hunt for the camp yellow jersey. To tack on that extra 20km today was huge. Michael did our Aussie Epic so has a good idea what he can tolerate in terms of fatigue. But its still early days yet!

We’re still shrouded in the clouds up here on the mountain top. Hopefully we’ll get a few more views tomorrow.



27 June 2006

Epic France — Day 2

Loop ride through Lourdes

Today was supposed to be a bit easier, shorter ride with the 4,000ft. climb back up to the col du Soulor being the only significant obstacle. So we drove down to Lourdes to swim in the 25m pool there and were greeted by pool manager Yves Taubarant (spelling!) who is a legend in French triathlon. He was 11th over-all in IM Nice last year at age 54?

We had a good swim with Gordo and Monica doing 6km and the rest of us doing 3km. A few of the guys did our special 3km Individual Medley set for a bonus point.

After a snack we drove to the base of the mountain and ran the 7+km back up. Mike Montgomery lead the way with young Colm Cassidy (age 20) from Ireland and I giving it a bit of a nudge as well. Colm’s father Cairin did our camp in New Zealand in January.

A few of the guys carried on to run 2 hours for some bonus points which I thought was a pretty bold move so early in the camp. Its all down and up running when you’re on top of a mountain.

So there are a few keeping their name in the hat for a shot at the camp yellow jersey.

After lunch and a nap we set out on the bikes at 1:30 for our ride. Everyone had to bundle up to not freeze getting down the mountain but once down in the valley it was a very pleasant, over-cast 20 degrees C with no wind so all of the layers came off. We some how lost Monica on the way down! So Gordo had a bit of a stressful afternoon wondering what the hell she was up to but she managed to find her way back up the way she came eventually. Just about every one else who was with me got promptly lost! Because we lost Ian our guide for this ride when waiting for Monica we ended up taking a pretty significant detour through some “scenic” countryside taking in about 20km of very hilly roads that looked like driveways. We stopped to ask directions a few times but of course no one speaks French! So it took a little while to get back on the route. John Newsom found us in the car so we got some aid right before climbing up the mountain. And what a mountain pass it was! That D126 road back up to the col du Soulor is just magic. We were motor-paced for about 10km through a fantastic gorge by Mike Montgomery for a while until he spat us off. Mike was 7th over-all at the Honu _ IM just a few weeks ago and looks to be the guy who will be torturing us most this camp. At 150lbs he’s definitely looking the part of the mountain goat.

We hit a km at 9% to start the real climb. It continued for another 12km at between 6-8.5%. We had a car come by about every 10-20 minutes on the way up. Its dotted along the way by little villages that look like they’ve been there for a few hundred years. Once we hit about 4,000ft the tree-line ended and we went past the last village and the mist returned. And I was very happy to only have one mountain on the route today.

93km covered today with about 6,400ft of vertical gain. Ouch. But just gorgeous. A fantastic climb.

Nice to see some beef on the menu tonight! I feel a little catabolic already. But that’s OK! I came to the cam a little heavy at about 164lbs. I’ll try to weigh myself again at the end of the camp. At the January Epic I got sick for the first 3 days and ended up losing about 8 lbs during the 2 weeks to be the lightest I’ve been since ’91! KP calls Epic his “FOOD HOLIDAY J!” and I have noticed there’s a lot more food for me without him being around, so hopefully I won’t loose too much weight. After being so depleted after the last camp that it took about 3 weeks to feel normal I make a concerted effort to come to this camp with a bit more beef.



26 June 2006

Epic France — Day 1

Pau to Col du Soulor.

I’d like to say a few words about Ian Wright and his wife Julie who live here in the Pyrenees. They’ve bought a chalet in Luscan near St. Gaudens with plenty of rooms for guest accommodation and their place is right in the heart of the Pyrenees. Gordo and Monica have stayed with them already just prior to the camp and will be going back there again prior to going over to Penticton in August. Ian’s along as support crew for us and we would be in quite a bit of strife without his help and guidance on this trip. They run a business called Pyrenees Multisport and know the entire area very well having ridden most of it. For example Ian let me know that many of the little scenic roads that I picked out on the map prior to our camp are nothing more than tiny pot-holed jeep tracks! He has a super 10-seater van and has some sweet Look carbon bikes he rents out. In short they have all a person needs to have a brilliant trip based on riding in this area. Traveling with just your bike shoes and clothes is a huge plus these days especially with the rigid weight restrictions on flights. So if you are ever considering coming over here to ride or train then you’ll do well to consider getting in touch with Ian and Julie first at: PyreneesMultisport.com

Col de Ishere, Col de Marie Blanque, Col de Aubisque are on the menu today. There are quite a few big rollers en-route to our first col so it all adds up to about 10,500 feet of climbing on the bike.

Once a climb starts to go over 6% grade there’s no more cruising. If you don’t put out a significant amount of power you will come to a stop. So keep that in mind when reading these updates. I’ll get some power data from the guys with power meters later so you can see what I’m talking about.

We started the day with a lake swim of 2km. Gordo decided to keep out opening session tradition intact and make it a race. So John Newsom mapped out a course and put out a couple of orange buoys and we went at it. Wetsuit swim. But no points were awarded this camp so my hard earned victory was only worth a bit of pride this time. I think I got a bit jipped! Monica Byrn hasn’t been training much since finishing 5th at IM Brazil a month ago so she graciously let me lead the way.

