Liege-Bastogne-Liege 2018 – Closing the Book

Last week I wrote a fast, fairly emotional piece about Liege-Bastogne-Liege. A little more considered review is below. 

It’s time to close the book on this year’s challenge. Just the one this year. The hard kilometres of preparation were done in the first three months of the year, getting used to the new bike and putting distance in my legs, well-wrapped up because of the cold in the early year. I was as ready as I could be, despite a back problem and the small issue of falling down the stairs four weeks before. A last piece on personal reflection before it fades in to the background completely.

An Achievement
Actually, before it gets too serious, screw rational reflection! It’s 150 kilometres! It’s over 2700 metres of climbing!

AND I DID IT! For the second year running!

F*CKING YES!

I CAN Ride with Others! 
I usually ride alone. There are a lot of reasons for that but primarily the issues that I have mean that I ride very conservatively. Slowing right down in towns, occasional long stops. Various reasons. Primarily I don’t want to be risk or danger to others.

Having ridden with around 8,000 others, I realise that is flawed. With that many people there is going to be an idiot factor. People overtaking and suddenly cutting in meaning a near touch of wheels at fifty plus kilometres per hour or overtaking and then sitting in front of you. That’s your vision blocked on somewhat treacherous Belgian roads.

The point? I am actually not dangerous at all! No way! I know my limits and operate within them, picking up good habits along the way such as looking far ahead to make sure I know what is in store. It’s also fun to ride with other people. Ignoring the idiot factor – difficult when it nearly causes an accident – it was good to engage with others around me, friends and strangers.

Even managed to use some of my ridiculously rusty French. Another personal achievement!

Too Much Focus?
Cote de la Redoute, the short, sharp and famous climb that is symbolic of this grand old ride, was all I could talk about in the build up to this ride and a source of enormous pride as I had climbed it the previous year without getting off my bike. The fall sideways had various causes. Heat, tiredness, the suspicion that my right side had decided that it was not going to help. Whatever. I went down. A low light.

A Sense of Perspective
But why focus on Redoute? The number of Personal Bests showed a marked improvement on last year. Fast (for me) times on the other iconic climbs. Roche aux Faucons, St. Nicolas, Ancien Barriere, Maquisard. All with some really quite cool names, it has to be said! Even managed to go over 60km/h, finally! The personal achievements outweigh one mistake. The only damage was pride.

Climbing
I will never be a great climber but it is the thing I enjoy most, despite the issues on Redoute. I just feel my right leg more, hard to describe but true. Believe me. It feels great! Hello right leg, nice to know you’re there!

Descending
What goes up must come down. I will never love descending. To use a Dutch expression, the ‘prikkels’ are overpowering. Too much stimuli. My somewhat broken filters are simply flooded. I got some sensible advice from friends and used this. Just take it easy and use it as a rest. Slow the pulse a little. But still so much to take in. Wore me down.

The Swiss Couple
Around the 120km mark came the mental low point. I was braking more than planned. My usual habit of looking far ahead was made difficult by the less than perfect surfaces and the close proximity of so many others. I’d lost contact with my friends, my own fault through irregular speed, too fast and too slow. The day had taken its toll and Redoute was still on my mind despite having taken a similar climb (Roche aux Faucons) with no issue.

Then came the Swiss couple.

I assume they were Swiss, he had a Swiss national team jersey on. I decided to just sit on their tail, not so close that I was drafting them but using them as a kind of advanced warning system. It helped that they were very good at signalling potholes and other obstructions to other riders, a real bonus. Besides the practical element, their presence also helped my somewhat distracted mind settle, relaxed me. I overtook them on Cote de Saint Nicolas and never saw them again. But I’ll stay grateful to these people I never met. They’ll never know how much they helped.

 

Cote de Saint Nicolas
If Redoute was to be a low light than Saint Nicolas was the high point. The last of the frankly insane climbs that mark the end of Liege-Bastogne-Liege. It’s not in the most attractive area of Liege and the main landmark is an ugly apartment building that seems to have been the result of an exchange programme with Soviet architects some time in the 70’s. But it is strangely lifting. The locals are sat outside their houses giving encouragement whilst sipping beers (only 10 kilometres and you can have one!) and the kids high-fiving cyclists are out in abundance. Some are even throwing water on request, something welcome for tired and overheated riders. 

