“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.