[UPDATES at the bottom of the article.]

I just came inside from snoozing in my back yard. That in itself felt a bit strange. It's Wednesday. It just turned 9PM. I am at home, and I just spent the last hour asleep in my backyard. 

Normally, on a Wednesday at this time, I would be completing the Real Deal Team ride or just finishing up at the Velodrome in London, ON. Tonight, the team was at Horseshoe, just north of Barrie pre-riding the race course for one of the last OCUP races this season, but I was snoozing. In a sense, I miss the action, but in another, I am happy for a bit of a break....maybe that was a bad choice of words.

I spent just over two weeks in France this summer riding the hills and mountains of area of the Aude in Limoux, France. It was a good time, but my intent was really to race. Since that didn't happen, I am putting together a trip back to the area in May 2013. I am looking for six strong experienced UCI licensed racers to go with me for the experience for a total of six people. We are going in May because races happen April-June. April is too cold, and there are interesting races at the end of May into June in Ontario.

This area of France is hilly even mountainous. If you think the Niagara Classic was hard, you ain't seen nothing yet. This area of France makes the Niagara Classic look positively flat. There are very few flat roads. Grades of less than 2% are considered flat. For example, the 10 Hills training ride is 100km, 2500m climbing, and ends with a climb up the Limoux wall: 800m, avg 14%, max 20%. There isn't a single flat section for 100km. You'll be begging for mercy at the end of the ride.

I'm looking for guys interested in riding hard, and racing. You understand what "Rule #5" means. The letters D, N, and F are not in your vocabulary. If you want to do sightseeing or think this is a vacation, then I suggest booking another trip to Paris with your wife/husband/other. We ride in the AM and nap in the afternoon. Every hill top will be a KOM opportunity. We will have easy days, but when we are training, we are looking to go hard: AND I MEAN HARD. On the Wed, we will do a 15km time trial (up hill, of course). If weather permits, we will do a mountain pass (Does riding 15-20km up hill sound like fun?) (Ok, we might stop at the top of the climbs for photos....)

A quick summary of the trip will be as follows:

It's been a week or so since returning from France. I took a group to the town of Limoux in the Aude region in the south of France, in the foothills of the Pyrenees mountains. We left Toronto on July 6 and arrived on July 7. We flew into Toulouse and we picked up by our host. From Toulouse it was a 1.5 hr drive into Limoux. For me, it was a return trip because I went to the same area the year prior. 

We stayed in rented houses in the town center - both were walking distance from the town square. The rides were almost always epic. Limoux is in a river valley and there are no flat roads. Everything is a climb or a descent. For example, we did the 10 Hills Ride and well, it ended up being only a 9 hills ride because the group was done by the 9th hill. The last hill of this ride is the Limoux wall: 800m long and 14% average grade, kicking up to 20% in spots.

We did two supported rides. We hired a van and driver to escort us around. Limoux was the start town of stage 14 of the Tour de France. The stage was 191km long and finished in Foix and some 2500m of climbing. The kicks on this course was a 6km section that hit 18% in parts. We had some 10 people on this ride (photo below) and almost all rode the whole thing. Four people put in an extra effort and rode back to Limoux for Foix for a 260km day.

Stage14 ride 

The second supported ride was one to the sea. We left Limoux for a 104km ride to the Lucate on the Mediterrain sea.
col de_pailheres 
Toolbox: Sports Confidence http://www.pezcyclingnews.com/?pg=fullstory&id=10491 
A reflection on the good and bad days on the bike.
I know from the Hairshirt ride, it was a good day because I studied the course in advance, I knew most of the sections of road from past experience, and made sure I ate/drank enough. 
If you read the article, he makes a good point of making sure you bike works before you ride and you know what you are in for before you get out there. 
From Wikipedia: Hairshirt: originally a garment or undergarment made of coarse cloth or animal hair (a hairshirt) used in some religious traditions to induce discomfort or pain as a sign of repentance and atonement.

Strava Data: http://app.strava.com/rides/11665456

Cycling is a religious tradition, isn't it? Ever since I moved to Toronto to go to College at age 19, I have always wanted to cycle to Niagara Falls. It is where I grew up and where my parents still live. It's 160km approximately door to door from where I currently reside. When I started taking bike riding seriously a few years ago, it was one of those things in the back of my mind: ride to Niagara. Last summer, I not only rode to the Falls once, I did it six times. I found different roads ranging from 160km to 210km. I did half of those rides on my own (without support) including the last 210km ride. Riding to Niagara is no longer a challenge - although, I find it a good way to get a ride in and visit my parents at the same time.

I had heard of the Hairshirt ride from bike club members some time back. That ride is a 322km ride to Niagara Falls and back in one day. I added that ride to my bucket list. I had wanted to do it last year, but missed out because I just did not check the TBN calender soon enough. This year, I made a point of putting it on the training plan. True, it has nothing to do with racing and it's a Toronto Bike Network ride - a club of which most roadies like to make fun. But, they won't after they do this ride!

