Marmotte Alpes

Mamotte Alpes was most likely the hardest Cyclosportive or Gran Fondo I will ever do. 170km+ and 5km uphill across famous Tour de France climbs, in peculiar alpine weather. Strava stats here.

Typical race set-up for me is these days a minute ad-hoc schedule. Again didn’t have too much preparation, sleep or energy intake before the race. Just the previous race behind as the training buildup. Add on top 10hrs+ car driving and business meetings in the past 24 hrs, we finally arrived sometime 1am to the hotel in Alpe d’Huez with wife and one kid. It didn’t help the race was moved from Sunday to Saturday at short notice because of the sudden French elections. Crash immediately to bed. Alarm goes off 5:30 or so. Breakfast, bike set up, and off we go rolling down the bends to the valley. Pick up number just before 7am and get in the starting grid in time. I pass the line around 7:30am.

First climb to Col de Glaudon goes pretty well. Weather great. Cloudy, no wind. On top in about 2:15 and feels energetic. The first weather surprise comes at the end of the descent. Feels like a heat barrier hits at some point and the temperate goes up. Wind also pick ups and of course it is headwind. Struggle in the flat or slight uphill with the wind, and drop from peloton to another. I am not comfortable riding at the heels of others.

Col de Telegraph, the second climb, goes quite fast. A hint of rain pours in at some point but the clouds give away. A short descent to the bottom of Galibier and I finally get to the first food station. Have some banana bites and a piece of a cracker. Clearly service doesn’t compare to Italian events. I could have taken more calories if available.

Then Col de Galibier. I know this is where this race comes together. I start pretty easy, watching the heart rate not to go too high. Closer to the top the wind picks up and it looks like there could be more rain coming. At the top we have another food station and energy refill. Pass the entry to the tunnel at around 7:15, still pretty much in the planned schedule. But when the light comes out at the end of the tunnel the rain goes sideways. And we have storm!

Hitting the descent with huge headwind, rain and overall coldness feels both surreal and unbearable. Brings to my mind some the legendary Tour videos I’ve seen. Curse heavily as the water blinds the visibility. Have to stop multiple times just to figure out where to go. I can’t see a thing! Maybe 15 minutes in my hands, legs and essentially the whole body starts to shake. Feels like my bike is shaking. My body is about to break. I wish I have had a jacket. Neck gets stiffer and it feels like a curtain shuts whatever I have left of the little visibility. Have to consider quitting for real. But it doesn’t feel right, it doesn’t make sense. It was supposed to be just a long fast downhill to the bottom before the final climb. There is nowhere to quit, we are in the middle of nowhere, with no bail outs.

Arrive finally to the bottom, the temps get higher, the rain goes away, and clock ticks about 8:56 or so before the finale. I think I’ve lost half an hour in the downhill because of the weather and its implied wear & tear to my body. Okay, let’s hit it. And. It. Is. Tough. Alpe d’Huez takes about 1.45 instead of my planned 1.15. It is simply too much for me today. Have to stop multiple times to drink and rest.

Final time is over 10:30. I thought sub 10:00 should be doable. I am however very happy to make it to the end in one piece and all the damage I’ve built up will eventually wear out. The bike did great job, no mechanical issues whatsoever. Today it was the nature that took the show.

Sportful Dolomiti

Opened the bicycle racing season with Sportful Dolomiti. Chose medio corsa 125km, which was the right choice today. About 2500m uphill and final time a bit under 5.45. Strava stats here.

Had some hesitation before the start how will it go. I hadn’t had time to ride more than 150km total this year on bike and haven’t also run much. The previous day I had a wild 10 hours drive from Munich to Italy as Brenner pass was totally stuck. Add on top little sleep and weather forecast saying it starts to probably rain mid day.

All fears and doubts however disappeared once I got on top of my Wilier and hit the road with thousands of other riders. The bike rocked and I was sure to check my heart rate didn’t go over 150 but in the toughest climbs. Sun broke out after a few hours and instead of rain it started to heat up. Had just one food & toilet stop. Overall another great day in the middle of gorgeous Dolomites.

War in Ukraine — 2023 wrap-up

Christmas is coming and Zelensky is back from a tour in the Americas and Europe just like he did one year ago. Putin also held his annual press conference, the first time after he started the war in Ukraine. Here’s my wrap up of what we have learned about the war in the past one year and what’s ahead:

1. Russia didn’t advance much in the spring and Ukraine’s much-awaited counteroffensive hit the defenses without any major breakthroughs. That does not mean the war would be stuck. Intense fighting is continuing all across the frontlines as we speak. We are in a situation where nobody is winning and nobody is happy. Men and machines burn on daily basis.

