Oof, but the cycling has been harder than usual this summer. I do not have climbing legs at the best of times, but this year I have really not enjoyed my rides.
I do not get a kick out of suffering on the bike, I hate hills, and I do not have the power to weight ratio to manage big climbs. I don’t even belong in the same company as proper cyclists, which is one reason why I mostly ride solo.
But this year is particularly difficult, and I find myself making more excuses than usual not to ride.
I think there are a number of factors, starting with the wet spring and early summer. On top of everything else, I’m a fair weather cyclist, so when it rains as much as it has this year, I don’t get out. I’ve only commuted to work a handful of times. Towards the end of the summer term, when the weather was okay, I still didn’t cycle to work because circumstances dictated that I needed the extra hour in the morning to get things done.
On top of this, I haven’t ridden my road bike in France for a whole year. Normally, arriving at the end of July, I’d have had Whitsun half-term week and Easter to put some proper hill kilometres into my legs. But when I took the bike out on the first day of this holiday, it had been eleven months since I tackled a serious climb.
The legs are bad, but the lungs are worse. I’d gotten pretty good at keeping my breathing steady and under control when climbing hills, but this year I keep having to cry halt so I can get my heart and lungs under control. A couple of minutes is all it takes, but I’ve lost my faith.
This morning, the kid and I rode up to the St. Antoine forest, which is one of our favourite rides. Instead of climbing up the Planche des Belles Filles, you take a left turn towards the Ballon de Servance and ride up to the Goutte des Saules waterfall at St. Antoine, which is quite enough of an effort for me, thank you very much. But before you get to that left turn, you’re climbing up a false flat of about 11 kilometres – which means you’re travelling steadily uphill even before the road kicks up into the forest. And when we paused after that first 12km or so, I was coughing like a tubercular poet who’d been living on a diet of absinthe and opium. Felt so bad, sick with it. My daughter was texting her sister with her concerns. Please don’t let me conk out on her in the middle of a ride.
After that I rode on for a few hundred metres on wobbly legs before walking up a short steep bit, which rested my legs enough to get me the rest of the way to the waterfall.
And things turned around from there. We sat around for a decent interval, knowing we were stopping at my in-law’s on the way back, and waiting till my wife texted to say she was on her way there in the car. Elodie suggested I stick the bike in the back of the car to avoid the last climb, but I was feeling better.
The pleasure of this particular ride is the 12km all the way back down the valley, on a road that’s mostly not steep but always pointing slightly downhill. It’s fairly smooth, too, so you can get in a high gear and put some speed on. My legs are fine going down like that. I’m not a fan of steep descents, but this is my kind of road.
So we reached the in-laws and stopped for a while, some apple juice, some popcorn (!), and then we rode back up the hill to our place. And it was fine, really. No hyperventilating, knees and hips hurting (as per), but the road never seeming particularly steep. The apple juice got me there.
I choose to think that this mixed bag of a ride is a bit of a turning point. We have ambitions to ride around to Fresse and the Col de la Chevestraye, which is my absolute upper limit when I’m at my fittest. But maybe I’ll wait a couple more weeks to try that.