We had a mellow first hour out of town with Gordo doing a good job of keeping the group together as usual. With his motor-pacing us on all of the flat sections we were able to average 25km/hour for the entire ride (for the fast guys). Without him sitting on the front for all of those sections I’m sure we would have added about 20+ minutes to our ride time. We covered 150km with Mike Montgomery finishing comfortably in first with 6 hours of ride time and I think every one will concur that the mountains are actually harder than we thought they would be. The Marie Blanque was a bitch! They have signs here every km on the big climbs that say how far to go to the summit and the average grade of the incline for he next km. At 6-8% its pretty hard work but when we hit 11-13% it’s a hell of a job to keep moving. I brought a 34 x 27 for my easiest gear for this trip and I honestly didn’t think I would use it much. Well me and that 27 are already very good pals! Michael Peters who weighs 165lbs was riding at 300 Watts which got him all of 6 miles an hour on the steep sections. For those of you thinking about doing a trip over here I suggest you bring either compact cranks with a 34 in front and 27-28 in back or better yet bring a triple in front. You’ll have a much more enjoyable trip.
The road of the Marie Blanque was getting a fresh coat of tarmac so it was essentially closed. No traffic at all. With the mist and absence of cars it was pretty spooky. Deathly quiet.

Just after the Marie Blanque we stopped for a fantastic picnic lunch part way down the other side so we could digest it a bit before hitting the col de Abisque which is a 17km climb with about 4500ft of vertical gain. It’s a damn relentless sucker too with the last 10km hitting at least 6% the entire way with not one meter of flat road to take a break on. I had to stop every km the last 5km to get off my bike to straighten up my poor old back which I hope won’t cause me any more grief than it did today.

All of the mountains were surrounded by super thick cloud all day. Visibility was about 20-50 meters up high. Descending in those conditions is pretty hairy but we did see a lot of cyclists on the road for a Monday. And most of them weren’t wearing helmets! Helmet-less riding still seems to be the norm over here for those who consider themselves “real” cyclists.

Not long after getting to our accom. at the Chalet du Soulor we headed out onto the x-country ski trails out the back. Between the fatigue, the hills, thick mist and altitude I was feeling pretty average! We will be doing at least 10km or 50 minutes (which ever comes first) every day on the camp and most of these runs will be pretty tough. We’re right at 5,000ft now.

It was nice to be finished today. I think every one is starting to get a good idea of what their in for over the next 11 days and hopefully we’ll all be able to do all the rides at the very least. We had a nice dinner and John Ellis who is along to do support and massage gave some rubs. Some people are still adjusting to the time differences so the fridge was raided through-out the night. I know I did my share of looting. I’m sure the people running this Chalet are wondering how the hell all that food disappeared!



Epic France — Prologue

With Gordo vowing not to do an updates this camp I’m under a bit of pressure to do a better job than previous camps of providing summary of our time on this trip. He says he’d rather spend his free time in the sack with his wife! Than write updates. Imagine that. So in addition to my fulfilling my crucial role as social director which is the most important role any one on the camp takes on, I’ll also have to make an effort here. The problem is we won’t have very good internet access for much of the camp. For most of the first week we’re staying at a mountain top chalet at he Cold du Soulor so we’ll just have to wait and see how often we can get to some internet access. We’re also without the big guy KP for the first time in 6 camps and he’s done a great job of providing updates even under some tough circumstances over the past few years. He’ll be missed in many ways.

The main thing I’d like to say here to begin is that this camp was exactly what I had in mind when I first came up with the idea of Epic Camps along with Pete O’Brien in 2002 while watching the Tour on our trainers in his garage on yet another freezing night down in Christchurch. I’ve always wanted to do these famous climbs that I’ve read about and watched on t.v. for so many years and also loved the idea of getting the hell out of winter.

I am glad we had some experience putting on camps in English speaking countries first though. It gave us a chance to know what we were in for. Ideally its very nice to go from place to place like the Tour does for the entire 2 weeks, but logistically it’s a nightmare for the staff to look after everyone and transport and pack up everything every day.

We’re starting and finishing in Pau and covering quite a bit of ground in the Pyrenees staying 4 nights at the Cold du Soulor and 5 nights in Font Romeau at the high altitude training center.

If you’ve read any of our previous camp updates then you know what this is all about so I wont’ spell it out again. We will have a points system again and will award a polka dot jersey and a yellow jersey to add a bit of spice and incentive to complete the entire camp. To actually do all of the planned sessions is going to be a hell of a challenge. There’s not a lot of flat running or riding on this camp.

We have a bit smaller group on this trip than we had in New Zealand on the last camp. With so much vertical gain to ride we felt it was important to make sure all campers were of a very high standard on the bike so the support crew isn’t stretched too much trying to keep track of everyone and provide aid along the way.

We’ve had a considerable amount of page views on the site during the camps but the main reason I do these updates is for the campers. At times the days seem to blend together and its nice to have a bit of a written record of what we did along with some photos. So keep that in mind when reading through my updates.