As we mentioned in our blog last night, today we were heading back to conquer the mountain that is Montserrat. Well, I’m happy to report, that WE DID IT! 10km over an 880m ascent in just under an hour (forgot to stop runkeeper for a while at the top).
What a relief when we got to the top! Monica steamed up it like a machine, heading back down 1km at one point to give me a shout of motivation… I took my time – it was hard – but worth it… especially coming back down. Video will follow this blog in the next coming days.
This is by no means the end!
This is also the last day of a fantastic trip. Bikes are now packed away again (easier than the first time!). [Monica: I did it *nearly* all myself] But, this is not the end – we have some plans to take our bikes on more adventures in the new year including a training camp in the South of France as well as some big events (Austria Half Ironman to start with) – so watch this space (and get in touch if you want to join us)!
Rising in the dark at 7.30am yesterday morning to put on our matching lycra kit, we headed out for our most anticipated ride to the top of Montserrat; 1241m high, 50km north west of Barcelona. Montserrat literally means serrated mountain – and looking at some of these pics, you’ll see why it got this name.
Now, for those who aren’t fully aware… the Netherlands sits below sea level (aka the Low Lands). This was going to be a tough ride, but we were determined (as always) and left the house repeating a quote we’d seen before leaving: The minute you think of giving up, think of the reason why you held on for so long (thanks Geoff!). And it sure wasn’t the last time I had to repeat that quote!
If only we had a map…or a TomTom… or someone with a sense for direction!
Hayley: On arrival to Barcelona we knew we needed to buy a map for the purpose of our ride, but of course, time got the better of us; and even the bike shop didn’t have a map that suited what we needed on our brief visit. So, what better way to work out the route than use mapmyride.com, google maps and traditional pen and paper? Thank god Monica had an iPhone with access to google maps…! Still, that didn’t show us where bike lanes disappeared without notice (blog on that to come later!) or turn into off-road sand tracks (great when you’re on road-tyres), or most important of all – the contours – when to expect a climb!! We also managed to miss the main turning to take us to Montserrat, meaning we climbed a mountain just as hard as Montserrat, leaving us with little energy when we finally made it to our destination – 20km further than anticipated.
Lesson 1: buy and study the map.
Monica: Actually, I think Lesson 1 is just: don’t leave Monica in charge of directions! Once I even got lost in a race – and missed a gold medal and a PB as a result!
Oh my god, it’s going up! / Oh my god, it’s going down!
Hayley: I only started riding earlier this year; encouraged by the very accessible roads in Amsterdam, the cycling culture but more importantly the FLAT ROADS! The only hill-training (if you can call it that) I’ve had in the past 9 months; was a short stint at home in Berkshire, UK (with support from my Dad) and the sand-dunes of Zandvoort. My muscle structure is therefore very much made up of short-twitch muscles suited to flats and speed, less forgetting the limited amount of training I’ve been able to do due to injury in the past 2 months. However, it’s not like I wasn’t prepared for this, and although this was going to be a challenge I was mentally ready for it…. Although the heart rate monitor was saying otherwise! Half way up the (wrong) climb, mind and body was telling me to quit… BUT, with Monica’s strong legs ahead of me and the little voice repeating the quotation of the day; I reduced the effort to keep the HR steady and pushed on. And boy, it was worth it! Not only were the views spectacular; but I was then able to tuck in and speed down the other side reaching up to 60kmph. What a kick!
Lesson 2: eat/digest more energy/gels before the ascent. And get some more HR training in!
Monica: Oh my goodness – the hills were so much fun! I’ve always loved the long stuff and the hard stuff – I’ve done cross country running for more than 20 years now. I have read that run fitness does not translate that well to bike fitness – hence me struggling to pick up speed and go fast on the flats. But on the hills I think it’s a lot about strength – and the years of running in the hills have helped with that. Probably also all the “hill training” I get in RPM classes (in fact, my RPM mountain track music was going through my head).
However, I have a problem with going downhills fast: I run down hills slowly, I ski down them with plenty of stopping … and when hiking sometimes I have to slide down on my butt. It’s not even a fear I can articulate properly – Hayley asked me, “Let’s talk about fears – what are your fears going downhill?” I couldn’t answer – I just know I don’t like it, just as I don’t like spiders!
So we made a good pair – me pulling ahead as we climbed, Hayley racing past as we descended … We got to the bottom, and Hayley said, “I don’t think I could climb that again on the way back.”
My response: “I would have climbed it twice just to get out of that descent!”
My Lesson #2 has not yet been learned as such: it’s simply to learn how to descend
We’ve made it (sort of)!
Hayley: About 15km from Montserrat I was ready to quit… that is until we came through a tunnel to the most spectacular view of the jagged rock-shape mountain. It would be silly to turn back/get on a train now. Arriving at the Funicular railway we realized we’d inadvertently climbed half of the mountain resulting in a rush of relief and excitement of the idea that WE CAN DO IT! Having already climbed over 1300m though, the legs were tired and it just wasn’t going to happen there and then! So, we boarded the train and had a well deserved lunch at the top with some spectacular clear views over the French Pyrenees. We’re just going to have to go back later in the week and hit the climb fresh. And I’m ready for it!