Between the Swiss couple and the encouragement the rhythm came back. I took a full minute off of last years time and managed some overtaking despite an average gradient of 7.6%, maximizing at 13%.

At the top the  I am not ashamed to admit the emotion got to me. A couple of tears appeared as I started a slow and easy descent. A little more to go. Just a long and steady climb to the professional finish-line followed by a blast of cobbles. At that stage you know you’re going to complete the course. Despite the fall.

For one person, an ugly suburb on the outskirts of Liege was the most beautiful place on the planet for an hour or so. The finish is near and I could taste that beer.

A Man’s Got to Know His Limitations
Dirty Harry is not the first person to go to for a deep, philosophical quote to close this post. But this line rings a little true following a last reflection on a what was a personally very significant day. Looking through the entry above, I certainly know my limitations and the compromises that I have to make. But that’s no bad thing. Being conscious of your issues, being aware of them, is something that is needed. It allows me to enjoy the day more, take in the sensations and enjoy them.

Being aware of my limitations is not the same as worrying about them and means I enjoy the moments more and can make the most of special days. Take in the moment and enjoy it. Nothing more, nothing less.

——————————————–

And it’s done. I don’t think I will do it again, although I did say that last year. No, next year’s challenges need to be different, perhaps involving mountains. Not sure. I will leave Redoute behind, allowing it the last word. Maybe one day I will climb it again but I doubt if it will be as part of Liege-Bastogne-Liege.

But I don’t think Redoute should have the last word. That goes to others. The friends I rode with. The people with whom I had the odd chat en route. The Swiss couple. The kids high-fiving a shattered and slightly demoralised rider, boosting him. The friends and strangers who supported this action so generously.

I have a medal and some great memories. The hill won’t take that away.

And that’s that.

This ride was a fundraiser for Stichting MS Research, a Dutch organisation that is one of many around the world funding research in to a cure and research to help those who have MS live better. Such actions have helped me and others to keep living life. The sponsorship page will stay open until 13th May. Please take a look.

Falling Sideways

You effectively spend the last year, mentally, building up to a ride. And one particular part it. The Cote de la Redoute… Oh, the name! So mythical! The core of Liege-Bastogne-Liege!

And you fall off.

Or, more pathetically, you fall sideways.

You do everything right the whole day until that point. But then. Heat, tiredness. Whatever.

You fall off.

Or sideways.

And get caught in your chain. Some lovely people help you up because you can’t stand up and they suggest that you should walk up the rest of the climb and you get up quietly and…..

Walk a small way up the Redoute.

Shattering.

The whole pride of last year is the ignominy of this year. I have MS and I didn’t get off my bike! On Redoute! The pride!

Well, I got off and walked a small part. And felt like sh*t.

After a short while the climb levelled out and so I could get back on the bike and and finish in the saddle, at least. That’s something.

But it felt lousy at the time. Last year it had been a better story.

The guy with MS didn’t get off…..

And this year he did….

The ignominy…..


The next day comes and you realise that…. it doesn’t matter that much. Or that one part doesn’t matter. What does matter is the whole of the day. Which was amazing. I had plenty of issues, most of which were caused by MS and the effects that it has. Heat did play a role in those issues but on Redoute it was just a useless judgement of gears caused by being a little ‘out of rhythm’ due to a chain slip on an earlier climb. A bad part of a good day.

A day where I got a lot go things right. In terms of pure riding, everything clicked (with the exception of Redoute). Everything. I am not a brilliant cyclist but it went right for me.

And I enjoyed it. For the most part.

Last year’s pride was this years embarrassment and I walked up a small part of La Redoute. It is still frustrating, I am human and it still hurts. Updating on Monday morning and I am still p*ssed off, just for the record. I am that human. Perspective though, it was just one small part of the whole day. Only a small part went wrong. OK, that part was something I had been looking forward as it had been an great personal achievement in the previous year but…

It wasn’t this year. So what. It hurt on the day but there are more than enough achievements to focus on. Like finishing the toughest spring Classics, or one day rides. And doing it after falling off. Or falling sideways.

And I have MS. But I said that enough. The acheivement is big enough, I will revel in it.

And I will never do it again.

But then I said that last year….


