On the ski hills, on the bike trails, and thru life in general

Posts tagged ‘Tour de l’Alberta’

Ahead By a Century

Although I’ve done a lot of longish rides over the past 9 years I have never ridden a true “century”, i.e 100 miles (161 km) or more. I came close 2 years ago when I rode the 150 km route in the Tour de l’Alberta, which turned out to actually be 153 km. You’d think I could tack on 8 more km but that’s not where my head was at when closing in on the finish line. I just wanted to get off that torturous bike saddle!

This year the TdA had a new organizer – the Town of Morinville took over from the Edmonton Bicycle and Touring Club (EBTC), which had run the ride for the previous 20 years. The biggest change was the routes. In the past, EBTC had 2 long routes – 150 km and 180 km. This year, Morinville dropped a few destination towns and consolidated the long rides in favour of a single 160 km ride. Fortunately, the 160 km turned out to be almost 166 km, so I could get my century in. Why they didn’t label it as that, I don’t know.

Since a scheduling conflict meant that I couldn’t do the Banff Gran Fondo for ATB later in the month, I wore their kit in this ride.

Mike grinding it out east of Legal. Mike grinding it out east of Legal.

For the past 20 years, the Tour de l’Alberta had been held on the last Sunday of the Tour de France. And every year the weather has been perfect for the ride. This year, for reasons of their own and late in the planning process, Morinville changed the date to 2 weeks later, in this case August 9th. Besides upsetting people’s schedules – I know of at least 2 couples who planned trips in early August just so they could be free to ride the TdA on its usual date in July – everyone was fearful of the wrath of the weather gods. Would we still have it sunny and warm, as usual, or rainy and windy? The weather gods are known to be capricious and it doesn’t take much to piss them off! Thankfully, they must have been busy flooding some town in China or scorching an area of BC because the day was perfect. If anything, it was too hot, maxing out at 30C.

As in the GF Highwood, I hooked up with a good paceline and we averaged 32kph for the first 53 km to Westlock. And, just as with the GF Highwood, I flatted – this time at 76 km. There went my paceline and I ended up riding the rest of the route on my own, unable to find another group that went at my pace. Although the “official” lunch stop for the 160 km riders was in Westlock, we were there before 10 a.m., not exactly lunch time. I arrived in Legal – the lunch stop for the shorter routes –  after around 90 km, at a more lunch worthy time. I downed a few goodies, replenished my water and met with some of the other riders in our club.

Mike and Archie in ATB kit, with some other RMSSC riders in Legal. Mike and Archie in ATB kit, with some other RMSSC riders in Legal. Our club had about 30 riders participating in the Tour. I was the only one doing the 160 km route.

By the time I hit the 115 km mark, it was getting warmer than I like and I was starting to get cramps in my legs. I was downing lots of fluid but didn’t have any salt tablets or electrolyte replacement. I slowed down my pace, hoping that would help, but to no avail. The further I went, the more my legs cramped. At the 142 km rest stop, I walked around and stretched, besides gulping Gatorade, until things started to feel ok. I got back on the bike and made it about 2 km before the cramps kicked in with a vengeance. It felt like every muscle in my legs – quads, calves, hams, shins – spasmed all at once. Somehow I was able to dismount and just stood there. Trying to stretch one muscle seemed to set the opposing muscle off! I stiff-walked around for about 5 minutes then decided, what the heck, just gut it out. I rode slowly and, as long as I kept my legs moving, the cramps weren’t too bad. I was worried about a long uphill portion but it proved to be no problem. Once I turned onto the final 10 km section, I was feeling relatively fine and was able to average 30 kph into Morinville.

Lesson learned? Have electrolyte replacement tablets, powder or drink for hot days on long rides! Another lesson learned? Jens Voight was right – “shut up legs” works! Focus the mind and you are stronger than you think you are. I was truly ready to quit at the 142 km rest stop and if someone had offered me a ride back I probably would have taken it. I am SO glad, and proud, that I finished that ride on my own!

