Specialized S-Works Amira Torch First Impression Ride Review

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INTRODUCTION

Some time ago I was chatting with a friend of mine when we were at our coffee stop from one of our weekend morning rides. I would never forget what he said: “Tommy, with bike, there is no such thing called ‘The One’. There is only ‘The Next One'”. Truth be known, that was exactly what happened. Prior to this post I have been riding the Swift Hypervox, and I only own that thing for about 3 months. Mind you, I purchased it second hand. The bike has been great, and as per my review, it was a fast bike, stiff and a lot more comfortable than my AX Vial Ultra.

With it I have also conquered the Letape du Tour 2017 which took us to Stage 18 of 2017 Tour de France (Briancon to Col d’ Izoard). There was definitely no reason why I should be getting a new bike, especially that bike fit me well. However, as my friend told me, there will always be that “next one”, won’t it? And I don’t know about you, but I tend to eventually fault-find my bike. Maybe it’s the comfort, or the stability, or the weight, the list goes on….. Now I can appreciate why a lot of motivational speakers would teach about “count your blessings” or “don’t look at what you don’t have, but look at what you do have” because, you would never be satisfied otherwise.

PS: Luckily for me, this principle only applies to buying bike and not on my marriage. I’m very faithful on the latter ūüėČ

So, to cut the long story short, I started browsing around for framesets. I was very happy with the components I had, therefore, I decided to keep them. Since my purchase of AX Lightness, I no longer was interested in buying expensive framesets. It was north of AUD$8,000 for the AX and yet I didn’t quiet like the performance in general. It was twitchy, stiff and not comfortable. This time I was determined to buy frameset up to AUD$4,000.

I had my eyes on Cannondale Supersix Evo Hi-Mod (~AUD$2,700), Fuji SL 1.1 (~AUD$1,500), Specialized S-Works Tarmac (~AUD$3,500), Canyon Ultimate CF Evo (~AUD$5,000), and, (just because it looks sexy) Pinarello F100 (special Giro edition of F10 ~AUD$8,500).

On another note, I am a very “color” person ie. Frame color is the number one thing I’m attracted to. Plus, my components so far have been mostly orange. Yes, I somehow love the color orange. This often limits the my choice on frames. I was almost closing a deal on the Fuji SL except it was black/yellow and it wouldn’t go nicely with my components. The Canyon was perfect but it was slightly beyond my budget. As for the Pinarello, it was definitely way way way beyond my budget, and knowing myself who can never settle on just ‘the one’ bike, it would just be a total waste of money. It now left me with the Cannondale and the Tarmac.

I almost went with the Cannondale until I found out that the seatpost was 25.4mm meaning that I could not use the lightweight carbon Dash seatpost-saddle combo which I bought for an astronomical price of north of AUD$900. Thus, I was left with the Tarmac. The color available was black/red/white or the black/white. Again, I did not decide quickly because I didn’t want to be disappointed.

The website I normally use for frame search is bikeexchange.com.au and within it you can filter frames based on sizes. The options above were results returned from filtering based on size “XS” or “S”. I thought, “It wouldn’t hurt to try size ‘M'”. When I turned on size “M” filter, the results were refined and then it showed the Torch Amira S-Works! That orange color immediately drew my attention. And the price was $2,800 which was $700 cheaper than the Tarmac.

I thought, “Perfect…”. The only thing was (see, when you look for negatives in life, you will always find one) it was a woman-specific frameset. From novelty emotional value perspective, I’m not sure if my heart will be fully satisfied riding a bike specifically designed for women. Please don’t take this as a sexist statement, it was just my personal preference. Further to this, women-specific bikes have women-specific geometry so I was not sure how well it would fit me either.

Thus, I did not make the move immediately.

For the next few days I would try to read more reviews about it.¬†I must say there were not that many new reviews on the Amira. A lot of them were for the 2012 model. One time I also stumbled upon RIDE magazine who did a review on Amira, and even though all of the testers were males, all of them would not mind to ride Amira just because it was so good. That’s when my heart started to melt.

I gave the shop a call and the shop owner insisted that “bike fit is bike fit”. So long as bike fits you, it no longer matters whether it’s a women-specific or male-specific bikes. I then created an Excel spreadsheet and tried to compare the geometry of the Amira vs the Hypervox. From what I could see, the Amira was slightly lower in stack and reach. Everything else (eg. seat angle, etc) was similar. That’s when I was even more convinced that I should buy it.

I gave the shop a call and bought it.

PURCHASING EXPERIENCE

I bought the frame through a shop called R&D Speed Shop in Claremont. I dealt with the owner Dan and he was very friendly and helpful. He also gave me further $100 discount on the frame, making it down to AUD$2,700. The price also included parts swap from the Hypervox over to Amira. So I thought what a good deal I get.

