The video below, produced by my main sponsor, was produced on the last stage (stage 20) of the ride and shows my arrival in Paris and includes a short interview before I set off on this final stage:
It is now just over 2 weeks since I finished my “Leading The Tour in 2010” ride and I said a little while ago that after a couple of weeks I would round off this episode in my life with a short review of the ride and the time is now right to pull a little something together, so here goes.
I decided a couple of years ago that I wanted to try to ride the entire route of the Tour de France exactly as the professionals did and that is exactly what I achieved, though of course I completed the journey somewhat slower than they did! The professional peloton completed the tour in something under 100 hours, I completed the same route in a little under 200 hours. My time however included all my stops to refill bottles, to route find, to stop for food, to take photographs, to stand and stare, to attend to my bike and of course I did not have the advantage of a peloton of around 170 20-30 year old professional riders to ride in the midst of for long periods, which would have made a huge difference. I rode much of the ride as a solo rider but with other riders for some of the time as there were other riders riding parts of the route and where our paces were matched it was nice to have their company.
Given the above factors I was very happy with my progress throughout the ride and was particularly delighted with the way I was able to continue for day after day in spite of the extreme heat I encountered on the vast majority of the stages. As many readers of this blog will know I was generously supported on my ride by SKINS who make specialist cycling and recovery clothing. Throughout my ride I used items from the C400 and RY 400 ranges and having ridden well over 2000 miles in them over 20 days I can recommend them without reservation, these are quite excellent products. I documented all my experiences of the products I used on this weblog and the references can all be accessed using this link, they are I feel worth a read if you are considering using this product range click here for the blog entries.
Prior to embarking on this ride I developed a training programme and if you are considering this kind of thing this approach is essential. The Etape du Tour this year was stage 17 of the Tour de France. Once again, unfortunately, many riders failed to complete the event which is a terrible shame after all the time, effort, planning, energy, and cost that will have gone into the journeys these riders have made to try to ride a stage of the Tour de France. Some DNFs are always going to happen but I think the likelihood of this happening can be hugely reduced if one prepares properly and accurately simulates the requirements of the event in training.
To be honest I believe that given the time constraints that many riders face with their training Alpine and Pyreneen climbs are best simulated by UK riders by using a turbo trainer and a power meter. There are not really suitable road conditions in the UK which can properly prepare riders for the unrelenting nature of the climbs in the Alps and Pyrenees and the grinding effort that is required to deal with them. This is of course a personal opinion but this approach has served me well not just on this tour ride but also on previous visits to the high mountain passes so much loved by the organisers of the Tour de France.
The approach I took was to calculate beforehand what sort of power output I would require to get me up for example The Tourmalet and then to train myself to be able to deliver that power output for the required period of time. I knew that if I could do this I would be able to set off and just keep working at the required output and sooner or later the top would come. In addition to my power output calculations I also used blood lactate measurements to monitor my response to training and to successfully make me more physiologically efficient. Using these measurements I was able to reduce my dependence on carbohydrates as fuel and to use a greater proportion of body fat as my energy source at certain absolute workloads. This strategy served me very well and prevented me from suffering the sudden fall in power output which can stop a cyclist in his or her tracks on a long climb, or indeed on the flat - the dreaded “bonk” was avoided. The biggest problem many people have is with poor pacing in events which involve long climbs, often people work too hard too soon and the strategy I developed involved deliberately keeping my power output down and this approach is detailed in the video below and is an approach which I strongly recommend:
My Tour de France ride was planned to be the ride of a lifetime and so it proved to be. The scenery was on many occasions truly spectacular and there were many places it would have been nice to have time to linger and that will be for another time, Lorena and I are already planning a Tour de France trip in a campervan which will be terrific. There were a couple of occasions on the ride where I did have doubts about my ability to complete the trip. This was not because I was tired, sore, wet, cold, fed up or any of these things but simply because it was so terribly hot for the majority of the ride which realistically it was impossible to train for. The temperatures were rarely below 30 degrees centigrade and for the most part were between 34 and 36 degrees, more than hot enough to melt the tar on the roads. In the conditions that presented themselves there was a real risk of dehydration and heat exhaustion which would have stopped me in my tracks.
The only way I was able to manage this situation was to keep my power output (and therefore heat generation) lower and to make a very positive effort to keep myself hydrated and to use hydration products containing the correct balance of electrolytes for use in these conditions. I frequently drank 8-10 litres of fluid during a stage and then probably at least 2-3 litres in the evening. At mealtimes I tried my best to eat as much carbohydrate as I could but this wasn’t always easy in the accommodation provided, I added much more salt to my meals than I usually would in order to try to balance the large quantity of salt I was losing each day. It was not possible to be particularly scientific about all this but using these general principles I kept myself going.
