Wednesday, November 04, 2015


Way West of Turin, near the French border, is a set of mountains approaching the French Alps.  Amongst them is a massive climb - 50km long and well over 2,000m of upwards cycling.  I had to have a go at the Colle dell'Agnello.

Starting in Piasco I headed out of the small town on the SP8.  There were loads of cars at 8am Sunday morning.  The road is barely going up - may be 2% for a long while and as more and more cars went by I gradualy gained over 700m of height over 35km.  The cars were all heading for the cooler hills and were parking up beside the stream so people could set up for a day of paddling in the ice water.

Eventually, near Castel the road went up more significantly with a good 8% pitch, but then leveled off again beside the main target for all the remaining cars - a big lake with lots of tourist resources.  Once past this the real climbing started and it was a beast.

Long ramps, with very few turns but all at 11% minimum get you on your way.  Its hard and after climbing out of sight of the lake you get a very long straight may be 1km and all at 11% so super tough.  This eventually ends with more switchbacks but all still going upwards very steeply.  There is a brief respite in a flatter meadow where lots of cars park up - now at about 2,000m and then there is yet more climbing between 11 and 14%.

I'd say it was the toughest climb I've ever done.  Just unrelenting all the way to the top - where there is no bar or refreshments.  I was exhilarated on the basis of achieving something really hard to do.  A true "experience" way beyond my normal climbing experience.

Right at the top is a mountain which is supposed to be the model for the Paramount film company logo...

Monday, October 05, 2015

Autumn Epic post ride update

Glorious weather this Sunday for the free ride version of the Autumn Epic.  About 15 turned up for the 9am start and they got away in two or three groups for a tour of Radnorshire.  Quite cold for the first 20km through the shaded valleys but then it warmed up as we climberd and got into the sun.  First food stop was in Rhayader at the Swan tea rooms with an amazing selection of cakes.  A few went off on the 150km route to do the big climb up to the top of the Elan Valley, and then descend down past all the half-empty reservoirs, the rest took the short cut to the 130km route. 
A long main road section - busy this year - eventually led to more rolling countryside and the twin challenges that are notorious on the Autumn Epic.  The second hill - Glascwm - is particularly tough as you can see most but not all of the steep ramps all the way to the top.  Check out the Flickr album mostly from this section:

Autumn Epic free ride 2015

On tied legs the gruppetto toiled over to Gladestry where an unexpected cafe stop for apple and ginger pie (with custard) got us back on track and ready to do the final climb before the sweeping descent back into Knighton.  Everyone very please with how they had managed a tough course - even the "short" route has 2,000m of climbing.

News of the return of a full sportive version for 2016 will come out soon...

Monday, August 03, 2015

The Autumn Epic

Sun 27th Sept Update - plenty of people signing up for this ride - go to here for more info and to tell us you're coming.

Anyone up for doing this classic sportive as an unsupported ride?  It's not officially happening this year and I think there'll be plenty of people who are disappointed - I always look forward to it.

Here's the route -

And here's the current Facebook page - if you want to help keep this classic event from dying show your interest.

I wrote a report about the route from my 2011 experience:

I think the Autumn Epic is a classic event - just the right mix of tough, long hills then good stretches in between to help you recover. By 100km+ it feels like most people are just hanging on for the finish. Friendly event with chats along the way. Motocycle outriders are a nice touch - I punctured and one stopped to see if I was OK - nice when you're out on a welsh mountain by yourself. The hot food at the end didn't happen this year but the organisers have subsequently explained/apologised. I've already marked the date for next year.

The Hills:

First one after 20km - steep early on, an intro to what is coming

Second one - I think about 45km (Abbey something) - long, not too steep.

Then you get to Rhayader, food stop and then up the long, long hill towards the Elan valley. This hill has some steepish bits early on, has spectacular scenery and just goes on and on and on. Surprised people even notice the beauty of the Elan valley I'm usually cream crackered by then!

After that you roll along over some lumpy bits - probably nothing really but your legs are shot so every rise seems a challenge.

And then you get a big hill before the 2nd food stop and then:

Glascym is the killer hill. But if you zig-zag up it's much easier - my Garmin showed 13% gradient as I zig-zadded up it - easier than going straight up at 25%!

Good long ride after that with further rises causing you pain and then a final last climb - not very steep but longish, and then you fall into Knighton and finish.

