My Hardest Ride Ever?

by | May 10, 2017

As I write this I sit in a Belgian boozer, waiting for the professionals undertaking the Liege Bastogne Liege Monument to come past. Yesterday, I completed the exact same route (well slightly longer actually) in the Liege Bastogne Liege Challenge. It was a very hard ride. One of the hardest ever. And it got me thinking.. Was it my hardest ride? This blog is all about trying to work out how we can assess which ride is your hardest ever. But first, lets talk about yesterday’s efforts:

The Liege Bastogne Liege Challenge

273km. 4,653m of climbing. I could stop there but these numbers only tell a portion of the story.

LBL Strava

The LBL Challenge

 

  1. Conditions were awful. It was cold and I didn’t quite get my clothing choices right. There appeared to be a headwind at all times, regardless of the direction of travel. It rained for a fair amount of the ride.
  2. The 4,600m of climbing is enough to signify a brutal ride but these vertical metres will delivered in a fairly unkind way in my opinion. There were 9 categorised climbs, which were the focal point. They were very hard. What made them harder was the sheer amount of climbing that happened in between them. You were either going up or being quite cold going down and not much in between.
  3. I initially got into a group that was going slightly too fast up the hills for me at the start. To be fair I realised that I was going into the red too much and backed off fairly quickly.
  4. I did not afford this ride the respect if deserved. Other than skipping the Thursday club TT, I had a very intense week of training and racing. I had also not specifically prepared for it and missed my hilly century in March due to family illness. Other rides that I will mention later were given much more respect in this area. I was complacent and this was a big mistake.
  5. Point 4, and to a lesser extent, point 3 meant that the enjoyment factor during the ride was pretty low at times. There was a lot of pain to tolerate in tough conditions and for a large portion of the 10 hours riding time I was simply enduring rather than enjoying. It was one of those ride where I just wanted it to be over. The problem was that I wanted it to be over at about 2.5 hours with another 7.5 to go (best case).
  6. To be fair I didn’t feel brilliant for a lot of it with a few stomach cramps early on but I have had other rides like that.
  7. Some of the climbs were ridiculous to the point where I recall saying “Seriously” on 3 separate occasions. To be honest, it takes a lot for me to utter this…
  8. On a positive note, I enjoyed some of them and got a lot of pleasure out of a number of long sweeping descents…

 

So, from this, we can start to identify some criteria that we can use to help identify hard rides.

 

Hard Ride Criteria

  1. Length
  2. Time in the saddle
  3. Amount of Climbing
  4. General parcours
  5. Conditions
  6. Preparedness
  7. Pacing
  8. Perception of effort/Pain
  9. Enjoyment factors
  10. TSS

 

We can use TSS to give a purely objective measure of the ride. TSS (Training Stress Score) as a measure of stress of the ride with a reference to your Threshold, time of the ride and intensity you rode at.

So given all of this lets identify a few rides that could be contenders for the hardest ever:

  1. Liege Bastogne Liege Challenge 2017: 273km, 4,653m, 10:00, TSS 505
  2. Everesting Groombridge Hill 2016: 267km, 8,848m, 16:47, TSS 756
  3. Dragon Devil 2016: 306km, 4,167m, 11:53, TSS 620.
  4. 320km solo circuit of Kent 2016: 320km, 3,039m, 12:23, TSS 526
  5. Paris Roubaix Challenge 2016: 169km, 884m, 5:54, TSS 313. Whilst short in both time and distance, this is included for the sheer brutality of the cobbles. It was a different kind of tough.
  6. Ronde van Vlandren Challenge 2015, 215km, 1,842m, 8:16, TSS 348
  7. Tour de France: Stage 19 Alpe D’Huez to Le Grand Bornand 2013: 212km, 5,204m, 10:25, TSS 529
  8. Tour de France: Stage 18 Gap to Alpe D’Huez: 172km, 4499m, 8:26, TSS 515
  9. King of the Downs 2013: 187km, 2,844m, 7:08, TSS 484

 

I have ruled out rides where I have suffered excessively because of injuries, car crashes, dehydration or the urgent requirement to interrupt a ride to get some keys cut.   I have also ruled out tough rides such as racing Ride London where the parcours is not all that challenging. Finally, I have not included anything less than a century or under 6 hours (with the exception of Paris-Roubaix) in the list above.

I have also ruled out races, which involve a different kind of suffering. You certainly go to hidden depths in these races but they are rarely as epic as the rides listed above.

As an aside, it is interesting to note that I had a pretty lazy 2014 (which coincided with the birth of my boy).

It is clear that the Everesting by virtue of all of the metrics listed above is my hardest race. You would probably expect this given the magnitude of the undertaking. However, in reality, it may only just scrape into the Top 3. Lets take a look with my Ride Hardness Percentage.

