Thank God for the pizza dish

How do you prepare for Alpine cycling?

by Martin Thomas   April 16, 2013  

Campag bits

“That’s quite a pizza dish you’ve got there”, says the veteran club cyclist, viewing my new cassette with its 30-tooth biggest cog. My shame grows as I follow his disdainful gaze forward to the compact chain rings. I can almost hear his brain make the calculation: this clown has a 30-inch gear! On a racing bike!

Well, yes I do. But I’m going to the Alps! And I’m 50 this year! And I weigh more than 12 stone! There’s no escaping the logic of fitting col-friendly gears under the circumstances and yet I can’t escape a feeling of mild embarrassment. I blame the Velominati.

I asked a different club cyclist who’s been to the Alps what it was like and he said: “The views were stunning but the cycling was horrible! I was suffering constantly. But then I was with a bunch of whippets, I was running a standard chainset, hadn’t done any hill training and was at least five kilos overweight.” While a significant part of me thought “More fool you! What were you thinking?”, a smaller, less logical part was admiring him for the industrial quantities of delusional bravado he must have needed.

Having laboured over some medium-sized cols around the Massif Central a couple of years back, I think I know roughly what to expect when I head for the Maurienne Valley in June.  Primarily, I’m expecting quite a lot of pain. There’s no escaping it really is there? You can ride up and down little Sussex hills as much as you like but nothing comes close to the hors categorie monsters such as the Madelaine and the Galibier that we’re planning to tackle. The difference in scale is mind-boggling: few of the hills around here amount to more than a couple of hundred metres of climbing over a kilometre or two, compared with numerous Alpine climbs of 1500 metres-plus over 15km, 20km or more.

God knows I’ve tried to prepare myself. Every chance I get these days I head for the hills. Last weekend I hit two South Downs climbs - Bostal Road in Steyning and Ditchling Beacon - and climbed them three and five times respectively. On my fifth climb of the Beacon I overtook five other riders so I’m definitely making good progress. In fact Strava tells me I’ve climbed 3,316 metres this week, in 166km of cycling. It’s enough to make you feel reasonably confident isn’t it?

Well it might be, except that according to this site, climbing the Galibier via the Telegraph equates to 2,645 metres of elevation in about 35km.

Hmmm. I think I’m going to need a bigger pizza dish.

17 user comments

Oldest firstNewest firstBest rated

I love my pizza dish. I really do. Running a compact with a 30T means I never have, and (hopefully) never will walk up anything. Guys are always impressed as I crawl past them pushing their bikes up the odd 20%...

There's no shame in gearing your bike so you can actually spend 100% of the time attached to the pedals, with minimal suffering - and triples have never floated my boat.

@oddbydefault

oddbydefault's picture

posted by oddbydefault [83 posts]
16th April 2013 - 22:35

like this
Like (2)

May have to check the roads are open over Madeleine/Galibier as the snow has been epic this year and it will still require a massive clearance of snow to enable you to reach the top - even in June!

Ps ; just back from snowboarding in Tarentaise and i was looking at every switch back on the road with excitement. Am envious of your trip and will definitely plan one of my own soon! Enjoy the pain...

posted by SimonT1971 [28 posts]
17th April 2013 - 9:39

like this
Like (3)

'Hmmm. I think I’m going to need a bigger pizza dish.'

Less pizza might work too! Big Grin

posted by Parkaboy [10 posts]
17th April 2013 - 13:44

like this
Like (2)

SimonT1971 wrote:
May have to check the roads are open over Madeleine/Galibier as the snow has been epic this year and it will still require a massive clearance of snow to enable you to reach the top - even in June!

Ps ; just back from snowboarding in Tarentaise and i was looking at every switch back on the road with excitement. Am envious of your trip and will definitely plan one of my own soon! Enjoy the pain...

Snowboarding/road riding is a great combo, isn't it? An excuse to go to the mountains all year round!

Back OT, there's no shame in a compact and huge rear gear. Especially if you're a spinner.

posted by miuzikboy [52 posts]
17th April 2013 - 13:44

like this
Like (2)

It's "only" about 2,000m climbing - 2645m is the height above sea level. Bet that makes you feel better Wink

posted by Max_Leonard [55 posts]
17th April 2013 - 13:52

like this
Like (4)

I'm going to be tackling the Alpe d'Huez in June and I'm currently using a compact with an 11-26 cassette on the back. I'm torn between keeping that on so I can try and force myself to get up there at a fairly reasonable pace, or sticking a 28 or 30 on the back so I can guarantee getting up there without getting off the bike.

I'm going to have about 630 miles in my legs from the week before so I might be being slightly over-optimistic...

posted by Hollisharri [34 posts]
17th April 2013 - 15:08

like this
Like (2)

It is certainly an advantage of ever larger numbers of gears on the rear- easier to have both high and low without awkward gaps.

posted by Al__S [383 posts]
18th April 2013 - 12:02

like this
Like (3)

Actually that's the one thing I've noticed about the new cassette. There are a couple of jumps that are a bit too big. But hey ho - that's a small price to pay for surviving the trip with lungs and legs intact.

