Preparing for the CR 'oktoberfest' ride

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By Nestor

One thing Cyprus has in abundance is a sense of its own ‘islandness’. This small lump of rock in the eastern Mediterranean has had a tumultuous past, but as this is a cycling blog I’ll spare you the history lesson. We created Cyprusroadie in part to celebrate the landscape and diversity of this place, and that includes the whole island, not just the Republic. So the urge to one day get on our bikes and just keep riding around the coast until we returned to our starting point has been simply irresistible.

Doing so isn’t as daunting as circumventing larger land masses like Britain, Australia, or even Africa; it’s within the realms of possibility even for us amatuer pedalleurs, Zwifters and weekend warriors. So after a long gestation period the time has finally come to do it. And do it hauling around all our essentials. What’s now known as Bikepacking.

Ok, not that kind of bikepacking. Or this kind. What we have in mind is credit-card bikepacking, or more simply, bike touring. Only thing is, none of us actually have dedicated touring bikes, instead we’re going to roll out on an array of machines - basically whatever we can lay our hands on. A sort of bike equivalent of the Cannonball Run…

I’m planning to load up my road bike; Simon intends to convert his old Kinesis CX frame into a sort-of-touring machine; Adam’s going to ride his Land Shark (a beautiful custom steel bike of the early noughties), my old friend Michalis is bringing a beautiful carbon Santa Cruz Stigmata gravel bike, and Richard… well who knows? Either his old Cube frame, or a newer Fuji SL, a replacement for the one he crashed a few weeks ago trying to avoid a bee (…that’s another story). Oh, and that’s if he gets over the broken finger he suffered stand-up-paddling.

Of course this is bike-packing Lite. Stripping out sleeping gear and catering stuff makes everything far simpler. But it won't be a frivolous, touristy affair, and that’s because we plan to cover some distance, quite some distance in fact, and in not so much time.

Circumventing the island - almost

As usual, the ride starts from Enaerios pier on the seafront in Limassol. This has become the de facto starting point for lots of our CR bike rides. Simon’s idea (to which he’s still ideologically wed…) is to ride as closely as we can to the actual coastline at all times in order to cover the maximum distance in two days. Now anyone with a passable grasp of route planning would find this preposterous - it would mean about 350km per day - more than twice the distance any of us have ever ridden in a day, bar him perhaps. And riding quite a big chunk of it on gravel.

So I reined in those ambitions, trying instead to keep our daily distances at a sane level and our bikes on surfaces where they behave the best. So three days it is. This still means a grand total of 620+ km and 6,000m of climbing. This won't be a ride in the park.

The plan is to spread the load as much as possible, by shortening the big climbing day, and extending the two flatter days. We’re also steering clear of any really heavy climbing, avoiding diversions into Pentadaktylos (the range of hills that run the length of northern Cyprus) and focussing instead on covering the distance.

Day 1: We’ll cover 214km plus around 1500m of climbing. We’ll ride to tip of the Karpas ‘panhandle’, and stay overnight at the ‘Sea Bird Motel’, near the Apostolos Andreas monastery.

Day 2: This one’s a longer, tougher proposition with 243km of riding and 2,500m of ascent. We’ll traverse the whole of the north going East to West, stopping at Kato Pyrgos for the night, at ‘Tylos Beach Hotel’.

Day 3: The finale - a return leg through Polis and Paphos. This one’s a mere158km long with around 2,400m of climbing.

Wind speed and direction will also be a factor. The question of clockwise or anti-clockwise direction of travel was deliberated, but after studying historical wind data (oh yes) and thinking that it’d be best to have a tailwind on the last day, we chose anti-clockwise. So Larnaca first it is…

A mountain of food

These sort of distances, and the energy requirements that go with them, aren’t unprecedented of course - there is a huge and vibrant Audax community across the world routinely ticking off century after century. Grand Tour riders gobble up stages with stats like these for fun - and they do it for three weeks, not three days. But we’re neither long-distance ultracyclists, nor professionals. We are - at least in terms of cycling feats - mere average Joes.

The first time - so the saying goes - is always the hardest. My aim is to make sure I get back home in one piece and ideally still able to walk and talk, and if there’s one thing endurance exercise has taught me, it’s the importance of fueling and hydrating properly.

Calories out

Ignoring the fact that humans are complicated living organisms with feedback loops, hormones, resting needs and loads of batshit-strange stuff going on under the surface, I plan to approach this as a simple energy in, energy out problem. How much energy will I need to ride 620km? How much should I eat to avoid being in deficit? The goal is not to lose - or gain - weight; the goal is simply to make it back in a non-morbid state.

So at a minimum this should be a zero-sum game. Wearable tech has made these calculations a lot easier than it used to be. The gold-standard way is to visit a lab and have a bunch of scientists test your metabolism at various exercise levels (using HR is another way to go about it), but for us a power meter is basically all you need. It simply cuts all the guesswork out (provided that it’s properly calibrated) because it measures your body’s output directly, which can be converted to calories by a power x time calculation.

Energy needs per day (kcal)

That's a *lot* of food

However, this is not what the human body expends, because we don't all have the same metabolic efficiency. Dr Andrew Coggan, the celebrated exercise physiologist who developed the science of power meter training thinks that we’re generally not very good at it. In fact our efficiency is as low as 15% and hovers just over 20% depending on intensity level, which means that the energy our bodies use up when cycling can be more than five times the energy that actually reaches the pedals.