This is quick thought on yesterday. Apologies if there is emotion. A more reflective post may come later or it may not.

In the meantime, I rode Liege-Bastogne-Liege to raise funds for MS Research – research for a cure and research for those who have this disease. Actions such as this fund the research that has helped me through the support it gives to research that is used by those who support me. And others need that help. Take a look on my sponsorship page, it will stay open a little longer. 

Waiting….

The Kinks once wrote ‘So Tired of Waiting’. Whilst they were talking about a relationship and not a cycling event, right now it feels appropriate. Less than a week before Liege-Bastogne-Liege. A rest week. Not too many kilometres, keep rested. Pack. Do some last minute checks on the bike. Rest some more.

That’s the point of a rest week, right?

Effectively, just wait.

Wait some more.

It feels interminable.

Check the bike again.

Go for walk. Nice aerobic exercise.

Check the bike again

Go to work.

Why not pop out for a beer? Take a break from work and waiting and checking the bike. Get a bit of a break

No, not this week. Not before La Doyenne. Not beer.

I know, I’ll got for a training ride!

No, wait…. It’s a rest week. Must not overdo it. Rest. Keep resting. Work and rest.

And eat and drink healthily.

Check the bike again.

Wait.

Rest.

Time just seems to crawl by. Of course there are plenty of things to do, plenty of things to provide distraction. But I’m just waiting for 21st April. Less than a week to go.

And I can’t wait.

So tired of waiting…..

Liege-Bastogne-Liege – Something Special….

So it’s nearly time. All the training, all the preparation. It all comes to a head on Saturday 21st April in Belgium. A quiet week beforehand, no more big rides. Just a couple of low tempo, easy outings. Stretch the legs a little.

Just the one target this year, not like last year. And one that has been kindly supported by so many. So I had better get it right. Or get to the end intact at least! No targets for times or anything. Perhaps just a sneaking desire to climb some of those famous slopes a little more quickly this year. Taking the descents at a higher speed is no target, so slow that a tortoise would have overtaken me….

No matter. Speed is not the target. It’s going to be a special day on the bike. I know what to expect, know it will be hard. Last year’s was the hardest day I have had on the bike so far. Hopefully the weather will be a little easier in 2018 but that just cannot be counted on. Maybe I would not like it too hot? No pleasing some….

Whatever happens, it will be a day surrounded by myths. The famous climbs. I have named them before but why not name them again?

Ancienne-Barrière. Haute Levee. Cote de Rosier. Roche-aux-Faucons.

Magical names, wrapped in legends.

And Cote de la Redoute.

Cote de la Redoute.

If you don’t know much about cycling, I will just ask you to accept this. Getting to the top of Redoute without getting off last year was just….. something. Fit healthy guys getting off and guy with MS staying on all the way to the top. Yes! Take that, fit people!

Sorry, I can get competitive…… I am not perfect… Gives me a kick to be quicker….

I will never claim to be a great climber but I like it. I like the feeling in my legs which, let’s face it, don’t feel as much as they should sometimes. The reason why makes up a large chunk of this blog. It is difficult to describe without sounding dramatic but…. The feeling. The feeling. The legs are straining. So much better than feeling…. empty.

My legs are not quite so powerful as they maybe should be. Maybe that will get worse over time, maybe not; without a doubt I hope for the latter, I’ll be clear on that! But it makes moments like the climb of Redoute that much more special. To get to the top and not be the slowest? To pass the caravans all parked up for the professionals the next day? To pass over graffiti scrawled by supporters?

Just accept it from me, this is magical. Riding in the shadow of giants….. Merckx, Hinault….. Cote de la Redoute is the toughest climb in the toughest and oldest of all of the Classics, or one day cycling races. Other races are in it’s shadow. Finishing it leaves an amazing feeling, getting through all of the climbs and the descents and rolling up in Liege itself. Shattered, filthy.

Proud.

So proud.

I know I mention it a lot but…. to complete it is enough. To complete it with MS? So proud…. I will look forward to feeling that pride again towards the end of the afternoon next Saturday, 21st April.

I will be riding Liege-Bastogne-Liege to raise funds for MS Research – research for a cure and research for those who have this disease. Actions such as this fund the research that has helped me through the support it gives to research that is used by those who support ne. And others need that help. Take a look on my sponsorship page, any support is appreciated.