Dan managed to get the parts swap finished all in one day. I took my Hypervox in the morning and he was finished by the afternoon. Overall, the build was excellent. I could not be happier. If you are looking for a trusted bike shop I would highly recommend R&D Speed Shop. They carried mostly Specialized and BMC.

BUILD DETAILS

Groupset: Sram Red
Chainring: FiberLyte 50 and absoluteBlack Oval 34
Cassette: Shimano XTR M8000 11-42
Chain: Shimano Dura-Ace
Handlebar: Deda Elementi Superleggera 44cm
Saddle: Dash
Seatpost: Dash
Brakes: eeBrakes
Bottle cages: Chinese Bontrager RXL
Pedals: Crankbrothers Eggbeater Ti MTB
Wheels: Chinese unbranded 35mm carbon clinchers
Stem: Extralite 100mm -12degree
Total weight with bottle cages, pedals and Garmin mount: 6.67kg

INITIAL RIDE REVIEW AND IMPRESSION

As mentioned earlier, the only complaint I had with my Hypervox was its weight. With bottle cages, pedals and Garmin mount, weight was 7.4kg. While it was not heavy, I would be very happy if I can get it down to 6.8kg. When I look at my current components, there is not much I can change to make it lighter unless I want to go to tubular which wouldn’t be practical for daily work commute. I can also possibly change the crank to something like THM Clavicula (a saving of ~100gr) and change my cassette to 11-28 or lower, thus would be a saving of weight around ~350gr in total. This would be a very expensive exercise and yet it wouldn’t bring the weight down below 7kg.

This was not the case with the Amira. As soon as I saw the figure of 6.67kg I was just happy….like being-content happy…genuinely happy. Yes my AX was 600gr lighter but the ride quality was just not good.

My first ride took me to the hills around my house which I often do hill repeats on. I was also planning to take it to some flat section just so I could feel what it was like on flat. I was planning to just do 2 hours max because my work has been so busy lately that I just simply don’t have time for a 5 hour ride anymore.

The Strava entry is as follows:

https://www.strava.com/activities/1260023190

To date, other than AX and Hypervox, I have also ridden Roubaix S-Works SL3, Merida Reacto 909S, Giant TCR Advanced Pro, Trek Madone 7, Tarmac S-Works SL4 and Guerciotti Eureka SHM50.

So, how does the Amira fare with them?

First thing’s first, let me get this off my chest, the Amira was THE BEST bike I’ve ridden so far, full stop, hands down. This is a very big statement coming from someone who has not been happy with just one bike; and who have ridden several high-end bikes. Seriously, I have never had such a “revelation” until I rode the Amira.

When I first bought the AX, I was very excited prior to riding it. However, after riding it, I did not have that sense of “revelation”. The sense of “revelation” is the kind of sensation you feel after you receive your “aha” moment. I did not have that with AX nor with Hypervox. However, it was different with Amira.

The moment I rode it, I knew it was an awesome bike. On the way to my hill repeats, there were a bit of undulation and this bike was just flying. It is stiff, balanced, comfortable…just simply the best all-rounder bike I’ve ridden to date. The ride quality is just the top of the top.

Sprinting

The Hypervox felt like there was a turbo lag, while the AX flew but twitchy and slightly flexy on high power. The Amira was just perfect. It felt as if the bike was just synchronised with you. If you have watched the movie Pacific Rim, it is similar to that which your body is just synched with the equipment.

Mind you, I’m not a big rider and I can’t put in 1000+ watts. However, as far as my riding experience is concerned, there is no hint of flex whatsoever.

Climbing

Standing or sitting down….this bike felt good and it just responded to whatever request you gave to it. I kept coming back to that sense of “synching”. You can certainly feel how light this bike is. The AX felt too light and flexy, but not the Amira..it just felt right.

Comfort

This is the part which I was very surprised about. I thought the Amira would be less comfy than the Hypervox, but oh how wrong was I. This thing soaked bump really well. I still remembered how the Tarmac rode and the Tarmac was certainly a lot harsher.

The road near where I live was not highway smooth, rather it was a bit rough, possibly because it was hilly therefore for safety reason eg. during descending, the road was done that way. Amira truly soaked up the chatter. It felt muted. If I can put a number on it:

AX – 2/10
Tarmac S-Works SL4 – 4/10
Hypervox – 5/10
Amira – 6/10
Roubaix S-Works SL3 – 7-8/10

Descending

Descending was very stable. You did not feel the weight of the Hypervox, and yet you did not get the twitchiness of the AX..it was just perfect. Steering was very natural…man this bike is good!

Bike Fit

This bike fit me straight away, I would argue that it fit me even better than the Hypervox. On Hypervox, I felt that the stem needed to be 1cm longer…my position was not stretched enough. Not with the Amira..it felt right.

I’m still curious however, to still increase my stem length to 110mm or even 120mm and goes even lower at -17degrees.