Lesson 3 – know when to give it up… Look at what you have been able to do; not what you haven’t done.
Monica: Thursday … Bring it on!
So, tomorrow we head off. You’ll be pleased to know that I have done some reading on how to descend (especially around corners), and we have stocked up on energy gels. Unfortunately, we have not yet bought, or studied a map, so … wish us luck!
Back in June, Monica – a well experienced and damn good triathlete, and me, Hayley – very much pushed into it by a very persuasive and convincing Monica, decided to sign up for the Garmin Barcelona Triathlon and spend the following week cycling around the beautiful Catalonia. [Monica: I would say I’m a well experienced and good runner – struggle on the swim and bike – but LOVE triathlons all the same] Intentions and training started out well, that was until 2 months into training I picked up an injury and 1 further month on I’m still suffering which unfortunately means no racing. Jammer!
But, with Monica still participating and our intention to bike around Barcelona for the remainder of the week; this meant we still had a journey to make – 2 girls, 2 bikes, luggage and a foreign language (thankfully Monica is fluent in Spanish…) [M: I love to speak it and will do so at any opportunity (pretty much like any language) – but not fluent]
Flapping and packing:
Now, Monica isn’t afraid to admit she’s not the most confident on the bike… the same can be said when it comes to bike mechanics… so; on a very hung-over Sunday; we set to taking her bike apart and packing it in the box ready for flight. We started out well… cleaned the bikes (well; at least Monica TRIED to clean her chain….I think it ended up dirtier) [Monica: I think we have a dodgy chain cleaner!] and set about with the tools. Now, what happens next can be best explained in photos… See left. After failing to shift the second pedal, covered in oil and surrounded by parts, screws and a pile of baby wipes; we had to call on a fellow Cyclodammer, Ian, who in true batman/superman/superhero style came to the rescue – thanks Ian! Yes, that’s right. The girls had started out well… but alas, it wasn’t to be!
You’ll have to drag your boyfriend there:
I have to say that in a very oxy-moron manor, this was possibly the lightest, but also the heaviest I have travelled. My week’s worth of clothing, toiletries, books and laptop were all cleverly packed into a carry-on suitcase. Leaving the flat I felt like I’d accomplished something amazing… that is until I started dragging said suitcase to the train station along with a bike box which can only be described as bigger than me!
Arriving at Barcelona (after worryingly watching the bag handlers load the bikes onto a trolley, piling on-top other luggage (sorry Ian, you should have been warned about this section), we enquired about the best way to our flat.
Monica: I asked the airport helper how to get to the metro station in Spanish, and he responded, telling me we would need to go left here, right there … “con tu novio”, with a gesture to the bike box sitting beside me. Translation: tu novio = your boyfriend. I just shrugged and said okay.
It all seemed too difficult, so we got a cab. After arriving at our destination, the taxi driver tried to add ten euro to the fare due to the bike boxes. I was totally unimpressed – even more so when we took the boxes out of the boot … I looked with horror at my bike box: the skewer for my back wheel had clearly been pushed out of the box … and bent! Totally stressed out, I decided this could possibly have been the taxi driver’s fault, and told him what to do with his request for ten euro.
In the flat, we opened the box. It was as bad as feared: the skewer was indeed bent, and the frame wouldn’t sit on the wheel properly. I’m pretty sure my face went white and I must have had a look of terror on it, because Hayley just ordered me into the kitchen to cook dinner – she would sort the bikes.
What are these screws for?!
Putting the bikes back together was certainly a lot easier than taking them apart, that is apart from the two screws left on the table at the end …! The bent skewer the only issue, we made sure the bikes were ride-able to the closest Probike shop (which can only be describe as a cyclist’s heaven…!). Clearly they don’t see many women road-cyclists. We were immediately attended to, they checked our bikes over and ironed out the details we couldn’t manage; including replacing the skewer free of charge – service with the biggest smile too!
When we got to the expo to pick up our race packs, we saw a stall set up by ProBike – where they were doing free bike check ups. Always eager to capitalize on a bargain, we decided to wait for an hour in the sun for our turn – despite the fact we’d already had free check ups at the ProBike store in the morning – and we hadn’t eaten all day! Well, a good thing we did, because we finally figured out what those two extra screws were for: the handlebars on my bike! Apparently we hadn’t done quite as good a job as we thought… but at least we made it there in one piece! We definitely feel more confident for next time!
It’s official Cyclodammers – Amsterdam is now the most bike-friendly place on earth according to Copenhagenize, an international consultancy based in Copenhagen specialising in bicycle planning, marketing and communications. Amsterdam has been highlighted as having superb infrastructure and facilities, outstanding advocacy, both political and non-political. The cycling atmosphere is relaxed, enjoyable, and as mainstream as you can get. This is the one place on the planet where fear-mongering about cycling is non-existent and it shows. The only criticism is the lack of sign-posting (couldn’t agree more!) and of course the ‘terrorising’ scooters. They recommend a more innovative approach to cycle-share schemes – we’ve all seen the hundreds of bikes left to rust on canal sides.
I have to say though, it would be a little surpising if we weren’t voted no.1. And, I look forward to reporting back on how Barcelona shapes up as 3rd best biking city in a few weeks time.