Lessons learnt

Photo: Sunrise in Tuscany

With less than four weeks before the 1001Miglia I hadn’t ridden a full night ride since PBP 2019. We all know why. I decided it was a good idea to wait for two weeks after my second Covid jab before riding for a day and a half.

Where to ride? The first 1,200km of the 1001Miglia includes 15,000km climbing then the final 400km just 1,100m.

Coast to Coast from where we live is about 300km, so what about C2C and back again? It turned out to be 609km with 7,139m climbing. From the port in Fano on the Adriatic Sea to Cecina on the Ligurian Sea and back again. Much the same proportion of distance to climbing as the first and second 600km of the real thing. Perfect.

As PBP 2019 is my only 1,000km+ ride then all my experience is based on that. I reckoned that, starting Monday I’d ride 600km with no sleep through to Tuesday night/Wednesday morning, then 3 x 300km+ rides to finish by Friday night. This ride would tell me if that was a realistic expectation.

I started just before my 1001Miglia start time of 16:15.

What did I learn?

Slow down at the start. My first 100km took just 4 hours which included half of the 1,000m first climb. Each subsequent 100km took significantly longer as fatigue and water stops kicked in.

Water strategy. I might have to carry two bottles for the first time. At over 30° for much of the day time riding I was constantly looking for sources of water. One new experience for me – warm water out of two public fountains in Tuscany. None of the dozens of fountains I use in Marche have warm water. I was staggered that having paid 20 cents at the Council water station in Castellina di Chianti that only the fizzy water was chilled, the flat stuff was warm! What is it about Tuscans that they like warm water in a heatwave?

Power naps. At 23 hours in I started losing concentration and started weaving across the road. I recognised the symptoms of sleep deprevation so searched for somewhere to take a nap. Even by the standards of ‘Audax hotels’ it was pretty ropey but I needed to rest. I found an abandoned signal box which had enough room to put my bike in and sleep on the floor out of view from the road. 40 minutes sleep (well before REM sleep kicks in) did the trick.

I felt so much better afterwards. That rest kept me going for another 6 hours before I needed another 30 minutes. This time in the long grass as the sun starting setting at about 100km from home.

The kindness of strangers. In Chianti on the way back I ran out of water. I had another 5km to climb with no shade in 35°. I am indebted to the Zingarelli family. I called in at their winery Rocca Delle Macìe to ask for water. They filled my bidon from a chilled bottle in their tasting room, refusing payment. Grazie mille, molto gentile. When we pass in the car some time we will buy some wine to say thank you.

Sometimes it’s not as bad as you fear. On PBP the biggest climb of the whole ride is outside Brest. I remember thinking as I descended towards the port that I’d have to turn around and ride back up in the morning. The descending speed can make you think it’s steeper than it is. So it was with the last big climb of the ride. Peaking at 1,045m over 16km pointing upwards. I’d descended it many times but never climbed it. It prayed on my mind all the way back from the Ligurian coast. It was going to be brutal. I’d allowed over two hours to climb it starting at 11pm. It turned out to be a little easier than I thought. A little. I did share the load with another Colin. Colin Murray of Radio 5 Live. Listening to a debate about the Olympics really helped get me up in the dark. At the end of the show Murray said thank you for listening “wherever you are”. He had no idea.

Judging by the two days of sleep to recover and the 3.5kg I lost it was a tough ride. 29 hours of riding, 36 hours elapsed. That’s 9 hours ahead of 1001Miglia pace so I should be ok but I’ve learnt that I’m going to have to pace myself to ride 1,600km in the searing heat.

Coast to Coast x 2

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