 

Ride Hardness Percentage (RH%)

LBL Everest Devil CoK Roubaix Ronde TdF18 TdF19 KoD
km 9 9 10 10 5 8 5 8 6
Time 8 10 9 9 5 7 7 8 6
Climbing 9 10 8 5 1 3 9 9 4
Parcours 10 6 8 5 10 9 9 10 8
Conditions 10 9 3 1 3 10 5 9* 3
Prep** 8 3 3 5 2 5 9 10 8
Pacing*** 7 1 2 4 6 3 4 10 9
Effort/Pain 10 9 7 7 10 7 8 10 9
Fun**** 9 7 1 3 4 3 4 10 8
TSS 8 10 9 8 5 6 9 8 7
Hardness % 88 74 60 57 55 61 69 92 68

 

Simply, each category gets a score out of 10 and the total give the overall hardness %.

* It was very hot that day in France

** A lower number equals better prepared

*** A higher number equals poorer pacing

**** A lower number equals more fun was had

OK, so clearly there are a lot of subjective measures in there but I am cool with this as how tough a ride feels is subjective a lot of the time. Clearly some measures will affect the others ie a ride will be less painful if you are properly prepared or more enjoyable without a cold headwind from all directions.

 

The results show that my effort in the Tour de France stage 20 in 2013 was my toughest ride ever with my Liege ride a fairly close second. After the dust had settled In Belgium today, I was pretty sure that this would be the case. The Everesting did indeed scrape third place but not be a country mile.

 

Stage 19, 2013 Tour: Alpe D’Huez to Le Grand Bornand

Why was this stage the toughest?

First of all, lets take a look at the photo of the ride briefing posters that lead rider, Phil Deeker, posted.

Stage 20

Frightening

 

Frankly, this scared the piss out of me. Lets look at some observations:

  1. I was not really ready in my first year of cycling to tackle such a stage the day after doing 160km that went up Alpe D’Huez twice.
  2. My pacing was rubbish. I was so daunted by the stage that I adopted the strategy of trying to “get the first two climbs out of the way”. Those climbs happened to be the Col du Glandon and Col de la Madeleine. I really enjoyed the Glandon, which I climbed with Phil Deeker. This was at a pace way higher than I should have been climbing at.   I was judging my effort on HR, which was depressed from the previous days efforts, so was operating at an intensity above what I should have been. Rookie mistake.
  3. I blew up on the Madeleine and the next 9 hours or so can only described as torture.
  4. I had to stop and rest on the Madeleine about 10 times.
  5. After this ordeal there were 120km and 3 cols still to tackle: Col de Tamie (8.6km at 6.2%), Col de L’Epine (6km at 7.5%) and Col de la Croix-Fry (11km at 7%)
  6. At the lunch stop on top of the Tamie I needed to sleep for a while.
  7. I phoned a friend. Literally. He offered some encouragement.
  8. I recall it being in the high 30s temperature wise. Strava confirms that it reached 38 at one point.
  9. I wanted to cry for a very long time. I didn’t but still don’t know how.
  10. I wanted to quit since I first put my foot down on the Madeleine. I didn’t but still don’t know how.
  11. I still had the Croix-Fry to crest with its 11km at 7%. I went up this very slowly stopping an un-recalled number of times.
  12. The elapsed time of the ride was 13:53 with a moving time of 10:25, leaving a good 3.5 hours of resting, sleeping, persuading myself to continue. Compare this with LBL where I spent a total of 1 hour on ‘Café Time’
  13. I could go on…

 

Now lets have a look at the Strava results:

Stage 19: Strava Results

Stage 19: Strava Results

 

There are a few things that we canard from this:

  1. Firstly, the profile is indeed as Phil Deeker predicted. And frightening.
  2. My elapsed time was almost 14 hours v Ride time of 10.5.  That is 2.5 hours of torture time.
  3. I have literally just noticed that I got zero kudos for it – clearly I did not have any friends in those days.

 

Lets dive a little deeper into the analysis:

Strava Analysis

Strava Analysis

 

Note the peak temperature of 38 degrees and the shocking average speed (although this may be based on elapsed time).

 

So what can we learn from all of this?

For me, the enjoyment experienced in a ride goes a long way to offset the toughness. Take the Dragon Devil ride for example: this ride was long, had a tough parcours, plenty of climbing and my second highest ever TSS for a ride as it was ridden hard. However, it scores pretty low on the RH%. This is because I was properly prepared for it. I had trained specifically for it and put the endurance miles into the dogs. It was a nice day, which helped, but I was ready.

I was not ready for LBL but am happy with what I did there. I was definitely not ready for Stage 19 of Le Tour in any number of ways.  Fortunately, I have the opportunity to climb the Madeleine, the Glandon and the Croix-Fry again this year which will allow me to put a number of ghosts to rest.

So, Unhinged Cyclists, choose your parcours wisely but, more importantly, prepare properly and what might be your toughest ride could end up being your most enjoyable..

 

How about you?

I would love to hear from you in the comments about your hardest ride ever and why it was so tough..

