Posted by: Ian | July 14, 2012

Cycling in Somerset and Switzerland

Last year I wrote about my ride in the Engadin Radmarathon with Joerg. Last weekend we did it again. Again, we did the 100km loop that essentially goes up the Bernina Pass and then back down again on a 30 mile descent. On the drive to our hotel the preceding evening Joerg took us up the Albula Pass, which features on the alternative – much harder – 210 km loop. It’s a fantastic route with a very long steady climb and dramatic scenery. On the day of the ride, though, I simply didn’t feel I had it in me to do it. I was tired from a day’s travelling from Somerset to Zurich and then across to our venue on the Italian border. We finally arrived far too late to get a drink at the hotel and when the alarm awoke me at 5 something I was too dopey even to set my Garmin to the right bike, with the consequence that I had no cadence reading throughout the race. I did, though, leave resolved to ride up the Albula Pass one day before too long, probably not as part of an organised event.

The 100 km circuit is relatively easy and fun. That said, on the long ascent to Bernina I felt slow and unprepared for these Alpine roads that grind uphill over miles. On our Somerset climbs you have gradients that you can see by eye are steep – then just when they seem impossible they finish. The climbs in Switzerland were the opposite: the gradients look so shallow that you can’t believe the cycling should feel hard yet they go on and on and you have no respite when your legs can relax. You suffer the double indignity of being beaten by a sleepy baseline player who has no good shots but gets everything back.

By the time we got close to the Bernina Pass Joerg had pulled away from me and had to wait for me at the top. Happily it then started to hammer down with proper heavy rain. This pleased me for two reasons. First, it meant that we wouldn’t have done the longer route anyway (the choice to double the distance comes near the end of the 100 km route) so I felt less guilty about depriving Joerg of the better ride. Second, I was confident that I could bomb downhill in English weather as fast as most of the Continentals who had hitherto been more at home than me on the way up. And so it transpired. I was soaked through, and relished it.

The previous weekend I had made a last minute decision to roll up to a sportive starting in Wellington. Looking at the stats afterwards you’d think that the rides were similar. Both were 60 miles. My average speed over both was 17 mph. My average heart rate was in the 150’s and my max just topped 180. My reported calorie burn was about 16% greater on the Wellington ride while there was 21% more ascent on the radmarathon. But they felt nothing like each other. The organiser told me when I finished the Wellington ride that (only) 36 or 38 people had done the same course as me but it felt like even fewer. I did the whole thing riding on my own and came third. The radmarathon had hundreds of entrants and we (courtesy of my performance over the first half) finished outside the top half. For much of it we rode in bunches but, like last year, the other riders we encountered were reluctant to do a fair turn at the front. Still, the dash down to the end at Zernez was a blast as indicated by my top speed of 54 mph, which I never attain in Somerset.

Here’s the radmarathon results showing the same data three ways.

In this first chart the finishing time for each rider is shown as a dot on the line corresponding to his/her gender/age category. (You can click to open the charts up properly if you can’t read them.) Joerg and I are highlighted as the big red dot on the MAMIL (M:40’s) line.

This second presentation gives a better sense of how many entrants were in each gender/age category, and some sense of how long they took.

A better sense of the relative performance of the different categories as a whole is given by stacking them:

Here the miserable right-ward drift of men as they get older is evident in the bottom four histograms.

Before leaving mention of Switzerland, I have to show this very Swiss feature found outside our office in Zurich:

They’re for washing and brushing your shoes when you run (or cycle) into work. You have to love the Swiss.

Back in London the preparation for the Olympics are feeling uneasily Fascistic. Passing over the absurd “security” arrangements, what bugged me this week was the re-prioritisation of traffic lights. The set by the Regent’s Park mosque are now pretty much stuck on red if you’re doing loops round the outer circle. You can’t warm to the people who furtively impose these undemocratic burdens on us, can you.

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