 

CONCLUSION

I don’t care what you say, yes I’m riding a women’s specific bike however this bike fits me like a glove. I will be doing a long ride on it soon and I’ll keep you posted how it goes.

This is the first time for me, too which on my first ride there was no niggles. Normally there will always be niggles such as seatpost slipping, handlebar slipping, etc. Not this time. I truly feel like that this bike is meant to be, and since it’s named ‘feminine’ I can call it my 2nd wife for real.

Chinese Carbon Clincher OEM Ride Review

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INTRODUCTION

I have been reading a lot of mixed reviews about the Chinese OEM carbon clinchers. Some praised the value and the quality, while others swore to never use them again.

Some of the issues raised were spoke tension issue, de-lamination during hard braking and stiffness issue.

I for one have been owning few Chinese carbon clinchers. The very first one I owned was in the year 2011, then year 2013 and finally in 2017. The one I owned in 2011 and 2013 did not last that long because I was so tempted with branded wheels hence decided to sell them instead. I probably owned them for about 1-2 months max.

From my memory, the issue I had with the 2011 one was spoke tension issue. I remembered one of the spokes would be so wobbly that I decided to stop mid-ride (lucky I was close to home at that time) because I was so concerned about my safety.

I did not have any issue with the 2013 one.

Finally, I tried to purchase again in 2017. This time I purchased through AliExpress from a shop called C-razy carbon Store. The wheelset was 50mm with 27mm width.

I would like to share with you my purchasing experience and the performance of the wheelset.

PURCHASING

I purchased the 50mm deep, 27mm width with Powerway R36 carbon hubs.

Store owner’s name was Edwin. As soon as I made my order, he contacted me straight away. We did not have any issue in communication even though English was second language for both of us.

I couldn’t fault the price. It was USD$435 which equates about ~AUD$650. Where in the world could you get branded carbon wheelset at that price?

The wheelset was shipped within 5 days as promised. It took about 2 weeks from the date of purchase to fully arrive in Perth, Western Australia.

When it arrived, wheels have been packed professionally. There were no bits missing. It came with OEM brake pads and skewers.

FIRST RIDE IMPRESSION

I quickly put on the wheels and the OEM brake pads and I went out for a quick hill repeats around my house for about 1 hour.

Without skewers, the weight is as follows:
– Front: 760g
– Rear: 900g

This is way more than advertised. On advertisement it was:
– Front: 665g +- 15g
– Rear: 775 +- 15g

Strava ride is as follows:

https://www.strava.com/activities/908291256

My first impression was very positive! “This wheelset is good”, I thought. It was stiff and did not wobble at all. On flat it felt quick, and when standing and sprinting, it felt stiff.

Even though it is a fairly heavy wheelset, it did not feel that way during climbing. At no time did I feel sluggish. If anything, it felt solid during climbs.

The day was dry therefore braking performance was superb. I have been owning this wheelset for few months now and have gone through some rainy days. I’ll share later on how the braking performance is during wet season.

Perth was well known for its wind. We get about 20-35km/h and 30-40km/h crosswind most days. During that ride, the wind blew at about 20-25km/h with 30-35km/h gust and the wheel was only slightly affected. I had ridden Zipp 404 and it was affected by wind more.

During descend it was less affected by the crosswind gust. It was on the flat would you feel the slight nudge.

The Powerway R36 hub rolled smoothly. I’m not a mechanic so I can’t quiet tell how easy it is to service. Noise-wise, the Chris King hub is way noisier.

All in all, my first ride impression was very positive.

SPORTIVE AND LONG RIDES

Since then I have been taking my wheels to a local sportive and long rides in Perth. One of them was the famous 3 Dams. Strava ride is as follows:

https://www.strava.com/activities/924167232

As per my initial review, the wheels hold up very well. It felt solid on flat, climbs and descends. If anything, it was my legs that limit the potential. It certainly felt comfortable and I did not have any issues spending 6.5 hours on it.

The day was sunny and dry therefore braking performance was good enough for me. Mind you it’s not like I did a lot of braking anyway during the day. Even on the descends, I only needed to do minimal braking.

Again, this event further increased my confidence in the wheels.

During this time I was putting the wheels on the AX Vial Ultra bike.

LETAPE DU TOUR 2017 – THE BIG MOUNTAINS

Finally, I decided to do something crazy with it. What if I take my Chinese carbon clinchers to the big mountains? How would that hold up? It was a big risk because to be honest, there was a part of me that get scared of the durability and safety of the wheels.

I’ve written a blog post on the ride experience itself therefore I won’t repeat myself here. You can read the article¬†here. This section is purely dedicated for my review on the wheels themselves. During Letape I have changed my bike to Swift Hypervox.

Strava ride is as follows:

https://www.strava.com/activities/1086857683

So, how did they hold up? They hold up very fine! I finished the 180km Stage 18 of Tour de France 2017 in 10hrs 20mins and the wheels did not have any issues at all.