A couple of other nutrition/hydration strategies I employed were as follows. I drank at least a litre of milk each evening and I believe that the protein it contained helped with my recovery as well as my hydration and I also adopted a “double breakfast” scheme. I took with me a supply of muesli and I measured out a portion each night into a plastic container to which I added milk. I left this to soak overnight and in the morning I ate this as soon as I woke up, normally at about 06:00. This would be digesting as I prepared for the day and I would then have my proper breakfast at about 07:15 before starting the stage. I felt this approach really helped me be adequately prepared for each stage and I would certainly do this again in similar circumstances. I suppose a reasonable measure of my nutrition/hydration programme is that I was able to keep going day after day and that by the end of the tour my weight was essentially the same as when I set off, which I was pleased about, a triumph for gluttony!
I learned a lot about myself during the ride. I learned that I am still able to keep plugging away in difficult circumstances even though life in general is normally very comfortable. I certainly learned that I would sooner pack something in completely rather than take shorts cuts or external assistance. The option existed at many points during the ride to reduce the length of a stage, to split a stage, to take a short ride in the van, or to take a tow from a vehicle as one see the pros do on occasions. Had I taken any of these options I would have felt that my ride would have not been complete and I would have had to try to return again in the future to complete what I had originally set out to achieve, to ride the whole tour. To see things in these black and white terms, as I do, is something of a burden on occasions but I guess we are all made differently and I have to accept myself as I am, I’m glad I never took the easy options, it would have completely spoiled things for me, this was all or nothing.
I learned the power of the support of friends and family and also the the power of support from people I didn't even know. Many people left messages of support on my weblog and sent me messages via social networking sites such as Twitter and FaceBook and these were a huge spur when I was tired and on the couple of occasions when doubts started to enter my mind. I found that in these circumstances and knowing that people were rooting for me I could always just manage one more turn of the cranks and in reality that is all you have ever got to do, just turn the cranks one more time and keep on doing it. One of the most important things I learned from these three weeks is that I can deal with this sort of challenge essentially solo but that this is not my ideal. I’ve always been a bit of a loner and have always been very self reliant and have not been very good at asking for help from other people, I now know that a true team approach is an approach I would prefer.
I was delighted to finish successfully but I am sure that my success would have been that much sweeter had it been truly shared and been experienced as part of a team working together. Perhaps after all this time I have learned that I am essentially at heart a team player rather than a loner and if this is the case I am pleased about this as it may open doors to experiences not yet enjoyed. A problem with the team scenario I have had in the past has been a failure to properly develop a team ethos and individuals have always either not trained well enough or not been willing to make personal sacrifices for the overall good of the team. I believe that if I can get over these problems the greatest success would be that of a team success.
Something that I was unprepared for when I finished the ride was the fatigue and this took me by surprise. I’m not talking about sore legs and stiff muscles but just the desire to sleep. Initially I was fine and was no doubt carried along on a wave of adrenaline and other naturally occurring chemicals but soon after returning to the UK I just wanted to sleep for hour after hour and even now, some 2 weeks on, I have yet to resume training which is most unusual for me. Perhaps if I had tried to do this at a younger age I would have bounced back more quickly but I am sure in time this fatigue will pass and I will once again want to train and prepare myself for whatever the future holds.
So, this was a wonderful experience and one which I have absolutely no regrets about, it went as well as I could possibly have expected and I have many wonderful memories as a result of this ride. I can now honestly say that I have indeed ridden the entire route of the 2010 Tour de France, every inch of it, and I am proud of that. However, sometimes in life it is not the personal experience that matters the most and sometimes the greatest pleasure can be achieved by experiencing things as part of a team and helping others achieve something they may have thought would not be possible.
Given the above I am already thinking of riding the Tour de France route again, possibly in 2012 should I be blessed with good health. I would like to ride another tour as part of a team committed to riding The Tour collaboratively with no room for personal egos or any personal ambitions other than to finish The Tour as a team and to celebrate as a team in Paris. My plan is to do this by training a team of 6-10 riders up to ride as a unit and to do this using power measuring technology and a modern and scientific approach to training to ensure that all the team riders will start with similar power to weight ratios at functional threshold which will make the team a far more efficient unit. This approach will allow the team to climb together and faster descenders will take great care so as not to compromise the team which will regroup at the foot of descents and work as a unit on the flatter sections and stages, this should shorten the length of the riding day and make for a truly excellent experience.
I’m currently considering the possibility of making the 2012 ride, if it comes off, a charity ride as there is plenty of time to make those sorts of arrangements and to approach charities to see what, if any, support they might be able or willing to offer to such a venture. In the meantime I’ll be continuing with my training and keeping my eye open for people who might be suitable for the 2012 team. The training leading up to the ride will I hope be fun, it will certainly be hard, and it will act as a very solid foundation for any other cycling events people might be taking on.
I recently watched a TV documentary called “My Big Fat Cycling Challenge” which detailed the cycling training of 4 ordinary ladies using cycling to try to lose weight, I really enjoyed watching it, I believe it was a Channel 4 documentary. To any documentary makers out there how about a documentary entitled “An amateur team ride their Tour de France - Can it be done?” - any interest? :-)
Quentin Field-Boden - August 2010