A relatively gentle (by Sufferlandrian standards) opening contrasts what is arguably the most brutal final two days of any Sufferlandrian tour. Only two mountain stages feature, but that’s balanced by a selection of stages that throw nearly everything in Sufferlandria at the peloton (The Sufferfest, 2014)
Duration: 1hr 20mins
Distance: 62 km
The opening 40 minutes of the tour were fairly comfortable, with attention given to form, efficiency and style, definitely areas in which I require practice. A few short accelerations and surges reminded me that I was in a Grand Tour before I was able to settle into a comfortable rhythm again.
However, the tranquillity was suddenly ripped to pieces as The Long Scream pitted me against the world's best time-trialists, with a 30 minute time trial through the Sufferlandrian flatlands. As the Sufferfest (2015) states "inside the time trialist, there is a loud, agonizing, never-ending scream of despair and hope. The din of the constant fight between mind and legs, a clash of will and lactic acid, of determination and one’s better sense. To the observer’s ear, there may be heard a whimper, there may be a grunt, but you’ll never hear the chaos going on inside". That chaos was inside my head, my heart and in my legs.
At first, I was time trialling with some of the finest time trial exponents such as Millar and Wiggins but as the pressure is ramped up you finish with the very best in the world, Fabian 'Spartacus' Cancellara and Tony Martin. I pushed on despite the pain, grateful for every corner, which would allow a few seconds respite, before I was forced to engage my dwindling sources of power and accelerate back up to speed to continue the torture. And that was only Day 1!
Duration: 1hr 47mins
Distance: 77 km
After the suffering endured in the Time Trial the previous day, it was time to experience the first long stage of the Tour. The race began on the mountain bikes before moving to the road where there appeared to be confusion at why a shredded chamois had been thrown into the American and Australian team cars. At the end of this, I was already suffering but there was still a very long way to go.
A few easy, but necessary and highly welcome laps of the velodrome were followed by multiple high-intensity sprints in the cyclo-cross mud. This was certainly the toughest part of the stage and it was a relief to get back onto solid ground again and put in some longer intervals on the road. At one point, a rodent in a hamster wheel seemed to appear on screen and it was suggested I keep the same cadence. I was in no mood to be outdone by a small mammal but my legs had other ideas.
I was under the flamme rouge and sprinting for the line and certain glory when the timer glitched and painfully added more time to the final sprint - a cruel touch from the Sufferfest designers. I crossed the finish line in a suitable mess but knowing that Stage 2 was in the bag.
Distance: 51 km
Duration: 1hr 3 mins
Distance: 47 km
The footage of the Tours of Romandie and Switzerland is captivating and the soundtrack is exceptional. 'Your Body' by Fractal System (Hammer 1) and 'Coke Machine' by Softwhere (Hammer 4) were my personal favourites. These outstanding features help aid survival through the dreaded 9 Hammers (9 VO2 and Threshold intervals of 3 to 4.5 minutes) that had me literally gasping in pain and, only during the recovery spins, being sufficiently able to curse the evil conspirators at Sufferfest HQ.
Despite serious doubts, I found that I could actually push out the required cadence and effort levels for the whole stage, courtesy of an exceptionally well thought out interval structure allowing for just enough recovery even though I felt I had pushed well past my physical and mental limits.
Hopefully, I can recover enough for the next stage as the Tour is about to hit the mountains...
Distance: 44 km
Duration: 1hr 25mins
Distance: 68 km
Duration: 56 mins
Distance: 50 km
The build up to the sprints and the jockeying for position, with the necessary surges, was as close to the real deal as you could possibly get. Oh and those 'surges'. As an endurance mountain biker it's what I really struggle with when I train with road bunches and this struggle was all too realistically relayed to my indoor trainer.
When it came to that final sprint with 'Cav' I somehow found the reserves to put in an almighty explosion of speed and I truly believed I had pipped the Manx Missile on the line. The Giant-Shimano team celebrated their new recruit and I found myself believing I had actually made it as I thumped my chest in celebration. What a brilliant video! Needless to say, I will be back repeating this session for many weeks to come.
Duration: 2hrs 35mins
Distance: 107 km
On this day, I dedicated my Sufferfest training to the memory of Alissa Schubert and anyone else who has lost their life cycling on our roads. In the words of the organisers: 'Dame Alissa was our youngest Knight of Sufferlandria. She completed this incredible challenge - 10 Sufferfest videos back-to-back in one day - with her parents (Sir Torsten Schubert is often in our conversations in the Knights group). And then, earlier this year, her young life (she was just 14) was tragically cut short when she was hit by a truck while out riding her bike. Although we didn't know her personally, her loss was felt by the entire Knights group, and across the Sufferlandrian community. Revolver her favourite video'.
Revolver: 'Simple. Brutal. Uncomplicated. This is a workout you don’t have to think about. You just get on, drive yourself into the ground, and get off.' Fifteen intervals of one minute at maximum intensity. The delay to the stage was soon forgotten as I got on my bike, drove myself into the ground, but didn't get off. More anguish was to follow.
Violator: 64 sprints of 5, 10 and 15 seconds duration in 68 minutes. Another power surge resulted in an injury to a French rider and fear spread throughout the fraternity of speed of the Sufferlandrian's sheer sprinting prowess. At the end of these sprints my legs were screaming for mercy. I was shaking my head in total disbelief at the total madness of all of this.
Half is Easy: I was obviously not fooled into believing this was going to be easy because I knew that half of this video would be insanely difficult. With legs almost detached from my torso, I managed to put in a commendable effort during the first set of 20 sprints. But then the rest period became shorter and I battled with mind, body and spirit to muster the energy to force more power and speed through the pedals. The stage became a blur, my mind numbed by all the pain and exertion.
I peeled myself off my living room floor after what can only be described as the most hellish time I've spent on an indoor bike. To be quite frank, I'm not sure how I kept repeating sprint after sprint. But, in a strange masochistic way, I loved it. The Sufferlandria Tour designer is one sick puppy.
Distance: 93 km
Every day of this tour I have looked forward to riding - except today's final stage. Yesterday, had left my legs weary and my body fatigued and even though it was the final two hours, I knew it was going to be a struggle.
I wearily mounted my bike for the final time and was informed I would be fighting to become the stage's most aggressive rider. Really! I didn't feel particularly aggressive. Indeed, I would have been happy to hide at the back of the peloton and not be noticed at all. But the team had other ideas and so I would therefore try to rise to the occasion.
As the stage wore on, I felt more comfortable as my endurance had kicked in and I found I was able to increase the watts on both the climbs and the flats. As we topped Mt. Sufferlandria, I was prepared for the final assault to win the stage. The Tour was almost over and I tapped into those energy reserves that I hadn't realised existed. As I crossed the line I felt proud to have finished fairly strongly and not in the state I had been reduced to the previous day. The Tour was over...Long live the Tour.
Total Distance covered:600 km
Total Time: 16 hours over 9 days
Average speed: 46 km/h
Average cadence: 92
Average Heart Rate: 147 b/min
Maximum Speed: 76 km/h
Maximum Heart Rate: 176 b/min
Total Sweat lost: 2500 litres