The brake squealed if you hold it hard for longer than 15 seconds. It still hold up fine though. There was no de-lamination or anything like that. Mind you, there was no requirements whatsoever to brake hard longer than 15 seconds. The only time I would brake hard was when I was heading towards a hairpin during descending. Once the hairpin was behind, you could release the brake. Just to let you know, I was a careful descender and yet these Chinese carbon clinchers worked fine for me.

Regarding the performance of the wheels themselves, as per my initial review, was stiff in both flat and climbing. I was not sure how comfortable these wheels were because my new frameset (Hypervox) was definitely a lot more comfortable than the AX; and it would have overshadowed the comfort level of the wheels. All I can tell you is that my hands were not numb and if my body was battered, it was because of the difficulty level of the course and not because of the wheels.

As far as crosswind performance was concerned, the wind was blowing at about 20-25km/h on that day and they did not affect the wheels at all. Back in Perth however, when the wind reaches 30-40km/h, you can feel a slight nudge from the gust. But again, the nudge is never at the level where it would give you the sense of “danger” (so-to-speak) especially during descend.

CONCLUSION

So all in all, I can’t fault my AUD$650 carbon clinchers. From now on it would be a very hard sell for me to buy expensive wheelset. OK, to be fair, few years ago the Chinese clinchers could suck. But they’re catching up really fast.

As of writing of this article, I have ordered another 35mm-depth 25mm-width Chinese carbon clincher. I simply can’t fault its value.

 

Have a great day,

Tommy

Glass Mapper Sitecore 8.2 Update 4 Error Glass.Mapper.Sc.Utilities.get_IsPageEditor()

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INTRODUCTION

I’m doing an upgrade from Sitecore 8.0 to 8.2 Update 4 and the solution was using Glass.Mapper.

The upgrade went well except when I tried to access Sitecore, I get the error saying that:

Glass.Mapper.Sc.Utilities.get_IsPageEditor()

no longer exists. Basically GlassMapper tried to access the Get property of Sitecore’s PageMode.IsEditor which has now been set to private in 8.2 ¬†Update 4.

I also used GlassMapper’s latest version, which as of the writing of this article, was v4.4.0.199.

RESOLUTION

I think this was a GlassMapper build issue because I downgraded to v4.2.1.188 and all was well!

I used dotPeek to look at the source code and the v4.2.1.188 was using

public static bool IsPageEditor
{
get
{
return Context.PageMode.get_IsExperienceEditor();
}
}

which was correct.

 

Hope this helps,

Tommy

Could not load type ‘Sitecore.Web.UI.Controls.SheerUI’ on Indexing Manager or Rebuild Link Databases

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INTRODUCTION

I have just upgraded a client’s website from Sitecore 8.0 to 8.2 Update 4. Then I also installed Web Forms for Marketers WFFM 8.2 Update 4. After the WFFM install somehow the Indexing Manager and Rebuild Link Databases link did not work. It returned 404.

The exact error message was:

Could not load type ‘Sitecore.Web.UI.Controls.SheerUI’

RESOLUTION

After some investigation I found out that the SheerUI.aspx page which is located in:

\Website\sitecore\shell\client\Business Component Library\Layouts\Renderings\Common\SheerUI

was updated to:

<%@ Page Language=”C#” AutoEventWireup=”true” CodeBehind=”SheerUI.aspx.cs” Inherits=”Sitecore.Web.UI.Controls.SheerUI” %>

Therefore, what I did was I unzip the original Sitecore 8.2 Update 4 files and open the same file. The correct one should be the following:

<%@ Page Language=”C#” AutoEventWireup=”true” Inherits=”Sitecore.Web.UI.Controls.Common.SheerUI.SheerUI” %>

Voila…it all worked fine again.

 

Hope this helps,

Tommy

Letape du Tour 2017 Col D’ Izoard Ride Review

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INTRODUCTION

Sometimes I keep asking myself a question why I keep signing up with these hard sportive events which after I finished, I would usually regret. Last year I officially completed all the Three Peaks Challenges (Cradle Mountain, Falls Creek, Gold Coast) with the Gold Coast being the last one in August. Once a sportive event is finished I often carried that “on fire” enthusiasm with me, and this has often caused me to do something stupid such as signing up to an another even more difficult sportive without a second thought. And that exactly what I did.

As soon as I arrived back in Perth from Gold Coast, I looked up Letape du Tour 2017 and signed up straight away. Mind you, I have been eyeing the Letape for a long time. Somehow I’m always attracted to mountains. There is something about mountains and the challenges presented that attract me to them. I almost signed up with the inaugural Letape Australia which Chris Froome was the guest rider. However, a lot of people say that nothing would ever replace the original Letape du Tour in France. Therefore, I signed up with Letape du Tour instead.