Martin Thomas's picture

posted by Martin Thomas [547 posts]
18th April 2013 - 13:54

like this
Like (2)

Hollisharri wrote:
I'm going to be tackling the Alpe d'Huez in June and I'm currently using a compact with an 11-26 cassette on the back. I'm torn between keeping that on so I can try and force myself to get up there at a fairly reasonable pace, or sticking a 28 or 30 on the back so I can guarantee getting up there without getting off the bike.

I'm going to have about 630 miles in my legs from the week before so I might be being slightly over-optimistic...

Unless you are built like a racing snake then having climbed alpe d'huez last year I'd suggest at least a 28 Sick

posted by chiv30 [465 posts]
19th April 2013 - 7:06

like this
Like (3)

If someone commented that I had a pizza dish, I think I'd be inclined to tell them either that it was an indicator that I also had a life, or to just piss off.

Dodging the saccadic masking

posted by notfastenough [2470 posts]
19th April 2013 - 7:36

like this
Like (2)

I did the Tourmalet a few years ago with a compact and 28 and the Galibier et al a couple of years later with the same sprocket. All the big climbs were seriously painful and at times I would have gladly sold my soul for SRAM Apex, but I made it up them all without needing the sag wagon except on Hautacam. That said, on hills that tough I'm not sure how much physical difference those extra teeth really make, although psychologically I can imagine they do. Off to the Stelvio and Mortirolo in June have have already ordered my 30 cassette, there are cols and then there are Dolomite cols! Screw the purists, though - even Contador used a 32 on the Vuelta and he wasn't just on Jelly Babies either. Spinning up hills is more pleasant and better for your knees, end of. I don't care what the armchair climbers say.

posted by Yennings [118 posts]
19th April 2013 - 12:38

like this
Like (3)

PS: Of all the hills I've climbed in UK, the Bwlch and Rhigos on Dragon Ride route were definitely closest to Continental gradients and feel. Good training ground for the mountains by British standards.

posted by Yennings [118 posts]
19th April 2013 - 12:39

like this
Like (2)

@Hollisharri: The extra miles in your legs will be a good thing, in my experience. On my last Alpine trip I really suffered on day one/two (Colombiere/Galibier) but by day three had ridden myself fitter and the Izoard felt a lot easier. So hopefully you'll be fine although personally I would still give myself the option of lower ratios, there is no shame in spinning up the Alpe, just making it up there under your own steam is enough I should think...

posted by Yennings [118 posts]
19th April 2013 - 12:44

like this
Like (2)

I love the fact that on the trike, no-one mentions gearing, apart from the shock that its 30 speed.

I have a 9-34 cassette with a 30-39-52 triple. I like that two of my cassette rings out tooth my granny ring aswell.

All the more Pizza for me Nerd

Gkam84's picture

posted by Gkam84 [7802 posts]
20th April 2013 - 0:11

like this
Like (2)

Started my 'hill training' on Saturday. It's not the length of hills that's the problem, it's the gradient. A couple of sections of my training loop are knocking on 15%, just for a short period, but I figure if I can get up those I can get up anything. Well, I got up everything... but had to stop and poke my lungs back into my chest a few times. It wasn't pretty.

I've got a compact with a 12-28 at the back, and whilst pros would pooh-pooh the idea of anything bigger, winching yourself up an inch at a time is still better than walking. Why is it that we cyclists try and force ourselves to use the same equipment as the pros? I watched the F1 yesterday afternoon, and I wouldn't drive a Red Bull to the shops?

One more thing. When you stall on a hill, and stop to get your breath back... how the hell do you get the left SPD clipped back in again before you need to push on it?

Boardman CX Team '14 | Cannondale CAAD8 '12 (written off, SMIDSY) | Scott Sportster '08

Gizmo_'s picture

posted by Gizmo_ [530 posts]
22nd April 2013 - 8:51

like this
Like (3)

@Gizmo, that clipping in issue is something that used to really cause problems for me in my early mountain biking days. Restarting on steep hills seemed impossible. The thing that worked for me was not trying to clip in until I'd generated a bit of momentum. So just get the crank round however you can for a couple of turns before clipping in. Depends how steep the hill is and how quickly you can engage the cleat I guess, but that always worked for me in the end (barring the odd embarrassing frantic wiggle).

Martin Thomas's picture

posted by Martin Thomas [547 posts]
25th April 2013 - 7:09

like this
Like (2)

Gizmo_ wrote:
Started my 'hill training' on Saturday. It's not the length of hills that's the problem, it's the gradient. A couple of sections of my training loop are knocking on 15%, just for a short period, but I figure if I can get up those I can get up anything. Well, I got up everything... but had to stop and poke my lungs back into my chest a few times. It wasn't pretty.

I've got a compact with a 12-28 at the back, and whilst pros would pooh-pooh the idea of anything bigger, winching yourself up an inch at a time is still better than walking. Why is it that we cyclists try and force ourselves to use the same equipment as the pros? I watched the F1 yesterday afternoon, and I wouldn't drive a Red Bull to the shops?

One more thing. When you stall on a hill, and stop to get your breath back... how the hell do you get the left SPD clipped back in again before you need to push on it?

This is partly responsible for my improved climbing ("Crap, no, don't stop, you'll never get clipped back in, and then you'll have to walk up the rest and look a right tit!")

Dodging the saccadic masking

posted by notfastenough [2470 posts]
25th April 2013 - 9:15

like this
Like (2)