London 100 climbing issues, advice needed; and a story.

bikeboy76's picture

So I finished the London 100. Having finally found the Excel centre and been overjoyed at the sensation of lifting a 5.2kg bike on exhibit, and after a rubbish hot nights sleep at a local hostel; I got up at 4:30am and found my way to the start. The first sections through London were on wonderful cool open empty motorways with only marauding groups of fast riders appearing on the right, I tried to get a pull out of them for a couple of miles before getting dropped for another group.

The trouble started when I got to the first of the big climbs, pushed but had to take it down to my smallest gear. I was suddenly suffering. I struggled on but decided the trees were inviting me to stop and have a pee. Well it turned out I really didn't have to go and when I got back on a bit more collected it turned out I was near the top. Things got worse at Leith Hill were I had to stop twice. Once on the straight lane upwards when I had gotten down to 7kph with head and heart thumping. It was at this point that finishing the course became the priority not keeping my target; I did wonder why I couldn't and all these other people could keep going. I just could not walk my bike up the hill. It took terrible force to get going and my left shoe would just not clip in but I wobbled back on and upwards to an inviting gravely bend. Others were stopping there. A friendly resident who had seen it all before promised it was only 400m to the top and that Box Hill was a doddle compared. I am not sure that 400m was true but Box Hill was indeed easier. The smooth road surface for the Olympics was wonderful. I did just shift down and stayed left and let everyone else go by, but I promised myself not to stop, and I didn't. The view at the top was majesty but brief. I found mostly there wasn't much chance to watch the landscape, so watching the road surface, picking lines around traffic islands and what kit people were wearing was what I was doing. Especially if there was one jersey going at a similar speed who I kept dropping on the downhill and flat but kept somehow catching up.

After about 20miles my top gear had come loose, the 11T ring spins; I've tried tightening it up as much as possible but sometimes the torsion just sends it spinning loosely. There is a lot I can do with 12T and cadence but every now and again on a fast downhill you still want everything you can get. Even so some hills were so fast you just had to get aero and enjoy the ride. The top speed I got was 73.2kph; which was exhilarating, I was thinking, this was great 'free' speed and I don't have to pedal, but don't crash or you will die. I haven't felt like that since I stopped kayaking, picking lines came back to me quickly. I did wonder sometimes when I glanced over my right shoulder to move across, if there might be someone coming up behind me quickly we could clip wheels and send us both down, but most of the time the people approaching would have an annoying but expensively clicky freewheel noise as a warning.

I had to stop twice more for a couple of minutes each on the long rolling route back to London, my body was now in new territory, I had never done more than 100km or the amount of climbing before and I just had to stop to stretch my back and shake my legs. I felt like I was just going slower and slower due to pain and a stop would speed me up in the long run.
As I was struggling into the last 15 miles there was a guy stood at the side of the road around Henley. He was a big fella, looked like he went to the gym a fair bit and wasn't a cycling type, but he was holding up a hand written sign on cardboard, it read: 'THE PAIN IS LEAVING YOUR BODY.' I looked up at him, he smiled and point to me with a downward swooping finger that said 'yes, you.' I laughed out load as I swished past, but from then on I did think I could control the pains and push on to the finish. My lower left back was a stitch of pain; my right big toe was throbbing, it just flattens itself against my shoe, the force just seems to go through there; the palms of my hands feeling every judder. Coming about the corner at Wimbledon there was a big cheer, I looked around at the gap behind and wasn't in any group, there was 50m either way, and they were just cheering for me, or maybe for my GB kit?

Coming down the hill through Putney on the right of the road and over the bridge I maxed it out again and got really tucked down and though 'Ha, now I am Vinokurov [that fink]' I now recognized every part of the route from the finale of the Olympics. Having lost the use of my 11T ring earlier I discovered that the 12T doesn’t engage until you are under 46kph, that little nugget of knowledge gained made me laugh again.
As we charged north of the river I saw some familiar jerseys that had been dogging me for the last 40miles and I just kept pushing and sped past them. Then as we got onto one of the blue lanes a group started to build along Millbank, a motorbike outrider appeared in front of us and slowed the pace to about 25kph 'uur whats the hold up' (turns out something to do with the pedestrian crossings) but he quickly peeled off. He had build up a group of about 25 riders and there were whoops and a shout of 'Have it Boys!' We stormed through Parliament Square and Whitehall at full tilt. There was a massive crowd cheering the turn at Trafalgar Square and under Admiralty Arch. One final sprint up The Mall to the finish and I felt a bit emotional at the end. The support was wonderful and I though this was all a bit amazing. The event was supposed to be me 'doing' the Olympics course and that is exactly what it turned out to be and I was surprised just how much it had all changed around since the top of Leith hill.
Just as I crossed the announcer said that the 4000th finished has crossed in my group. I though back to the hundreds of people who had passed me every time I stopped for a drink or to stretch my back, or the hundreds who just passed on the hills and was surprised it wasn't more. In the end my time was 6:02:02 (d'oh), according to my computer my moving time minus stops was 5:34:25. Off my target 5h20/ 30kph average but having never covered the distance before factoring in the extra stops was something I didn't plan for.

So now I have the Etape Cymru coming up to finish the summer. But after my desperate climbing performance in London (797m) the Etape (1680m elevation gain) seem like I have bitten off more then I can chew. I am 36 (nearly 37, yep) years old, 90kgs, fittish but carrying a 'desk' belly. There isn't much I can do to loose more weight this year. Can I buy my way to a bit better climbing?
I mostly train in south Manchester/Cheshire, which is quite flat. I finished the Great Manchester Cycle 2013 52miles in 2h26, but that is pan flat. My preparation for that was ideal but I just couldn't find the hours to get enough hill climbing or distance done. I now have a couple of weeks off before the Etape but worry that with my current gears I just can't cope. I wonder what everyone else was using or if I just haven't done enough. My current cassette is 11-25T and needs replacing. I wonder what extra I can fit on the back without changing my derailleur? The Etape has 6 cat1 climbs compared to 1 of Leith Hill. I have to do something or abandon it for this year. Can anyone suggest what cassette I should buy? (Sorry for the long preamble to the question.)