Puny Cycling Arms

So I decided that to give my cycling a boost this year I would jump into a power pump class once a week. For those who don’t know power pump is a class of an hour long, consisting of lifting weights focusing on the back, legs, chest, biceps triceps and core. The idea is low weight and high reps. Well as a cyclist I was definitely keen on the back, legs and core side of things but I wasn’t sure how my puny cycling arms would hold up on the rest. I mean massive legs and puny arms is the hallmark of a cyclist, just look at Chris Froome, it’s all he can do to keep his puny arms latched on to the handle bars without them being blown off from the breeze created from just cycling along. In fact if he let go I could imagine his whole body getting blown backwards from the waist with his arms dangerously close to getting sucked into his rear wheel. I digress.

And so Monday evening after work I rocked up to the class, my puny arms flapping behind me as I walked into the studio. It very quickly became apparent that I was the only guy, in a class of about 15-20 women. I felt awkward. The instructor bowled in irritatingly chirpy and the class started. The first 5 minutes was a cardio warm up. The music fills the room and we started by jogging on the spot. Fine, I can do that, more importantly I can do it in a way that preserves my masculinity. Manly men jog on the spot all the time. I’m a manly man, I love jogging on the spot. But then this very quickly turned into something that I can only describe as a secret masonic incomprehensible sequence of steps coordinated with a system of complicated arm movements:
Forward step, side step, cross your legs, flick your heel. Breathe.
Arm flap, side step, arm flap, forward step, skip, flap, jump. Breathe.
Forward step, skip, back step, jump, kick, back step, flap…and…
Forward step, back step, side step, skip, flap, jump, flap, flap, step, flap, step, flip flap flap flap…I was all over the shop. Everyone else seemed to be executing each movement to military perfection. I was flailing around furiously like a demented sea gull trapped in a some plastic six pack rings.

Eventually my coordination came at which point I was becoming aware of something else…something didn’t feel right. It was strange. It was…it was starting feel suspiciously like…dancing.

I suddenly felt self-conscious. I mean I hadn’t before because I was focused on trying to coordinate myself.

Don’t get me wrong, I like a dance as much as the next…errr…man? But Dancing has its place in my opinion, and it wasn’t right here…or right now.

‘Oh God, I hate this’ was all I could think to myself. Forward step, back step, side step, skip, flap, shimmy. In my head, any minute now Footloose was going to start playing and we were all going to head out into the street.
‘I bloody hate this’.
Shimmy, dip, flap, flap, flap, shimmy, dip.
Of course I know that none of the other women in the class were paying the blindest bit of notice. Attention would only have be drawn to me if I stopped in protest. And that’s the hideous paradox…I have to carry on dancing away just to blend in.
‘You’ve no idea I hated that’ I said to Rachel on the way home afterwards. ‘ I really hated it’.
‘Imagine a thing you hate really bad, then multiply that about a million times, and you’re not even close to how much I hated that.’
This is all to Rachel’s amusement of course.
I’ve been going each week. And each week I hate it.
You’ve no idea how much I hate it.

A Dog, a Cat (or not) and an Octopus

Anyone familiar with popular psychology may have heard of the story of Pavlov’s Dogs. Unlike Schrodinger’s cat (or like Schrodinger’s cat maybe?) Pavlov’s dogs were quite real and not part of a physicist’s thought experiment. Pavlov noticed that his dogs began to salivate in the presence of the technician who normally fed them, rather than simply salivating in the presence of food. To test this further Pavlov presented a stimulus (e.g. the sound of a metronome) and then gave the dog food; after a few repetitions, the dogs started to salivate in response to the sound of the metronome, a phenomenon that has become known as Pavlov Conditioning. This is analogous to my relationship to my riding partner (who I shall refer to as Jonny Legsmash), with whom I’ve ridden many an epic route with to the point now whenever I see him my thighs automatically start to hurt and within a couple of minutes I’m rolling around on the floor screaming “It burns, it burns, someone please make it stop”

One evening after work I met up with Jonny for Pre-Christmas drinks. After 10 minutes of rolling around on the floor of the pub screaming “It burns, it burns, someone please make it stop” I’d pulled myself together and we got down to discussing our plans over Christmas. Very quickly we decided that riding the ‘Christmas Octopus’ sounded like an excellent idea, although we were probably more sold on how it sounded whilst ignoring the reality of what it actually meant to complete the ride, but nevertheless a date was set.