Tour de l’Alberta 2013

The big cycling event for me, for the past 5 years, has been the Tour de l’Alberta.  This ride (not a race, though some people consider it as such) is the largest single-day ride in Alberta, with 1500 riders participating this past Sunday in 5 km, 15 km, 50 km, 100 km, 150 km and 185 km routes. It is put on by the Edmonton Bicycle and Touring Club (EBTC), the bike club that I belong to, and is always held on the final day of the Tour de France.  Since Edmonton has numerous French communities scattered around it, the routes are planned so that we pass through a number of them north of the city (Morinville, St. Albert, Legal, Bon Accord) to give the ride a French flavour. The lunch stop in Legal even serves tortierres!

For the first 4 years that I rode it, I did the 100 km route with 3 or 4 other members of our ski club cycling group. More of our members rode it but were either faster or slower than my group, so we didn’t see them until the rest stops or the finish.

TdA 2009. Mitch, Wayne, Dick, Mike and Robbie.

TdA 2009. Mitch, Wayne, Dick, Mike and Robbie.

TdA 2010. Mike, at Legal lunch stop.

TdA 2010. Mike, at Legal lunch stop.

TdA 2010. Seated, from left, Robbie, Wayne, Max, Dick, Gerry, Mike, Darryl.

TdA 2010. Seated, from left, Robbie, Wayne, Max, Dick, Gerry, Mike, Darryl.

TdA 2011. Mike, Robbie, Dick

TdA 2011. Mike, Robbie, Dick

This year, the club decided to add a 150 km route to the menu, so I though I would go for this challenge. Only one other rider from our regular group, Wayne, figured he was in good enough shape to try it too, so at least I had some company.

EBTC holds weekly training rides to build up speed and endurance over the summer but, due to weather and/or other commitments, the longest ride that I managed was only 96 km. Even though I got in over 2100 km of cycling on the hybrid and road bike since May, I was not too confident in my ability to chew off a 150 km ride.  After all, it was over 50% longer than my longest ride this year. Hell, my longest ride EVER was only 105 km. A randonneur I am not!

I had 2 main concerns – legs and butt.  I have experienced leg cramps a few times in past tours, usually around the 90 km mark, but always pedaled through them for the last 10 km.  If that happened this year, an extra 50 km would not be much fun. As for the butt concern, I was having second and third thoughts about the seat that came with my new bike.  Even on our normal 50 – 60 km rides, my sit bones would be yelling at me!  I tried different cycling shorts and even chamois cream, though chafing was not a problem, but(t) my ass and the saddle just didn’t want to get along.  Too late to buy and try a new saddle, so I donned my most comfortable shorts, greased up, and off I went.

Check out the 150 km route and my metrics here.


I had been telling myself to start slow and feel things out – give the legs time to find a rhythm, stand up and shift around a lot to give my butt a break. Well, I did the latter all right but the former?  Not so much.  We averaged 32 kph for the first hour, which may not sound too fast to some people but it’s pretty fast for me, and averaged 29 kph by the 140 km mark. We slowed down considerably for the last 10 km and finished with a 28.7 kph average.  And no leg cramping!  The constant shifting around on the saddle seemed to help too.  My butt was getting uncomfortably sore at around 130 km but nothing I couldn’t handle for another 20 km (actually 23.7 km. They lied – as is usual with these rides, 150 km turned into something longer. In this case 153.7 km).

TdA 2013. Wayne and Mike with finish line celebratory popsicles.

TdA 2013. Wayne and Mike with finish line celebratory popsicles.

The only bad part of the ride was I got a flat when I hit a pothole hiding in a puddle. It had only stopped raining an hour before the ride, so there were lots of puddles to start the day. We were in a paceline of 6 or 8 riders and by the time someone ahead had his water bottle knocked out of the cage by the impact, it was too late for me to avoid the hole.  Unlike the TdF, no team cars were following so Wayne and I changed the tube and were back on the road after not much of a delay.  All in all, a very good day.  I slept well that night. And with even more respect for the TdF riders who do much longer rides at much higher speeds for days on end.  Asses of steel they must have.

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