After my research, it is actually better to sign up with a tour because accommodation and transport can prove to be difficult to organise otherwise. This has proven to be true during the event. Further to this, I signed up very early because the accommodation would get full very-very quickly. You’re talking about 15,000+ riders taking part in Letape du Tour.

So, anyway, long story short I signed up. I went with Sports Tour International as my tour provider. In this opportunity I would like to share with you the ride experience and how it compares to the Australian Peaks Challenges.

RIDER PROFILE

Height: 170cm
Weight: 70kg
Never race, just commute daily @ 40km/day
FTP 20mins: 250w

For Letape I was somehow slacking so much. So much so that I only did long ride once 3 months prior to the event, and another one 1 month prior. For the rest of the rides, other than the daily commuting, I was only doing 40-60 min indoor session on the weekend. I was using the Global Cycling Network (GCN) Youtube indoor training videos.

I don’t know what happened, but somehow after finishing the 3 x Peaks Challenges, I did not have the same enthusiasm in my preparation. In fact, if I’m being honest, I have been dragging myself so much during Letape prep.

BIKE PROFILE

This time I’m using a new bike Swift Hypervox. Weight is about 7.8kg – about 1kg heavier than my AX. Please click on this link to view the bike build details.

STRAVA RIDE

If it’s not on Strava, it did not happen. The Strava link is below.

https://www.strava.com/activities/1086857683

RIDE PLAN

My Peaks Challenges ride plan has been working well for me. Therefore, I’m planning to do the same. Mainly:

  • Stopped 3 times max: 1 for quick pee and water; 1 for quick lunch; and another 1 for quick pee and water.
  • I should not stop for more than 30 mins for the entire duration of the event.
  • I would start with mid-pack and never with the bottom-pack just so I can pocket bigger cut-off time.
  • I would use internal long-sleeve windproof base layer and normal jersey. Temperature was cold in the morning but getting very hot in the afternoon.
  • They only have 1 valet bag ie. bag which you can collect at lunch stop and returned back to the hotel. This is very useful to put in change of clothes, additional nutrition, gels, etc.
  • I would be using my expensive $300 ASOS bib as it is very comfortable with its thick padding.
  • The route would be totally closed of traffic during the duration of the event. Therefore, no lights are needed. That’s 200gr savings in weight right there!
  • I would use brand new tires because they would not puncture. This time I’m using Michelin Pro Power which – according to Internet – has been identified as tire with least rolling resistance.
  • Same as Peaks, I would only carry gels and not solid food because my stomach would get bloated eventually and I wouldn’t be able to consume those solid food.

THE 2 DAYS BEFORE THE EVENT

The Letape du Tour 2017 took TDF’s stage 18 route: that is 180km from Briancon to Col D’ Izoard (summit finish). I was very lucky to have gone with a tour, otherwise it would be a nightmare. As I signed up very-very early, I get to stay in the hotel within the race village in Briancon. It’s literally a 5-min walk to the start line. Some people who signed up a bit later had to stay in a hotel 15-20km from the start line. And they had to ride back after the event which I can’t imagine what the fatigue level would be like =O

Anyway, I arrived at Briancon about 2 days before the event. Event was on Sunday 16th, I arrived on Friday 14th afternoon. As we get close to the village, traffic was busy and there were a lot of cyclists on the road. Man, seriously, when it comes to cycling, nothing compares like the atmosphere in France. It’s truly their sport. You would never be able to replicate the level of enthusiasm anywhere in the world. As it was already 5pm when I arrived at my hotel, I decided to just take it easy. I was walking around the village with my wife and getting myself familiar with the area.

Briancon was such a beautiful city surrounded by tall big mountains. Along the way the scenery was just magical. Trust me, it gives you relief from all stress simply by looking at the scenery. They were just so beautiful. As much as I love Australia, the alps in Australia just somehow don’t have the stunning view that Briancon has. Here in Australian alps, there are a lot of high trees all along that would obstruct the view. But in Briancon – or French alps for that matter, there were barely trees. So wherever you eyes went, you would see mountains after mountains (and big tall ones) which would vary in colors and shape, and lakes with blue crystal water. They’re just stunning!

So that’s how my Friday went…I was just literally taking all the views in and getting my bike setup.

And oh one more thing, as I setup my bike, somehow my power meter’s low-battery light decided to lit up! I was not too worried at this time because I thought I could just buy the battery tomorrow (in the race village during race pack collection). Ah..how wrong was I.

THE 1 DAY BEFORE THE EVENT

Saturday the 15th, things were getting a bit busier. This was the sign-up, collecting race packs and briefing time. My day started with breakfast at the hotel at 830am. It was then followed with a 930am briefing hold by the tour company. If you were not with a tour company you wouldn’t have these kind of briefings. Within the briefing, similar to Peaks, they would run you through the course and all the gotchas. It was very informational, and as someone who was doing Letape for the first time, I was in need of it indeed. As part of the tour package, you also get a free jersey, additional rest stops and most importantly: valet bag. Excellent!

