On balance, no ballons

A farewell to France – for now

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.

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2 responses to “On balance, no ballons”

  1. It’s still a great target with a big TDF history. When the weather gets bad I’m tempted to set a 9km 7% gradient on the turbo, just to see how far (not very) I could go on a similar climb.

    I seem to remember you have Shimano 10sp? I’m pretty sure (but check with an expert) that the SRAM Wifl 10sp Climbers kit is compatible with that. It’s a cartridge, chain and rear deraillier set. Might be worth a look because its got 11-32. If you already have a medium cage mech you could probably get away with a cartridge only swap – maybe a slightly longer chain.

    An interesting plan for next year might be to get a spare rear wheel and put the climber cartridge onto it? That way you get 2 bikes in one – normal and hilly. A medium cage at the back would work for both so a simple wheel changeover. I know this cos I’m thinking of doing it.

    The SRAM set is in their Rival range (ie cheaper) but I’ve found that that SRAM bits are long-lasting and interchangeable (I’ve been quietly moving my Force to Red when I can think of a reason.)


    Check out the reviews in the link too.


    • Good suggestion, thanks. My Shimano is only 9-speed, so I’m not sure and would have to ask an expert, as you say.

      I like the idea of a spare rear wheel, though being the DIY duffer I am, I would have to have someone do all the fitting and setting up. I often think about just upgrading the wheels on my bike (which the guy in the shop suggested when I bought it, trying to upsell me), but then I just think of the cost comparison between that and just getting another bike.

      I asked one of the PE teachers at my school to help me with core strength exercises. In return I’m going to give him the hydration backpack I bought and hated.


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