It's an Epic.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Stelvio pass, Italy

 One of the highest passes in Europe the Stelvio also has these remarkable spagetti-like roads leading up to it from both sides.  I rode up from Bormio, the south/eastern side and can recommend it.  The climb starts in the town but with just one sign in the centre to show you the way it can be a nervous first few minutes - am I really on the right road?  A sign says "turn 39" and that confirms it - there are that many corners to the top.

Initial climbing is hard, may be 10% + and you seem to be heading into an impassable set of cliff faces.  After 5 or more KMs of turns and climbing the road veers right, straightens and flattens to go through a series of tunnels and galleries (tunnels but one side is open.  I wasn't looking forward to these fearing that they would be long and unlit.  But they turned out to be well lit and pretty short.  More gentle climbing comes after them - you can see this road in the picture above coming straight up from the middle right.

More big climbs in the Italian Alps

At what appears to be the head of the valley there is a wall with lot of hairpins making the road go upwards dramatically, and many of these approached 10% at times.  After this anther long valley opens up towards the right and you again ride up at reasonable pace towards what you can now see is the actual pass top.  Right at the end of this valley ride are yet more hairpins to crank you up to the very top, again at 10%.

 I'd say it was a very doable pass, no big ramps, and with a 9am start relatively few cars or motobikes around.  The pass top is a traffic jam of fast food, people taking pictures plus gift shops. From here you can look down on the very dramatic North/West appoach, this has more roads inspired by spagetti.  Descending them is tough as every corner is an extreme hairpin and this side seems to be much more popular with cars and, unbelivably, buses in the way.  I dropped   15 turns and then rode back up fairly easily, nothing over 10%.  Descending back down to Bormio was also a treat, the two long valley roads are open with clear views way ahead so you can descend for several kilometres without touching the brakes. 

Top is at 2,758m, you gain 1,560m from Bormio

Monday, June 08, 2015

Bike Techniques # 1

Selecting Gears

You'd think this would be simple.  Just get into the gear you need to travel comfortably, or even progress with speed, and there you are - in gear and on your way.  That's it, isn't it?

Well, mm, there can be a bit more to it.  One key thing I don't see people doing is anticipating gear changes.  So they are riding along and all is fine, but up ahead is a corner.  It's a tight corner and they need to stop pedaling and coast around it .  And once around it they will have lost speed, and they'll still be in the gear they entered the corner in.  That's when you see people stand up to push the harder gear to get back up to speed.  Another way would be to change up just before the corner so they are in the right gear to accelerate back up to speed.

Another classic is not changing up when coming to a stop.  It means when they set off they are in the wrong gear - still in the cruising gear they were using for 25kph.  Now they are trying to set off in the same gear and that can be tough.  It can actually be dangerous if you are at a road junction - you're in the wrong gear, far too hard to set off with, but now you've got to make your way out across a busy road (turning right) and clip in and change gear into something you can work with.  You're increasing the chance of grinding to a halt in the middle of the road, or even falling over.  Much easier to have changed up just before you come to a stop - then you can pull away in the normal gear you use to set off with.

Even more of a classic is waiting until the steep hill starts before changing gear.  This can be a real problem.  The hill starts, you are in way too high a gear, your pedaling stops and as soon as that happens all ability to change gear disappears.  If you are lucky you can unclip before you keel over.  Much better to look ahead, see what's coming up and get into an easier gear - doesn't have to be the exact one for the hill but it does need to allow you to turn your pedals whilst on the hill so you can make further changes as you adjust to the actual incline.

Probably the one that most people are familiar with is not changing into a higher gear as you descend a hill.  You've climbed up a steep slope in your lowest gear, then coasted down the other side.  Now, at the bottom of the hill, where things level out you want to capitalise on all the speed you've acquired but when you go to turn your pedals they spin uselessly around - still in the low gear you used to climb the hill 10 minutes ago.  Should have changed up to a higher gear as you descended.

One thing all this implies is being able to pedal at different speeds, and specifically, the ability to pedal at high cadence.  As you approach a climb you get into your "hill gear".  OK but this means that for a moment you are on the flat still and in a very easy gear, and additionally you want to keep pedaling as any loss of speed right at the bottom of a hill isn't going to be welcome.  It means you're going to have to pedal at high speed, just for a couple of metres.  So this means being comfortable with pedaling at different speeds.  I've lost count of the number of people I've overtaken at the foot of a hill - them fiddling with their gears whilst I spin by and up.

Does this make sense to you?  What are your gear selection experiences?