So I didn’t go back to the Ballon d’Alsace this summer. I drove up yesterday and went for a 2-hour hike around it, and just looking at the road, from the point I gave up before, was enough to convince me that I don’t have the legs for it.
Is it a strength thing? I’ve always been a 10-stone weakling, albeit these days trapped in a 14-stone body, and my legs may well not be up to it. My core is extremely feeble, and I rarely do anything to exercise my upper body, give or take the occasional mass movement of logs. That’s unlikely to change.
Is it a bike thing? All the bike mags have a very macho attitude to hills and climbing, and their idea of a “big gear” is a 34/28, which is what I have on my Trek.
[UPDATE: It turns out, I only had a 34/26 on my old Trek, which explains a good deal!]
But for me? Not enough. If I had a 34/32, or even a 34/30, I’d be happier, but most of all, I think I’d be happier with a triple. I see a lot of older men out on these French hills, and I try to have a good look at their bikes, and it seems to me that, out here in the real world, you want a triple if you’re going to do a lot of climbing, which would give you a 30/30, or at least a 30/28.
When I’ve saved up for it, I reckon my next bike will be a triple. On the other hand, if I win the lotto, I’ve already decided to get one with SRAM Force or SRAM Red, and their “true 22” gearing, with their WiFLi 11-speed rear cassette, which would give me a 34/32 on a lightweight frame. Then we’ll know if it’s the legs or the bike.
If it is the legs, it might not be just because I’m a 10-stone weakling. It might be the meds. I’m on blood pressure medication, as well as statins for cholesterol, albeit a small dose. The blood pressure tablets are a combination of two types (Candesartan and Almodipine), arrived at after a series of trial-and-error experiments and various side effects, including bloodshot eyes, swollen ankles, etc. About 1 in 10 people have muscle pain with statins. I’m only on a 20mg dose now, but there are also people who report muscle weakness with blood pressure medication, so I don’t know. I might be on a combination which leaves my ankles unswollen but my legs weak.
I honestly can’t believe that given the amount of cycling I’ve done, and the kilometres I’ve climbed over the past five weeks, that I wouldn’t be feeling some kind of benefit in terms of increased strength and stamina. But the fact is, I’m not. In the second week, my legs felt better than they do now. Looking at the last 6-7 kilometres of the Ballon d’Alsace climb, I just knew I wouldn’t be able to do it. Tellingly, although I can get up the Route d’Auxelles (the big hill up from Plancher Bas to Auxelles Bas), which is just a 2km climb, I’m not any better at it now than I was 5 weeks ago. And the Ballon d’Alsace is a 14 kilometre climb, from bottom to top. Getting halfway up it was the best I was ever going to do.
I’m disappointed. And I think I might visit the doctor when I get back home.