The briefing finished at about 11am and I headed straight to the village to collect my race packs. As I arrived in the village, man, you wouldn’t see anything like it. With Peaks, the village was quiet small. The number of vendors were not that many. But in Letape, there were vendors after vendors. From Rapha, Katusha to the French large online retailers, etc. Like I mentioned earlier, nothing would ever replace the cycling atmosphere in France. This was – as my wife would say to me – THE cycling haven! The village was guarded with security guards also. Before you could even enter, they would check and go through your bags. Yep…they’re that serious.

Mavic provided free bike service. As it was free, the queue was long! If you decided to go with a paid service (provided by other vendors), the queue was very short. Luckily, as my bike was very new, I did not have to get it serviced or checked at all. I would actually regret this decision eventually because as luck would have it, my front derailleur decided to stop working during the race! I’ll explain later.

I mentioned earlier about my power meter battery that was running low. The power meter was Power2Max and it was running a CR2450 battery. As luck would have it (NOT), none of the retailers in the village had that battery! One of the vendors was FSA. They had different power meters and cranks on display including Power2Max. “Perfect”, I thought. As I talked to them however, they also didn’t carry the battery! “Argh…what a nightmare”, I thought. To be honest, the power meter did not kind of matter. I have been able to judge my effort simply through my breathing and legs. However, it’s a good distraction when you are suffering on the bike. That’s how it has been working for me anyway. The time indicated 130pm. I said to my wife that I couldn’t spend any more time in the village and had to go back to the hotel asap. I also have not even done any training ride so far at Briancon therefore I really needed to get this happening.

So, I collected my race pack and then I headed back to my hotel. I needed to fit in a training ride of some sort to get my climbing legs together again in the real mountain. I quickly get changed and went out with my bike. At this time my wife went to local supermarket. I must have been married to a very-very lucky girl because she managed to get hold the super-rare battery CR2450! So all was well!

The Letape route would take you atop of Col D’ Izoard summit finish, which you would then descend back to Briancon afterwards to receive your medal, etc. So, my training ride went reverse. I started at Briancon and went up the Col. Bike worked perfectly during the training ride. There were no mis-shifts, nothing. I did about 1hr 45 minutes climbing Col D’ Izoard. I only went 1/2 way then I went back down. I took lots of photos (obviously). To this time, I felt confident that everything would be OK. Baring mechanical or puncture, I should be able to finish the event without any problem.

Ah..how naive was I….

Similar to Peaks, I tried to sleep early at 8pm just so I could wake up early and had a lot of time to get ready. The good thing with Letape was, as there were so many riders, my start time was not until 8 in the morning therefore I did not have to wake up as early as when I was at Peaks. At Peaks Challenge Gold Coast, they started at 6am therefore I had to wake up at 4am!

THE D-DAY

On the race day I woke up at about 530am. I had a really nice and long sleep. I have done these sportive many enough to know that I needed at least 8 hours of sleep to perform at my best. So, once I woke up, I get myself prepared. As mentioned previously, I stayed in a hotel where it was only 5 minutes walking distance from the start line. Having said that, just in case something happened, I did not want to be caught in a rush. Therefore, I left quiet early at 7am even though I was not expected to start until 8. As I approached the start line, it was already packed! The very front riders (the fast ones) actually started departing at 7am.

In this edition they had 16,000+ riders, and similar to Peaks, it was a controlled start. The riders would be separated into groups. Each group contained about 1,000 riders. I was in the 8th group, my rider number was 8505. Finding my group was not an easy task either. As the space was limited, they had to use few turns to accommodate all of these riders. It actually took a good 10-15 minutes to find my group so it was actually good that I went early! Long story short, I was in my group by 730am. It was an opportunity for me then to take photos and videos as I have not experienced anything like this before. The Peaks Challenges would boast only about 2,000 riders. But Letape, they definitely took it to the next level.

8am came soon enough so I departed from the start line. Similar to Peaks, they had bike-attached race number with time chip on it. As you were crossing the start line, your time started.

The first 50km was a combination of downhill, false flat (1-3%) and flat (0%). Problem was, the first time cut happened at the first rest stop in 50km which you needed to leave there by 1034am. It meant: if I left at 8am, I only had 2.5 hours to make the 50km. If it’s all downhill and flat it would be easy. But as there was some false flats and few short climbs, things get a bit challenging. So I decided to stay in the bunch as long as I could, sheltered from all the wind. I made it there safely with plenty of time left. I left that first rest stop at about 930am.

