Cycling up hills

Originally, the plan was to go for a holiday in the French Alps. You know, that place with all the big mountains. Like Alpe D’huez. The one the Tour de France goes up, the one where Lance Armstrong gave that look before crushing everyone else.

That got me thinking. Is it possible for mortals to cycle up that mountain?

I’m not yet sure whether I’m going to try it or not. But I am actively ‘researching’ the possibility. Research, as such, consists of cycling up hills and then doing the maths to compare them with the Alp D’huez ascent. So, given that I’m in ‘training’ mode, it’s time to dust off this blog so that I can look back in days to come and remember the random things I do.

Training-wise, I only really have one big hill nearby – Arthurs Seat. The climb up Arthurs Seat is 1.1km distance, 80m ascent, averaging 6%. In contrast, Alp D’huez is 14.5km distance, 1110m ascent, averaging 8%. So, roughly fourteen Arthurs Seat’s stacked on top of each other. Scary, yes, but not unthinkably scary …

I’ve been cycling round there on weekends, getting used to climbing hills again. Yesterday’s run felt like my first ‘proper training’ effort, as opposed to acclimatisation – four laps including one at max-effort.

Today I went out and bagged most of the steep climbs in the city center: Calton Hill, Robertson’s Close, Victoria St, Mound into Ramsay Lane and then did another loop of Arthurs Seat, mostly because I had GPS and could track it. Five minutes flat for the Arthurs Seat climb, so that’s my baseline. The rest of the hills weren’t much use. Some are steep, Ramsay Lane notably so, but they’re all short enough to sprint up. Next on my hit list are the roads that run up next to Edinburgh Zoo – Kaimes Rd etc. They look steep and a bit longer.

My GPS track was too fuzzy to get useful height data in the city centre, so I’ve no idea what kind of gradient those climbs were. I might see if an OS map has enough detail to figure it out.

When I did LEJOG, I found plenty of big hills and steep hills. In Scotland, the long climbs were the Mennock Pass (350m ascent) and the east side of Loch Ness (350m ascent). The latter started with a solid 2km of 9% climbing – which I remember thinking was right at my limit … though I did cycle about 800 miles to get there! Steepest sustained hill I’ve made it up was probably the Berriedale Braes – 13% or so.

In contrast, according to this site, Alp D’huez is three times higher than either the Mennock or Loch Ness climbs. The first 2km go up a 10% slope – a wee bit worse than Loch Ness – before easing off (hahaha!) to an average of around 8% for the other 12km. The Mennock Pass, although high, ascends over a fairly long distance (10km) and so the average gradient is a mere 4%.

This page of steep scottish climbs makes it look like Cairn O’Mounth is a reasonable facsimile of the Alpe D’huez gradient. So, might need to take a trip there at some point.

Anyhow, that’s the data I’ve compiled so far. Mentally, I’m not committed to this yet. I’m still in fact-finding mode. But it’s fun to be back on the bike and pushing hard!

PS. I thought I’d lost my bottle after last year’s crash. Descending at speed didn’t feel right – the bike just didn’t feel totally stable. I thought maybe I’d became overly worried about crashing again. Today, I spotted that my headset bearings were a little loose. I tightened them up, and went out for a ride. The bike now feels like it’s running on rails. Turns out, my mind is fine, I’d just lost my bearings a little bit.