“What is the Octopus?” I hear you cry. Well funnily enough the Leith Hill Octopus Challenge is certainly something that will indeed make you cry. Leith Hill is a bit of an iconic road climb and MTB mecca of the North Downs. There are many routes up Leith Hill and most often exceeding 12% gradient. And so the goal of this insane bit of, err cycle-ry is to summit Leith Hill via eight different but specific routes, finishing at the top at the end of the eighth climb. The total distance? About 100km and with almost 2000m of ascent. And there you have it, eight routes, eight legs, 100km, 2000meters of climbing…you get the idea. That’s a pretty good day out in the Alps! And so the adventure awaits…

How to Ride Rapha’s Festive 500

About 3 years ago I rode the festive 500…actually it would be fairer to say it rode me. Christmas eve morning I woke up with a slight pain in my neck, I ignored it and rode to and from work (a 60km round trip) and thought nothing more of it. I was working between Christmas and New Year so it seemed the perfect excuse to commute to work on those days bringing me closer to my holiday goal of 500km. By the end of the week that niggling pain had become almost unbearable and I was in A&E come January, I was then immobilized and subject to a couple of months of physiotherapy, acupuncture, electro-stimulation treatment and any stab in the dark that I thought might stand a small chance of getting me back on my feet and more importantly my bike again. Thankfully I made a full recovery and despite being told I wouldn’t be able to ride a road bike with drop handlebars again I was pleased to prove the naysayers wrong, with their years of training and expert medical opinions, pah!

Christmas 2016. I had some time off work but declared that although I might sign up to the festive 500 I wouldn’t break into a panic if I didn’t make the distance. And for me this year, this was the secret. I sneaked up on it, I looked the other way pretending not to play while secretly popping out to clock up a few cheeky kilometers. Bolstered by a decent club ride at the start of the week and a hefty 130km effort mid-week (See my next post on – How to ride the Leith Hill Octopus) and suddenly by Thursday morning it was within reach. I’d not stressed about it, just calmly taken each day at a time. Stepping out into the cold each morning got easier each time and quickly the kilometers added up. The final ride was a group ride with friends in Bristol, 60km out to the coast for coffee and cake, the perfect way to finish the week and with Leige-Bastogne-Leige just under 4 months away the perfect start to the New Year training schedule.

Never again…oh ok one more time

Well after getting 145km into the Liege-Bastogne-Liege last April with 150km still to go and swearing I’d never put myself through that again I find myself strangely agreeing to do it again! What gives? With that and Flanders (the sensible 130km route this time) also lined up for next spring I’d better get pedalling.  Follow my progress over the next few months…or why not join me? no, anyone? Beuller? Beuller?

Flanders, Paterberg

Battling up the Paterberg 20-23% of cobbled “fun”…Tour of Flanders and the last climb of the day.


On The Up

44South Top#3 Climbs

If you’re visiting Morzine this summer with the intention of doing some road cycling then it’s safe to assume that you’re planning on tackling some of the many famous tour climbs right on our doorstep.  Climbing for many can be as much a psychological battle as it can physical one, and in many ways staying at home and employing someone to repeatedly clout your quads with a piece of 2×4 for a good hour whilst you browse through photos of some pretty mountains provides much of the same experience without all of the mental angst.  That said starting out on a big climb and settling into a comfortable rhythm as you spin your way to the top rewards you with some incredible views, a huge sense of achievement and of course for every col conquered follows an exhilarating decent.

So here are my top 3 favourite ‘ups’ in no particular order that should be on the list for any serious cyclist.