2. It seems clear Russia’s goal remains Ukrainian capitulation and complete takeover. We have seen the pattern. Now Putin says Odessa belongs to Russia. He doesn’t mention Ukrainian officials by name just like his political opponents who have been taken out. He is on a mission to punish Ukraine like Prigozhin just because they fight back. It looks very unlikely Russia would ever settle this war as long as Putin is alive and there are Ukrainian soldiers standing.

3. For Ukraine most of their territory occupied a year ago is still under Russian control. Ukraine will continue to defend Russian attacks over the winter and hopefully get into counteroffensive again when its resources allow. It is not conceivable Ukraine would settle and surrender any parts of its territory no matter what others say and how much support they get. Otherwise all the fighting and nation build-up project up to this point would become tears in the rain.

4. The Free World’s support has become the subject of political games. This is however all anticipated and expected. There will always be voices in an open society like the US republicans and the current head of the Hungarian government. It does not mean Ukraine would be out of backing anytime soon. Just remember the EU just decided to start official membership talks with Ukraine no matter of one lone opponent.

5. What happens in 2024 is all open. The big picture is very much like in December 2022. The parties are the same and the stakes are the same. Even the frontline is about the same. The default scenario is that the war just drags on and on unless some surprise event unfolds. My wish for 2024 is that in one year from now Ukraine has taken the next steps towards ultimate victory and I don’t have to write again the same projection for 2025.

Nove Colli

I’m clearly getting into road cycling. This time drove Nove Colli 170km in and around Cesenatico. The event sounded like Boston marathon of Gran Fondos and it probably was. Again close to 10.000 participants, mostly around Italy. Guests included Grande Miguel Indurain who I saw while picking up the number bib. Took also a pic at Pantani’s statue. Grande heroes.

The ride was tough as expected because of weather. The rain stopped for a moment before the start and the hopes went high. But it started to pour down again just after 15 mins of driving and continued for like 2 hours without a stop. I saw plenty of flat tires, broken chains and even fallen drivers in the middle of the course.

My bike worked this time perfectly. After climbing Barbotto at around 90km the clock ticked 3.29 or so, the sun broke in for the moment, and it felt like I might finish in under 7 hours.

After just 100km stopped for the first and only time to eat. When I tried to kick the left foot out of the pedal got a major cramp in the left calf and fell down to the pavement. That was painful! I was struggling for the next hour or so with what felt like half power in the left side. I could not push the pedal and feared another cramp is on the way. But luckily it started to fade and after a couple short showers the skies started to clear out. The roads dried up and the last tens of kilometres went flying again.

Time was 7:05 total with c. 24 km/h average speed and total 2500m of climb or so. Garmin stats here.

Maratona dles Dolomites

Rode Maratona dles Dolomites yesterday. 138km total and over 4km uphill. My first ever bicycle race. The longest bicycle ride by a wide margin, like 100km+. Went directly to one of the most well known Gran Fondos with 9000 fellow riders. Beautiful scenery. Excellent weather.

Overall I would say it was a major learning experience and introduction to the culture of road cycling. I had no clue what to expect. Was pretty nervous before the start wondering what to wear, what to eat and so on. The choice of a long sleeve running shirt under the cycling jersey turned out to be pretty good. You want long sleeves in the first morning descents. Gloves were ok for the first hour or so. I had just one caffeine gel with me which I took maybe 2/3 up Giau pass but could have had a few more. I feared mechanical issues and was really scared when after just 15 minutes of riding the saddle gave a popping sound and went all loose. Luckily the seat post was ok and it was just misplaced. I ended up stopping 5 times to fix the saddle position, another 5 times to drink and eat and one more stop for a toilet visit. That said, based on Garmin data it all added just max 15 minutes.

I finished in 7.42 and overall position 2171. It was by no means an easy Sunday ride. It was a hard full day workout in the saddle with heart beat going 150 all over uphills. In the big picture however not as damaging to your body compared to running a full marathon on the road. Still I would not recommend Maratona for casual riders or amateurs with no endurance sports background and proper preparation. I respect now pro cyclist more than ever who can do this kind of rides during major tours on daily basis. My position changed roughly between 2.000 and 2.500, the best splits being uphills at around 1.700. I was passing riders in uphills and passed from left and right in downhills. I just don’t understand why anybody at the level I was riding would risk it all to go like 100 km/h in a downhill where I capped it at maybe 50 (data shows I peaked somewhere at 65 km/h). I think I saw 3 or 4 accidents. In two cases there was an ambulance at the site.

Right after the ride I was thinking this was it. Bucket list stuff crossed out. But after a couple of beers and the next day feeling just some pain in the neck and back stiffness I am thinking could this be done again. With some proper preparation and weather permitting I could shoot for a time starting with 6.