The 2nd cut-off time was at Place Aimee Gassier – Barcelonnette (~100km in). We needed to leave there by 1:21pm. That next 50km between 1st and 2nd rest stop included a category 3 climb (Cote Des Demoiselles Coiffees) which was about 7km in length but gradient was fairly shallow. Gradient did not go beyond 8%. Mostly, they were in the 4-6%. Not just this, other challenge was there was no longer any downhill, but rather false-flats. The gradient was rarely 0% if at all. It was 1-3% mostly. You should have plenty of time (nearly 3 hours) between 1st rest stop and 2nd rest stop. You only needed to average ~18km/h to make up the 50km in 3 hours.

I was pretty ahead at this time. I left the 2nd rest stop at about 11:45pm. So far legs were feeling good. I kept eating my 2 gels every hour which would have given me about 60gr of carbs + everything else that came with the gel.

The real challenges were about to come!

As I left the 2nd rest stop, at about 102km in, my front derailleur decided to stop working! I could no longer switch to the big chainring! I thought, “Oh no…”. Luckily, until the finish line, I rarely needed the big chainring. Even on the descend, I didn’t have to pedal and I still made up speed. With 33/13 combination I could muster about 30km/h which was more than sufficient for someone at my strength. The road was rarely 0% but rather false-flats all the way. A 200w on a 2% gradient would give me about 25km/h of speed; and I rarely could pedal at 200w constantly anyway. My power was mostly around 140-150w. “Phew”, I thought.

Because I was going with a tour, they had an extra rest stop which they provided you with extra nutrition such as fruits and gels. Their tent was located at 110km. The gels I was carrying initially were all finished by this time – which was as planned. So I quickly grabbed new ones and left straight away. I was actually planning to change my clothes using the valet bag but I didn’t end up doing. I was also thinking of getting my gear sorted, but again, that didn’t happen either. I was just trying to stick to my master plan: that was to stop as little and as short as possible. After collection of several gels I decided to just keep riding.

The road undulated until we were 151km in and we faced the first real mountain of the day: Col de Vars. It’s a 1st category climb: 12km in length with 10% gradient for the last 5km. It would take us to ~2101m altitude. As we arrived at the bottom of the Col, The initial sign displayed ~4.5% average gradient for 8km. “Ah..that was not going to be too hard”, I thought. It all went well, only until we hit that last 5km, the road sign then showed 10% gradient for that next 5km and the suffering did really start!

Where I live in Perth, Western Australia, we barely have long hills let alone altitude. We have some steep climbs but they’re all doable given you have the right gearing. Based on the Peaks experience, I have since been using 33/50 and 11-42 combination which I could pretty much go up anything with – even if it’s a 20%+ gradient. Now, going back to Col de Vars, the problem wasn’t so much about gearing, but rather altitude! My body – as soon as it hit above 1500m – decided to stop functioning properly! I get dizziness, and my legs could barely turn. This was when my nightmare started. I have done way steeper than 10%, but somehow that day I was on 33-42 churning 50rpm at 5km/h! What would normally take me 5-7 minutes to accomplish 1km, suddenly became 12-15 minutes. It was just a nightmare. A lot of people actually started walking their bike!

I wished I could express how I felt. That was the worst suffering I’ve ever had in my entire riding life. Slowly but surely I crested Col de Vars. People were literally walking faster than me. I could have walked, too except, from my experience at Peaks, walking was not easy either. At 10% gradient, walking would actually hurt your legs more. So, I decided to just keep pedaling. I kept looking at my Garmin wishing the distance counter would turn 1km by 1km.

After about one hour, I finally arrived at the top. At the bottom of the Col, my Garmin was showing 25km/h average speed. By the time I arrived at the top, it became 20km/h. I literally lost 5km/h just on that last 5km alone.

5km/h was A LOT! You could have arrived at the finish line 1hr+ earlier had you ridden 5km/h faster.

Anyway, what made me even more nervous was actually the upcoming Col D’ Izoard. It’s a 10km at 10%…twice longer which came after 170km in your legs. But, let’s not worry about that just yet. From Col de Vars summit, we were all rewarded with a long descend, and the scenery was super stunning. I remembered there was this crystal blue lake along the way. So while recovering on the descend, I tried to enjoy the scenery as much as I could.

At this time we were already 150km in. My legs were OK-ish at this time. As mentioned before, my problem this time was not so much about the legs but rather, altitude. Soon I stopped at the rest stop for the last time just to refill my bottle with water then I went on straight away. The temperature was showing 35 degrees! It was super hot and I still had my long-sleeve base layer on…it was all sweaty. I kind of regretted a bit that I decided not to change my clothes when I was at the tour tent stop at KM 110.

Anyway, at about 160km in, the Col D’ Izoard signboard showed up. We were now in the very last 20km of the course. The first 10km was 5.7% average which was OK. I didn’t think we were above 1500m altitude for that first 10km because my breathing and legs were fine. But then the nightmare soon started.

The next 10km (which was the last 10km of the course), was 10% and elevation was going beyond 1500m….I soon went through the same, if not, worse suffering then when I was at Col de Vars.