Col de la Joux Verte
Starting in Montriond you climb steadily until you reach the lake, this is a stunning spot at any time of the year and a flat kilometre around the lake gives some respite before it kicks up again winding past the Ardent Cascade Waterfalls before reaching the ski station at Ardent Village.  The middle section starts to get serious with several switch backs and a gradient touching approximately 13% in places.   If you can unclamp your jaw from around the stem long enough you are rewarded with some fantastic views down the valley to Morzine and beyond.  All your hard work is rewarded when you reach Les Linderets.  Now Les Linderets is what happens if you mix one hundred goats, the aroma that comes with one hundred goats, a couple of hundred gormless goat obsessed tourists and the odd vehicle under the control of said gormless tourists.  It really is a sight (and smell) to behold.  Eventually, if you haven’t lost your rag and thrown your bike at a tourist, goat, car or some combination of the above then the climb levels off to around 4% and continues up through some beautiful woodland finally opening up with some stunning panoramas as you reach the summit.  With a total distance of 13.5km in total with a height gain of over 800m, this a good introduction to climbing in the Alps.

Rider climbing the Joux VerteJoux Verte Top section

Col de Joux Plane
Life on the Joux Plane can get really emotional and it will at some point make you wish you’d stayed at home for some ‘sitting down’ practice.  Rated by many as ‘less fun’ than Alpe d’Huez and only ‘a bit more fun’ than gouging your own eyes out with a spoon, the Col de Joux Plane is over 11.5km long with an average gradient of 8.5%.  The unyielding gradient of this climb becomes more apparent when it drops to 7%, which on any other climb over a long distance would be considered a challenge in itself, but on the Joux Plane its all kinds of bliss and is a veritable mini vacation for the legs right before plunging you back into physical and psychological torment as it ramps up to 14% before settling down again at around 8-9%. This climb has featured in the Tour de France eleven times first appearing in 1978.  In the 2000 edition of the Tour and between transfusions, Lance Armstrong was heard saying that it was ‘…the worst day I’ve ever had on a bike’…and he was out of his face on drugs, still he doesn’t have to worry about that anymore.  Conquering this climb is a great achievement and if you ever see the pro’s riding it, it puts into perspective how fit/stoned some of those guys really are.

Summit Sign for the Col de Joux PlaneLast km of the Col de Joux Plane

Col de la Colombiere
Similar to the Joux Verte there is plenty of variety albeit a shortage of goats to look at on the way up this climb.  But what the Colombiere lacks in goats it more than makes up for in distance because at over 17km this is a formidable beast.  The first half is a quite pleasant and a relatively gentle ascent through the trees (note the use of the word ‘relatively’ there), levelling off as you reach the commune of Reposoir.  A few zigzags later and all that is forgotten as you get down and dirty with some 8% flavoured tarmac.  For the last three kilometres you are treated to views of the summit marked by a small Alpine hut while each kilometre incrementally ramps up in gradient from 9%, 10% to 11% meaning it just never seems to get any closer.  The small Alpine hut, which as it turns out is a massive restaurant, ensures that it is always busy and as you cross the finish line so feel free to zip up your jersey and celebrate to the crowds who will probably wonder what all the fuss is about having driven up for lunch and will have no idea what you’ve just put yourself through.  This is a great climb and definitely one to tick off.

ColombiereKm marker on the Colombiere

Keeping up with the Jones’

So about this time last year a pod of Junior elite tri-athletes (plus Steve their Coach) came to stay at the 44South Chalet.  Having bravely ‘volunteered’ to take them all out on their first ride I peered out of the office window as carbon frames were unpacked, quick releases were tightened on expensive wheels and slowly but surely some mean looking race bikes were assembled.  Beginning to regret my earlier bravado my tiny brain was now anxiously searching for excuses why I couldn’t now ride today and had decided that smashing my bike into several small pieces was the safest bet.  While frantically attempting to locate a suitable hammer for the job I was grabbed by the scruff of the neck plonked on my bike and pushed out of the garage, finger nails scratching at the closing door as it slammed shut in my face.  And so I was left feeling slightly insignificant stood in front of 7 teenage athletes who were looking at the mountains in the same way that a pack of hungry Lions eye up a fat limping Gazelle.