As ever, thanks for reading..  Next up, we turn to more positive matters including a report on my first ever crit win, the first silverware of the season and a remarkable series of events that led me to be part of 6 new club records all resulting from a single ride.

 

7 Comments

  1. Chris Gilfoy

    Cracking post, sir!

    Toughest day: first ever ride in the Alps. Over cooked the first flat 30 miles or so keeping up with the fast boys of SDW (who were taking it very easy) and then tackled the Col du Romme by doing each switchback in zone 5 then resting before repeating.

    By the time I got halfway up the Colombiere (with very little respite in between climbs) I was cramping up and had to walk, getting my feet covered in melted tarmac.

    The heat and lack of shade had me panicking and I started mentally writing my apology to my family for dying on a selfish jolly that I was totally unprepared for.

    Very kindly Scott Sargeant took on the role of coaxing my fat arse up the Aravis by talking me through it and sharing gels. Otherwise I’d have had to get a taxi back. Who’d do that?!

    Roll forward three years and I’m still a fat fuck, but I know enough about my heart rate and effort to keep it sensible up climbs.

    Reply
    • Rob Stephenson

      Thanks for sharing Chris. I know how you felt..

      Reply
  2. Simon Miller

    Contrary to Rule 11, hardest ride for me is when I absolutely know I am on the most borrowed of borrowed family time. In fact this is most rides but probably could be an additional row in your table scaled from 1 to 10 where 10 is having spent twice as much time in the week on the bike than with the kids/wife. Appreciate this may not be universal where for some a 10 may be a good thing 🙂

    Rule #11 // Family does not come first. The bike does.
    Sean Kelly, being interviewed after the ’84 Amstel Gold Race, spots his wife leaning against his Citroën AX. He interrupts the interview to tell her to get off the paintwork, to which she shrugs, “In your life the car comes first, then the bike, then me.” Instinctively, he snaps back, “You got the order wrong. The bike comes first.”

    Reply
    • Chris Gilfoy

      Good call, Simon. F£@k rule 11. Bike a distant second to family. At least until the kids hit their teens and become horrible monsters.

      Reply
    • Rob Stephenson

      Thanks Groundsman. The balancing act is a difficult one. I know that when it gets tough in a TT, I do think that I am sacrificing family time to be there and this helps me push through it.. (a bit)..

      Reply
  3. David Bagge

    Great read once again Mower. I do look forward to reading them
    My hardest rides…

    1. King of the Downs. I’ve done Marmottan, up Ventoux twice in a day without the right gears which meant I was at threshold all the way up and no where left to go in the gears and a few 100 milers in the Pyrenees but think this counts as the hardest – though maybe 3. Combination of parcours, poor pacing and pain. I’d not been long with the wheelers and asked if anyone wanted to KoD. I didn’t know Guy but he said he’d do it with me. Killed myself on the 1st loop and was fried by time we got to the Wall. Limped round the rest. Nearest I ever came to throwing the towel on a ride. Only a few miles back home but Yorks, White Lane and 30 miles from the finish. If I hadn’t had the car at the finish I’d have probably given up. After climbing Yorks my legs went into spasm and a throbbing lump appeared on my thigh. Had to try and limit the pain for the rest of the way. I though it would ease off after White lane but then fierce headwind along Pilgrims way to contend with.

    2. Climbing wise and distance Tourmalet (west side) and Col De Tentes which is even higher than Tourmalet were hardest ride. Nigh on 5000m of climbing, 80 miles. https://www.strava.com/activities/24403538

    3. Poor preparation and perhaps qualifies as unhinged must be last years trip to Pyrenees: Aspin, Tormalet (east side) & Horquette D’Anzican. I’d just come off antibiotics after having a parasitic stomach bug for 4 months and had lost 25 lbs which I didn’t really have so was skin and bone and no muscles left. A week before I could hardly walk up the stairs but I’d already booked my cycling trip to France and didn’t want to give it up. I said to my wife that we’d just pootle around but I couldn’t resist climbs and *thought* I’d be OK after 2 days of riding including a big day on Cap De Long. I got up Tourmalet OK but coming down was freezing and had to to stop several times to warm up. Freezing cold, no fat to keep me warm and nothing left. Not surprisingly the illness had robbed me all endurance and didn’t think I was going to get back. The longest 30 miles back home ever. Crawled over Horquette D’Anzican which is not a tough climb. https://www.strava.com/activities/739810088

    4. Long day in the saddle. Peyresourde, Azet and Cap de Long (higher than Tourmalet). I tend to have a tendency to plan a ride on our annual cycling trip that’s a bit too ambitious and this one took the biscuit. Didn’t make it all the way to top of Cap De Long (did it finally last year) and found ourselves over 50 miles from home at 3:30pm or a trip back the way we came over 2 big cols. We got back just as light was fading after a team changing for 30 miles.
    https://www.strava.com/activities/396918231

    Reply
    • Rob Stephenson

      Great write up Dave and thanks for sharing. I can certainly share your pain on the King of the Downs!

      Reply

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