At this time, more and more people were walking their bike. I decided to keep pushing on with my 33/42 combination at 50rpm, 5km/h. The thought of giving up started appearing….

I started doing my calculation which if you had 10km in the distance left, and went at 5km/h, it meant that you would be climbing for 2 hours. Plus, this would all be done in an altitude where you couldn’t breath properly nor your legs could turn.

I have done climbing for more than 2 hours but not at altitude. It was totally different! It was a lot easier without the altitude. My head was heavy, breathing was hard, legs just didn’t respond.¬†I remembered my Garmin showed 95-100w only…..sigh….this was the worst feeling I’ve ever had on a bike which kind of gave me a bit of perspective how strong the pros were! They were going at 40km/h attacking each other at altitude. They were just mad!

Going back to the story of my life, I kept hanging on. At this time my brain kept saying to myself, “Let’s just give up…this is just an event…you don’t need to suffer this bad”. But, luckily my spirit was stronger! In addition to all these, I was also “bonking” at this time because my stomach could no longer swallow another gel therefore I have not had any carb/sugar in take for some good couple of hours.

Luckily, along the way there were locals selling cold sweet drinks and coke. I quickly stopped and bought a coke. The sugar boost truly helped! More and more people were walking and I was still spinning at 50rpm on 33/42 at 5km/h.

The organiser put a road sign to indicate the average gradient for every 1 kilometer. Whenever I saw 9.5-10%, my morale was just crushed. The distance indicator on my Garmin slowly ticked kilometer-by-kilometer and finally I arrived at the last 3km!

The road sign suddenly indicated it was going to be 1.5% average for the next 1 kilometer! PERFECT! It was actually a downhill and false-flat…I quickly pushed on. But then, the last 2km sign appeared too quickly. And this time, again, it would indicate 9.5%.

“It’s only going to be another 30 minutes and I’ll be at the finish line”, I thought. I could also hear people cheering and the summit was actually visible from where I was. This was when I got a huge morale boost. Somehow, roque energy started appearing from nowhere…from 5km/h I went almost double the speed at 9.5-10km/h! I kept spinning, grit my teeth and passed a lot of cyclists. Legs were hurting but I could not contain my excitement to arrive at the finish line. Maybe this was probably the closest glimpse I’ve ever had on how the pros were feeling when they attacked knowing they have distanced their rivals.

There were two more switch backs and 500m to go then I would arrive at the finish line. I knew I was in a good hand and I would make it to the finish line way within the time limit. So I decided to stop to take few photos near the top. Once finished, I grit my teeth once again and rode away. Finally I made it…I crossed the finish line in 10 hours 20 minutes.

At the top, I took few more videos and stayed there for few minutes before I started my descend back to the village in Briancon. My wife was eagerly waiting for me at Briancon. I collected my medal and pasta then we celebrated and took lots of photos back at the village! They had some podiums and stuff prepared.

Out of the 16,000+ that started, only about 11,000 made it. The rest was DNF. I was ~9100th rider to make it to the finish line.

CONCLUSION

This was probably the first event which I had my worst feeling on a bike. Don’t get me wrong, I was suffering hard during Peaks Challenge, but this one somehow felt worse.

During Peaks my legs were hurting, but at Letape it was the altitude that killed me. Worse, I don’t know if I can ever be better trained for it in the future because where I live, I don’t have any mountains with that altitude. Even if I go to Australian alps, nothing goes that high.

A lot of these strong cyclists have been in the mountainous altitude area for few weeks before the event. Therefore, their body was already adapting to altitude. Man…I wish I could express that feeling of dizziness, wanting to vomit, etc. You could never understand how lack of oxygen felt like until you were on altitude.

All in all, it was an another eye-opener for me. It humbled me so much and truly made me a better cyclist. I can now have a better appreciation of them pros regardless of their ranks. And most importantly, I have a lot higher respect for mountains! Never underestimate a mountain….

In the end I was stopping for only 20 mins in total which I was very happy with. Letape du Tour is definitely the event you should go for at least once in your life. The atmosphere was like no other. You could never get the same experience anywhere in the world. Along the way, the locals would come out to watch and cheer for us even though we were only mere amateurs. They even put a road sign with dates to remind the locals of these two events: Letape and the actual Stage 18. That’s just how much they were into cycling.

Another thing I noticed was the French cyclists were not too talkative…they were quiet most of the time. The British were talkative but definitely not the French. This was the atmosphere which I missed from Australia. During Peaks I would be chatting to a lot of people: we would have talked about groupset, bikes, etc. During Letape however, people were mostly quiet. Those who were talking were already mates anyway.

So, just to conclude this blog post, should you participate in Letape, ensure you have enough gearing and train yourself at an altitude. Without these two, you would suffer badly like I did. I just want to say that I may never want to put myself in that suffering position anymore…lol…yep, it was that bad! In the meantime I’m happy to just go for local events and daily work commute.

Enjoy the photos below.

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