Now let me take a moment and get my excuses out the way early, first of all my brakes were rubbing, my tyre pressure was too low, I didn’t have ceramic bearings, I was on a recovery day, I’m not a big power guy, I’m not really a climber I’m more of a sprinter, I need to lose another kilo to maximise my power to weight ratio, I’m not really a sprinter.

So I led them out of Morzine trying to keep the pace high.  First mistake.  Looking back I’m not sure why I felt compelled to do this, I think I was testing the water so to speak, however testing the water by guzzling several litres of the stuff is not a method can recommend.

We arrived at the junction for La Vernaz and the start of the first short climb.  Jimmy pulled up along side me and asked how far it was to the top.  Before I could finish answering most of them had accelerated up the road while all I could do is watch helplessly.  It was clear to me that between me dying and beating any of these young athletes to the top of this climb the thing that was going to happen first was me dying.

I tried to keep up anyway. Second mistake.  By now my heart rate was topping 400bpm and I had to keep popping my eyes back into my head while hoping no one had noticed.  Steve started to make polite conversation, unfortunately I was trying so hard not to die all I could manage was a disturbing gargling sound, followed by dribbling a little bit on my top tube concluded by blowing a couple of bubbles out of my nose.  The pace continued, I was now chewing on the stem and my knees were close to exploding.  I could feel myself slowly slipping back from the bunch.  I started to examine my bike for non-essential parts, anything that wasn’t contributing to getting me to the top of this climb was now considered surplus to requirement, seat, seat post, big ring, middle ring, bar tape, bar ends, brakes, bike tools, spare tubes were all soon to be ejected over the side of the road.  I’d just got as far as loosening the bolts of my seat post when the summit of the climb came into view, a sight for very sore eyes (both of which were out on stalks and dangling down the side of my cheeks).

I shoved my lungs back down my throat, zipped up my jersey, popped my eyes back in, tightened my seat post clamp and cancelled the paramedics.  Summiting the climb I tried to look as fresh as I could.  ‘Thanks for waiting…this way’ I chirped as I cycled around the corner.   We continued on with the rest of the ride, safe in the knowledge that I now had the emergency services on speed dial.

They’re coming back in a week.  I can’t wait.  I think I might go running with them this year!


The triathletes from 2013. A great bunch and we can’t wait to have them back this year

Bike Spotting

Choose cycling.
Choose a road.
Choose a climb.
Choose a short route,
Choose a bloody big route
Choose Boardman, Giant,
Pinerello and Dura Ace electronic shifting.
Choose good health, low cholesterol
and a massive pair of quads.
Choose higher power output.
Choose a low heart rate.
Choose your Cycling Club.
Choose the club jersey and matching shorts.
Choose a huge tub of SIS Sports drink
in a range of bloody flavours.
Choose your snacks and wondering where to ride
on a Sunday morning.
Choose racing the guy next to you to the crest of the hill
A last big effort before home
Choose stuffing your face end of it all,
pouring protein shakes into your face
recovering on the couch guiltless, smug, content
Stretching out tired legs
Choose getting up the next day and doing it all again.
Choose your Life. Choose Cycling.

Anatomy of a Road Climb

Elevators do it half the time.  Space rockets do it most of the time. Prices, it seems are always doing it.  And recently so am I.  What on earth are you babbling on about I hear you ask?  Going ‘Up’ of course.  But is it just as simple as getting on your bike and riding up a mountain?  Well, probably. Okay it is, but that wouldn’t make for a very interesting blog post would it? So I’ve analysed it to death. Made a cup of tea and analysed it a bit more, watched a bit of TV, made dinner, gave up on my analysis and made something up instead.

Controversially I’d say that attempting some of the larger road climbs in the Alps is like coming to terms with a chronic illness. Okay, bear with me. Anyone who has watched the second season of House (This is where all of my medical training comes from by the way) will know that there are five stages that a patient goes through when coming to terms with difficult and troubling news.  Well here’s where I draw parallels because on closer examination I experience at least three if not four of the five stages on a regular basis.  Let’s take a closer look.

