The last post left us at the middle of the tour, after the first mountain stage, and looking ahead to four more days including both the queen stage and a big final run into the finish.
Stage six: Local Hero saw the peloton turned ragged by the cruel pyramid intervals, and several riders were caught out by forgetting that this one isn’t just an hour of effort, but an hour and twenty-five minutes of threshold work designed to put them into the redzone and deny them an easy exit. A pyramid starts out at an RPE of 7/10, or just below power threshold. In my case, working with a slightly overloaded FTP of 250, that meant holding 240+W for interval one. Interval two, a minute at threshold, is at least 250W for one minute, after which you spend two minutes at 8.0 – above threshold, which is harsh. But when the two minutes are up, you can’t just shift and recover. Because you need to hold threshold for another minute, then sub-threshold again for a last painful minute.
The pyramids hurt. I am not kidding. And after that there’s race simulation and a series of sprints. This stage was a test for the entire peloton, and there were three more stages to go.
Next day, at first glance, seemed like an opportunity to recover a little, with The Rookie. But things are never that easy in Sufferlandria, especially when Sir Neal Henderson has been involved in the choice of parcours. What awaited us was a set of three 10-minute race simulations garnished with the kind of on-bike footage that gets you trapped in the action and forgetting how much power you’re putting down. I, for one, was left gasping, and dreading Stage Eight, The Queen Stage
Serious face on for Stage Eight
Stage Eight was the Dame Alissa Schubert Memorial Stage, a terrifying two-hours and twenty-five minutes of sprints. The community wore a black stripe on their social media avatars in memory of Dame Alissa, and the Knights wore their official team kits. I broke out my race-cut Darkside kit. Having put on a few kilograms after a bunch of crashes and injuries last year, I’d been slightly dreading getting back into race-cut, but to my surprise, it worked out not too badly. I slapped on my serious face and got down to action.
Video one of Stage Eight, Revolver. Straight up, no messing, fifteen one-minute intervals interpersed with fifteen one-minute rests, a workout designed to burn you down as quickly and as simply as possible. This is followed with Violator, a never-ending series of short, high-intensity sprints, which is topped off with a dressing of Half is Easy, yet another bottomless pit of on-off-on-off power intervals.
This, dear friends, is a special kind of hell.
We all knew it would be the queen stage. I for one didn’t realise quite how horrifying it would turn out to be.
I held over the stage until Sunday, since Saturday was my brother-in-law’s 50th birthday and Jack Bobridge’s Hour Record attempt. Which meant on Sunday I felt a little… hungover.
Oh. The. Pain.
By the end of Revolver I was already thinking I’d gone too deep. By the middle of Violator, I knew I’d gone too deep. close to the end of Violator, I had a dizzy spell and a micro-blackout and found myself almost crashing the bike. Let me just re-iterate that. I nearly. Crashed. A turbo trainer.
As the recovery interval arrived I wolfed down an entire pack of jelly snakes, a gel and a whole bottle of electrolyte, and called out to the minions for more.
By the time Half is Easy was properly underway, I was mentally back together, and starting to come back into shape physically, which was just as well, because I spent the last video spitting and cursing, sweat pouring off in waves, feet and hands aching, legs turning to mush and shoulders in spasm. Physically, it was harder than anything on my Knighthood, either of my Everesting attempts, and any race I’ve ever struggled through.
The sawtooth profile of the power trace speaks volumes for the severity of this stage. Oh god, never again.
It did feel pretty good afterwards.
And so Monday rolled around, and my alarm fired at 5am, in time for me to do Stage Nine before work. My weary legs, however, wouldn’t let me out of bed.
So I went to work like a normal monday. And when I arrived, I set one of my laptop’s auxiliary clocks to the International date line. This gave me a hard cut off time for the end of Stage Nine, which turned out to be quite late that evening, thanks to timezone weirdness.
So I left the office as normal, headed home, and put my weary legs over the top tube for the last time in this tour.
It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time tells the tale of an intrepid Sufferlandrian unleashed in pursuit of the Giro d’Italia’s combativity prize. It’s tough, you’d better believe it, and it’s long at two hours. And coming at the end of nine stages, it was all I could do to keep up. But keep up I did, and I finished, sweaty and victorious, after the world’s hardest stage race of a fictional country.
My citizenship of the great nation of Sufferlandria was assured.
And I was tired
Damn it, I was tired.
I can’t wait until next year.