The date for the ride this year was June 24, 2012. I approached the date with some trepidation because I had never done a ride that long before. We did a warmup ride to Niagara about a month ago: 233km one way to Niagara to test out the legs and on that ride I almost bonked.

Start of the Ride

The Hairshirt ride started at 6am at Mississauga Square One. I spent much of the day prior chasing down last minute items like energy bars, salt pills, etc. and ways to carry the supplies on the bike without looking like some "commuter". The morning of I was up at 4am. After packing the car, I managed to make it to Square One by about 5:20am. A 30 min drive. Driving to the start was kind of weird because I'm used to riding all the way to Niagara. However, at 5:30am, riders quickly filed in, including fellow riders from my France 2012 group, Richard and Glen, and Robyn.

WHEN: Sunday, May 27@7AM
WHERE: 25 Peach Willoway, Toronto or meet up en route
ROUTE: http://tpks.ws/xVP2 
CONTACT: mark at buckaway dot ca
GETTING BACK: GO Bus to Hamilton, and then GO Train - the GO bus takes two bikes per bus or VIA rail with a bagage car (book you ticket in advance!)

Last year, I rode to Niagara Falls some 5-6 times. Sometimes on my own, and sometimes with others. Routes varied from a flat 160km ride along the waterfront trail, to 180km ride that took in the climbs on Fifth Rd and Effingham Rd, to a solo 210km ride that went through Ancaster and a nasty 5km climb up the escarpment and included Efflingham Rd. I never did get to ride the extended 233km route that added Rattlesnake Point. So, this is what we are doing. All total, there is some 2100m of climbing en route. More than the Fondo in Collingwood. I decided to leave off the Fifty Rd climb because I'm not ready for a 250km ride and another 300m of climbing. We will do that next time.

Recovery ride. We all see them on our training plans. Active recovery we are told is good for us. There are times I just can't be bothered to putter around for a hour. I'd rather just watch a movie. However, this week I found something useful from Coach Veal on my plan:

Easy day - Moderate spin - 1hr+ I want this be an active recovery day. This means you get a ride in but your do not over extend yourself that your toast for the following workouts. I want you getting on your bike to build habits and work on your aerobic conditioning but I want the cadence higher than normal and I want your getting off the bike feeling like you could have done more. Work on bending your elbows and riding as aero as possible. Bring in your knees and lower your head. These little changes will help your when the pace goes up or when your riding into a head wind. Try to hold your head up and look forward as much as possible during this ride. These rides are the best to practice changing your clothes. Removing arm warmers, riding with one hand while you are in your back pocket, drinking, eating, unwrapping a power bar. How about riding with no hands? Have fun and swerve all over the road. get used to having fun. Jump a curb or two...ride on the grass etc.... today is all about being a big kid AND working on raising your comfort level and improving your bike handling skills.

This one got me going. Try riding with no hands? Ok. Practice taking the arm warmers off, reaching for the jersey pockets. Sure. I added one more item: hill repeats done as slowly as possible. I spend 7 mins climbing a hill that normally takes 2 mins. Good practice for riding slow.

Thus, I used the recovery ride to practice skills I never get a chance to try out. Something to consider doing if you have trouble getting out on a short easy spin.

It's been a "fun" couple of weeks. I must say, I know challenges. Somehow, I managed to pick myself up and keep going. I'm recalling the "fun" I have had over the last 4 years of trying to learn how to race a bike. I think anyone else might have quit some time ago, yet I keep at it.

I drove out to Calabogie with my Vitess Red bike that I had a whole 4 weeks, and managed to get into a crash in which I had no change. The frame on my Vitess got smashed AGAIN. This is something like the fourth time that bike has had the frame damaged - I should mention, that it is not fault of Vitess. When a bike is run over by another bike, it's usually toast. I should know. That has happened to me too many times.

So, let's recount the B.S. I endured:

[Update: Ok. Bronte was a tough race. Almost 42km/h average for 64km.]

The Tour of Bronte is a race that runs through Bronte provincial park. It was a OCUP points race, but because registration was down, it was switched to a citizen race. This meant I was free to race any category I wanted. I changed from the "beginner" race to the "intermediate" race. There was no way I was doing the elite race.

The course for the race was 50% road and 50% hard packed gravel. Because of the crash last year that trashed my bike, I used my cross bike. I think because of the off road sections it is better suited as a cross race anyways but, I have a 22lbs cross bike. Nice solid alloy bike that is built like and handles like a tank. I've done Paris to Ancaster three times and nothing has broken on it. BUT, because it's so heavy, I tend to be pushing 20-30W more than everyone else.


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