  1. The first stage is denial.  Denial usually comes in the form of stepping out the front door and telling yourself ‘I’m just going for an easy spin today, give the old legs a break’, an hour later your slogging it up some insidious incline, jaw locked shut, breathing hard through your teeth with eyes out on stalks, not really knowing how you ended up there.
  2. Denial generally fuels anger and often sets in at the point of the climb when pride won’t allow you to turn back.  Renowned cyclist Bernard Hinault used to deal with his anger by punching things, people, bikes, cars, trees, small animals, large animals.  This isn’t recommended unless there’s no one else around then knock yourself, or anything else for that matter, out.
  3. If you’re riding on your own then its now time to enter into negotiations, with yourself.  Your now aching legs open talks with your brain attempting to convince it that you’re more the ‘sitting down type’ and that perhaps cycling should only continue as far as the next lamppost, phone box or sign at which point you will head home for some serious sitting down practice.  Your Ego being the arbiter in this situation generally shuts down all negotiations and climbing continues.  This can often lead back into anger followed by more bargaining.
  4. Failed negotiations can then lead into depression and feelings of hopelessness and helplessness especially if the only way to salvation is up. Joining a support group can help. On the way up you may encounter groups of people in similar situations.  Groups allow people to meet others with the same problems who are still active and accomplishing goals like turning the pedals once, twice or sometimes three times. This is highly encouraged in order to progress to the final stage.
  5. At last. Acceptance. Though climbing for long periods of time can bring emotional upheaval, it also brings the triumphant feelings and strength that come with overcoming obstacles and the knowledge that it’s now downhill all the way back to the pub. Unless the pub is still the next valley over in which case you had better be prepared for another rollercoaster of emotion. With each success comes the confidence that you’re able to go out and do it all again. Or not. Well you’ve done it now and there’s no need to put yourself through ‘that’ again especially when you’re indoors, as is the fridge, which contains such delights as pies and beer.

It’s worth noting at this point that if you believe that you are stuck in one of the first four stages permanently, you may want to consult with a therapist.


Mr Spock relives the climb up to Col de Joux Plane

To see a breakdown of some of the climbs we’ve been slogging up in the last month or so  see our website www.44south.co.uk where we’ve broken down the climbs per kilometer, altitude gained and gradient percentage so you can see exactly how much it will hurt…but then it wouldn’t be a challenge would it?

Happy Climbing!

What’s in a Name?

Let me talk about Strava.  So for those who aren’t in the know, Strava is like Facebook, but for runners and cyclists.  You can record a ride or run on your GPS thing-a-me bob, smart phones or other gizmo, then when you get home upload your efforts and share your sufferring with a certain sense of smugness over everyone else who hasn’t suffered as much as you have.  This lasts until someone uploads a bigger faster ride and your efforts are swept under the proverbial carpet.  All of this is then shared on Facebook anyway.

The rather neat feature of Strava is that certain sections of road e.g. a particular climb or fast flat section are isolated as a ‘Strava Segments’, each segment has it’s own league table for everyone who rides it and these segments are created by us the people riding them.  Your time/speed/suffering are calculated for this segment and you can see how you fair against other athletes.  You get recognition for being the fastest (King (or Queen) of the Mountain) plus it compares you effort to past efforts giving you a nod for personal bests.  There’s even a ‘Suffer Score’ that tells you how much suffering you have endured, although it’s beyond me why you need a computer to tell you how hard that ride you just did was! Besides living in the mountains as I do, it seems I’ve only to ride to the shops for a paper and I acquire a suffer score of ‘EPIC’ anyway! But it’s all a bit of fun and encourages you to get out and ride and put a bit of effort in, unless you’re the sort of person who is easily intimidated by the efforts of others in which case you throw your bike away and go down the pub or eat a pie or both.

D32 Decent...or...Satan's Switchbacks? I know what I'd rather ride down.

D32 Decent…or…Satan’s Switchbacks? I know what I’d rather ride down.

