Sunday 30 June 2019

Stage 2 (Sunday): Get it done! (Time trial proxy day)

The Tour de France's 2nd stage is a time trial of 28 kilometres in the city of Brussels, Belgium. The route features four gently sloping stretches all at around 4%. Well, at least that’s what the brochure says.

Our day was very different. The Tour de France closes all the roads for its event, which only makes sense. Le Loop doesn't swing that kind of clout (yet). So our route today was heavy on bike paths designed for Sunday strollers and baby carriages. We were also treated to lots of downtown road that we had to share with Sunday drivers, Sunday trucks and really big Sunday buses.
Today was not a fun day.
A high level of concentration was required to avoid hitting or being hit. Thankfully, it wasn’t a long ride. Just one of those ‘get it done’ kinda things.
That all said, when you’re tooling around town, you do get to take a lot more pictures…. :)
Tomorrow we leave Belgium for France and Stage 3 of the Tour. 

Two of my teammates...
With Deirdre and Roger!

Saturday 29 June 2019

Stage 1 (Saturday): Day One Done

Stage 1 of the Tour de France was advertised as a flat, 194.5 km course south of Brussels in the middle region of Belgium, featuring one notable climb: the iconic Mur de Grammont. Turns out, flat does not mean flat in the Tour. In total, I climbed almost 2,000 meters today, but that wasn’t the challenging part of the day.

Stage 1 Route Map

The cobblestone on the route was the challenging part – an unpleasant surprise and a significant hurdle that I didn’t see coming. My first exposure to cobblestone was shortly after we departed from our hotel. Riding cobblestone for five hundred meters may not seem like a long distance but when your entire body is bouncing – no, scratch that – your entire body is crashing up and down on your bike, you feel every centimeter. I was glad when it over but as it turns out, it was only a small taste of what lay ahead.
Me, at the top of 'The Wall'
The Mur de Grammont ('Mur' means 'Wall') was my second exposure to a cobblestone road and what crazy ride that was. Short and a little tricky, this famous climb almost had me popping unwanted wheelies at the 20% pitch point. I made it to the top in one piece and the view of the city was worth the effort. At this point into the ride I was really having a lot of fun.
Still early in the day, the weather was not yet a factor but, as it turns out, it soon would be. A heatwave has settled into Europe and the forecast for today was 37C (in the shade). Dehydration was a real issue for all riders, some even suffered dizziness and vomiting. Thankfully my coach and I discussed this the night before and the plan she laid out worked brilliantly. I took salt pills every hour and drank pretty much non-stop. Even then I believe I was borderline dehydrated.

How the pros climb 'The Wall'. The fans pull them :)
But the 9.5 hours of blazing heat was still not that hardest part. Nor was getting lost twice and adding 20 km to my already very long “flat” ride. The hardest part was a dreadfully lengthy, very steep descent on, you guessed it, cobblestone. This technically challenging slope is not on the tour. It was a detour due to road maintenance for the Tour. Argh! I was petrified the entire time, which felt like forever. The uneven narrow road, the descending grade, and my lack of experience on cobblestone had me freaking out. My wrists hurt like hell from leaning forward and carrying my entire weight, and my fingers were seizing up from hammering on my brakes the whole way down. This one bit of the ride would become the highlight or, I should say, the lowlight of every rider on this day.
You would think that was end of it, but unfortunately it wasn’t. There was still one more crazy, incredibly long flat stretch of that evil stone. Cobblestone should be banned from the earth. All in all, my takeaway from cobblestone riding is I would rather climb it or even ride it on the flats (as painful as that was), but descending cobblestone is strictly for crazy people.
With all that said, I had an absolute blast today. Yes, it was a hard day but I found a good group of guys to ride with. Five men from all over the world who let me tuck in behind their wheel and who were pleasantly surprised that I could pull my share too.
Day one done.

Friday 28 June 2019

Stage 0: One more sleep…

It’s the day before the Tour begins and my anxiety is starting to grow. I had been pretty good up to this afternoon when I got my bike labelled and tagged by the Le Loop organizers and then completed my last 30 minute bike test ride. 

But the more I think about the days ahead, the more anxious I get. I want to study the climbs, the grade, the distance, and just where those crazy mountains are, but the enormity of it all freaks me out, so I switch it off and find something else to do. Pringles anyone?

On the plus side, the short ride I did today was surreal. As noted, I’ve been training six days a week for over six months with barely any down time. My muscles, especially my legs, had been in a constant state of ache. No surprise.

But this last past week I was happily in TAPER!!!  I loooove taper.

So after almost a week of not riding, my muscles have healed and all the fatigue has left my body. I got on my bike today for the first time in several days and WOW, nothing barked at me. It was like I was flying. 

I hope to hang onto this feeling for as long as I can. I like having wings.

Wednesday 26 June 2019

Stage Minus 1: Flying to Brussels

Well I’m done! Done with training, done with waking up before 5am six days a week, done with 6 hour indoor rides on an Computrainer, done with 8 hour solo rides up and down Warden Avenue. Six months of training is finally complete and I’m as ready as I’ll ever be to tackle the hardest event I’ve ever signed up for… The Tour de France.

Ok, so it’s not the actual Tour. It’s a slightly older person’s edition of the Tour. But it’s the same route, same mileage, same climbs, over the same timeframe. It’s the mirror image of the actual race but, thankfully, I’m not in a “race". I’ll be riding this crazy event at my own speed, fully supported by an organization called Le Loop, one week before the real pros set out.

I’ve been asked many times over the past 6 months why I would sign up for this. Good question, no? I have several reasons, but my main one is that I am happiest when I am fit. A few years of bad eating habits, stress, and middle age have all contributed to me not being who I wanted to be. I believe sometimes you need to push a reset button to make a change. This is my reset button.

My training has been outstanding. I engaged two coaches: Tara Norton (cycling coach) and Claudia Bolognesi (strength coach). Both of these professionals are incredible athletes who helped me prepare not only my body, but also my mind. I stayed consistent with my training – which was actually a first for me – and week after week I saw my myself slowly change, becoming stronger and leaner.

I also asked for help on training my brain to accept difficult challenges enthusiastically and the first step towards that was to stop the negative (“I can’t do that”) talk. Both coaches worked hard on that part of it, and I can honestly say that I feel ready to take on this 3460 km mountainous event.

Before I begin this wild ride, I have made three promises to myself:

One: To try to always be in the moment and enjoy.

Two: To listen to the mountains, maybe they will speak to me.

Three: To dig deep and push my own boundaries as far as I can.

I plan to blog everyday if I have the energy. At the very least, I will post pictures.

Below is the breakdown of each day ahead of me:

Tour de France 2019 stages
Sa June 29
Su June 30
Mo July 1
Tu July 2
We July 3
Th July 4
Fr July 5
Sa July 6
Su July 7
Mo July 8
Tu July 9
Rest day!
We July 10
Th July 11
Fr July 12
Sa July 13
Su July 14
Mo July 15
Rest day!
Tu July 16
We July 17
Th July 18
Fr July 19
Sa July 20
Su July 21