For the first time all of Team Underprepared gathered - all five of us heading to Llandudno in North Wales for a two-day training camp. I learnt a lot, the first thing being that two members of Team Underprepared are actually really rather well prepared indeed.
|Paul, me, Andy, Bobby and Pez at the top of a hill - when in doubt... Lunge.|
They set some seriously impressive times on recognised climbs riding with multiple Etape veterans. Basically, they could both ride the Etape now and be fine.
Pez and Paul put in good showings for the most part while I, fresh from a string of weekend weddings and Eurovision parties coupled with mid-week work drinks and non-work drinks - with a two-week virus thrown in for fun - barely made it.
|Bobby and Andy disappearing off into the distance, as usual|
The lovely people at Mash the Pedals run Etape training courses in North Wales, through some stunning scenery, fully supported with a van and food along with Matt (Etaper, 5th in the Dragon ride and 12 in the Etape Cymru his trainers were zip-tied to his pedals after he forgot his cycling shoes) and Dave (another really good rider) guiding us through the hills and valleys.
After a rain-sodden drive from London the night before, Day One dawned bright, clear and with an almost perfect cycling temperature. Warm enough to just wear a jersey and bib shorts, but no so hot you were suffering in the sun. A gilet in the back pocket for descents and you're good to go.
|A glorious day for a ride|
The pattern was set early: All together on the flat; hill starts; Andy and Bobby pull ahead with ride-leader Matt; Pez and Paul pull ahead of me more slowly; I drop into my bottom gear and spin my legs until I catch them up at the next junction where they've stopped to wait for me.
Descending Andy was better than me, but not by a lot, Bobby about the same and Pez and Paul a bit further back. On the flat I was holding with anyone. But almost every hill I couldn't punch my way up standing on my pedals saw me spat out the back of the group, generally to be joined by Dave - the other ride leader and a thoroughly lovely man who let me hide from the wind behind him while he towed me back to the main group.
|Dave at the top of a hill about to tow me back to the main group, again...|
Now I've always disdained weavers, why would you make a climb longer by sweeping left and right over the road? Why not just man up, push the pedals harder, and be done sooner? I'd missed the point. It's not how long it takes to get up the hill, it's whether you actually can or not.
|The bad hill|
The heart rate monitor came into its own here. I knew I could sustain 160bps more or less indefinitely, but pushing much higher and I was in trouble fast. By weaving I could lower my effort into the sustainable zone.
It was achingly slow. I was almost 10 mins down on Andy (who set a top-five time on the hill on Strava, a Hill that's used by local clubs as a hill climbing time trial). I was 4:20 down on Paul and 3:30 down on Pez. But I made it up.
|The view from the top was almost worth the cycle there (Pez's bike)|
Weaving up a hill isn't pretty - far from it - but it does get you up there. With a heart rate monitor keeping you out of the red and with enough food and drink, it means I can do it.
But the biggest question for me right now is "What if?". Last time out with Paul and Pez, a month before Wales, I was at least on a par with them. A month of partially self-inflicted nothing from me and training from them and I'm a mile off the pace.
I can only hope to try and make up for it in the few weeks I have left - Wales was a start, next up King of the Downs on Sunday.
|One more shot for the road|