It’s not just road cyclists, mountain bikers can play too.  As a man who occasionally strays to the ‘muddy side of the force’ here’s where I need to draw a comparison between Roadies and MTB’ers.  You see when you decide on a section of road or trail that you intend to use to create your segment, you define the start and end points and then you get to choose a name. Well I’m sorry but Roadies are picking the most dull names, so dull that I almost want to hang up my tyres and take up knitting.  UK side there’s the ever exciting ‘New Road’, the hair raising ‘A286 Decent’ and who can forget the…erm…err….no it’s gone!  They don’t get any better out here in the French Alps with the terrifying ‘Montriond Hill’, the exhausting ‘D328 Climb’ and it was about this time I fell asleep into my keyboard!  By contrast the Mountain bike trails get names like ‘Dead Mans Rise’, ‘Pile Driver’, ‘Corkscrew’ and ‘Crab Tree Dash’.  Now come on, what sounds more exciting?

Guys…If you came home after a days cycling with talk about your sprint with Lanky Pete along ‘New Road’ or that bit where Barry nearly beat you to the top of the ‘D328 Climb’ then your beloved is likely to suffer an immediate heart failiure.  But regale them with tales of you terrifying descent down the ‘Corkscrew’ and how you fought you way up ‘Dead Mans Rise’ and…well, okay they may still suffer a wee bout of narcolepsy but at least you won’t be reaching for the defibrillator.  So come on Roadies, let’s get a bit more creative with our naming conventions, I’d much rather be riding up the ‘Leg Smasher’, fighting for air on the ‘Exploding Lung’ or descending down ’21 Bends to Hell’…just some ideas.

Join us on Strava, we will be running some competitions at some point in the near future Click here to goto 44South Holidays on Strava

Forbidden Fountain Faux Pas

Well so far this year, Winter massively outstayed his welcome, having murdered Spring and hid the remains, but it seems that Summer has now arrived.  And by ‘Arrived’ I don’t mean that there was a gentle tap at the door, Winter put on his slippers, puffed his pipe a couple of times rose from his arm chair dropping his copy of the Times onto the coffee table as he ambled over to the front door. Upon opening he was greeted warmly by Summer, in shorts, a Hawaiian shirt, cowboy boots and a Sombrero carrying a cheap bottle of Chardonnay waiting excitedly to be asked in.  No, not this year.  This year Summer has kicked the door in, to screams of ‘HEY BITCHES, THE SUN IS IN THE HIZZOUSE!’, squirting paraffin up the walls, flicking matches at the cat and stubbing out his fat cigar on the shag pile.  Yep, it’s here and it’s hot!  But is it here to stay or will Autumn file a public nuisance report and call the party off?  Well time will tell on that one and most likely so will I.

Holy Man on a Crucifix Batman!

Holy Man on a Crucifix Batman!

In the space of a month we’ve gone from waking up to two inches of snow outside to blues skies and temperatures in the thirties. Lovely.  While there is a certain element of feeling like your head is being microwaved when on the road bike climbing up the Col de Jambaz, this is quickly forgotten when cruising down the other side enjoying your reward of a cooling breeze and long sweeping roads.  And what about hydration? Well I was knocking back water like there was a looming hose pipe ban, but this is not a problem as you can stop to fill up at any of the convenient water fountains en route. This heralds back to the early days of the Tour de France when having drunk the bottle they started the day with, had to then source their own Water, Juice, Beer, Brandy, Whiskey, Amphetamines.  And this incidentally leads me to my first tip of the summer…No matter how blinded by thirst you are, always take the time to check for signs on or around the fountain warning you not to drink the water before guzzling a pints worth of the stuff.  Yes, that sign is there for a reason as I discovered later that evening.  And what about the old lady quietly watching me satiate my thirst with forbidden fluids? I mean a friendly warning might have been nice, but no she just sat there quietly.  Watching.  Come to think of it, there was a stockpile of rusty bikes outside her apartment.  Hmm second tip of the summer, beware old ladies with water fountains.  My third tip of the summer is never whizz on an electric fence, but I digress.

I end today’s entry descending through Vernaz and into the Valley d’Aulps having gone from temperatures in the thirties I’m suddenly plunged into the low twenties and spitting with rain.  The rain didn’t last long but the drop in temperature was bliss and perfect for the long drag back to Morzine.