War Stories

‘War Stories’ can be moments in your life that stay in the mind for years to come. They are often centred around an unforgettable experience (which is not always memorable for entirely good reasons) and serve as something to learn valuable lessons from. So, for this thread, we’d love to hear your ‘War Stories’ in cycling. I’ll start with a couple of mine that stick in the mind particularly vividly…

A 160km breakaway at the Volta a Portugal was a tough day, the following Queen Stage was something else!

There are three in particular that stand out for me. The first was a 300km charity ride I did in 2018. I had never ridden that distance before and, 6 hours into the 10 hour ride, realised I had got my pacing and fuelling wrong. I hit the point where I was starving, devoid of energy, yet too full of food to physically eat anything else. So, I resorted to having double espressos with two sugars at every café I passed on the way home as I crawled through the final few hours. This all happened because my route had most of the hills in the first 160km and I went up them too hard (above lactate threshold 1) so used carbs rather than fat. For a ride that distance, it’s impossible to consume enough carbs without a lot of gastrointestinal training – which I hadn’t done. I also ate all my carbs as solids rather than liquids so consumed too great a volume. These were lessons I learned and put into practice for another 320km charity ride I did last year, which was far more successful.

Looking a lot happier after attempt two at a 300+km ride. The lessons learned were very helpful

My second War Story was Stage 2 of the Tour of Bihor in Romania. I underestimated how hot it would be (40 degrees with high humidity). A combination of dehydration and a less than ideal dinner and breakfast beforehand (cheesy pasta, then deep fried cheese and red peppers) led to some dodgy stomach side effects. I nearly missed the start thanks to an unforeseen desperate need to visit the toilet which although left me significantly lighter than before, I also had no energy whatsoever. Fortunately, the stage was only 100km long. Unfortunately, it was a summit finish of about 1200m. Thanks to not keeping food down, I couldn’t push out any power on the climb so finished well down on the stage winner, one Ivan Sosa now riding for Ineos. The lesson learned? Heat adaptation training is extremely beneficial for hot events, as is making sure that you have nutrition that you are used to and that you know works for you.

The top of the summit at the Tour of Bihor, looking very drained and empty

My final outdoors War Story was stage 4 of the Volta a Portugal. Again, it was a very hot day, knocking around 40 degrees again. Fortunately I had got my fuelling and hydration sorted but this time there were a couple of different issues. The day before I had been in the race long 3 man breakaway and came 1.5km from a potential stage win or certainly a podium. The effort itself had been very fatiguing, but additionally my saddle had unknowingly to me slipped backwards 5cm. The result of this meant greater leg extension and hip rocking which had pinched my sciatic nerve slightly (this got worse and worse throughout the race until I had to abandon on Stage 6). But back to stage 4, this was the queen stage and included around 4000m of vertical elevation gain in 180km. It also finished with a monster summit finish at 1800m up. However, a bit before that I’d had an encounter with a team car that had come to a standstill at a roundabout as a rider went around them. I couldn’t stop in time and rear ended them, which led to my nose erupting with blood. It didn’t affect performance much, but the pictures of me riding up the final climb in literal blood and sweat made for an appropriate War Stories picture. Lesson learned from this? Careful when in the convoy (especially near roundabouts), and torque up your bike fully!

Blood and sweat soaked at the top of the biggest climb I’ve ever raced up

The final War Story is a different one as it was indoors and quite recent. After a bit of time off after the Tour of Britain last year, I got back to training 7 weeks later. I decided to go in for a lighter session, only 30 minutes long so how bad could it be? However, I failed to adjust my power zones at all after 7 weeks off and, for a session with a fair bit of MAP/VO2max focus, this was not ideal. VO2max has been shown to drop as much as 7% after just 12 days of inactivity, with a further 9% or so after another month or two off. The first few efforts were fine, but then my heart rate refused to go down during the recoveries. I needed to stop after each of the final 3 efforts and very nearly threw up twice. I spent the rest of the day feeling like a bulldozer had run over my legs and lungs. After a couple of weeks, I felt normal again on the bike, but for the future I will be dropping down my power zones accordingly to a sensible percentage when starting training again after a period of inactivity.

Turbo’s never easy, but some days are harder than others

So, what War Stories do you have to share and what lessons have they taught you? 

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