Take a look at the following table. It shows 6 recent rides I’ve done, of varying length and difficulty. It also includes a 160km preparation session of the sort of intensity we’ll be probably using during Oktoberfest.

Since 1 KJ is 0.239006 kcal, Garmin seems to think that I have a metabolic efficiency of 24%. I beg to differ, and I believe this is something they should address. Xert, an online training platform (which CR plans to review soon), is more realistic with this and uses a value around 21%, which results in higher energy expenditures. So the kcal/h column above should be reading at least 10% higher.

Armed with this knowledge, here’s the plan:

The ‘afterburner’, is the additional energy expenditure from the charged-up metabolism that happens after the activity is over. The ‘base needs’ are what my body needs for its basic functions, and it’s close to what I would burn on a day sitting on my ass doing nothing. By the way, 18,270 kcal is a lot of food. It’s about 174 medium bananas, 72 slices of pizza or a stomach-churning 142 kilos of steamed broccoli (!)

Those will be barely enough. Image:  Unsplash

Those will be barely enough. Image: Unsplash

Exercise nutrition comes mainly from carbohydrates, the principal fuel source of physical activity. Low-intensity activities rely predominantly on fat (of which we all have abundant reserves of, even in the bodies of pro athletes), which tends to become less central with elevated intensity. Athletes (and people in general) display varying levels of fat adaptation (the ability to use fat as the primary fuel source at higher levels of stress), which is largely genetic, but can also be trained. I’m pretty sure mine is low, and I suspect the same of my fellow riding companions. If we strive to make use of our body fat as a fuel we’ll have to be pootling along, which may be the strategy to go for, but it’s also rather impractical. None of us want to be on the bike for more than 10 hours a day.

Calories in

The energy demands of the rides themselves should therefore be fuelled by carbs AND fat.  I’m a bit out of my depth here as I’m not a nutritionist, but I will guesstimate 30% of those energy demands will be met by fat, and 70% from carbs. These ratios depend on intensity, which is not the same for all as we display varying levels of fitness, even though we’ll all be going at the same pace. They also depend on levels of fat adaptation.

Knowing that there are nine calories in each gram of fat, and four in carbs, it’s easy to calculate the following:

So this is a staggering 3.2kg of food, just to fuel the rides. The rest of the energy required to stay alive will be supplied by a mixture of carbs and protein ideally, and for the necessary muscle rebuilding and re-stocking of the depleted glycogen stores. There is a limit on how much carbohydrate a human gut can absorb, and it is dependent on sex, age and adaptation. An upper limit would be around 80-90g per hour, which presents a problem. We will essentially be in caloric deficit using the assumptions above, which will have to be covered off-bike, so riding eyeballs-out would be a very poor strategy.

So, in non-scientific terms, the plan is:

  1. Carb-load during a few days prior to the ride. Potatoes, rice, bananas - that sort of thing.

  2. Absolutely stuff our face with simple carbohydrates during the ride. Haribos, dry fruits, maybe gels and energy bars. Have frequent stops for real food, human bodies tend to like this.

  3. Raid the buffet a la Homer Simpson at night, targeting lots of protein, veggies, fruits and carbs. Protein may come from plant sources of course, but we’ll just need more of it.

A very interesting resource is the recent data dumb by team Sky on the BBC website after Chris Froome’s astonishing Stage 19 win at the 2018 Giro. Without going into too much detail, this is the sort of approach they used to fuel his ride. Any other parallels stop here, obviously.

Training

Training for a specific bike ride is not how I usually do things. Since I’m not racing, the goal is usually to be as fit as possible, at least able to keep up on the climbs with the rest, something I very often fail at. The goal is also to do weekend rides at the group’s pace without feeling like a zombie at the end. I know all about the form cycles, training periodisation, polarised vs sweetspot etc, but I usually don't take this more seriously than I think my level deserves.

For real improvements one should do structured training, I hear all serious cyclist say. This should be focussed on the event, and it should be followed pretty much religiously to have the desired effect. A plan focussing on the event is easy - I just had to look for plans targeting stupid miles per day, but following it with zeal is more challenging. How do I fit it in around all the other stuff happening in my life?

Zwift has recently started to offer comprehensive plans that target specific events. There is one for TT, one for crit racing, a ‘generic’ FTP building one, and a couple big-mile, endurance-focussed ones. I chose the most ambitious of the two, promising fitness for a 100k ride. Sigh.

I subscribe a lot to Dr Stephen Seiler polarized approach, which advocates avoiding doing sweetspot training (a fitness black hole as he calls it) and instead concentrate on long Zone1 stints, peppered with hard efforts at VO2 max and above territory. It’s the first time I made a kinda serious effort to follow this spirit, but I’m not sure how that went. Guess I’ll soon find out.

I tried to complete as many of the plan’s sessions prescribed, but I did all the ‘long rides’ in the programme riding outside, away from the trainer. I also peppered it with some freeriding on Zwift, and a few Xert-prescribed workouts, a topic which I will revisit in the future.

Do I feel ready? Not really. But I shouldn’t stress about it - worst that can happen is to climb off the bike and get a very long taxi ride back home. But I’m determined not to.

The bike

Riding a road bike for such a long distance is not really what it was designed to do, but the versatility offered by the new bike breeds is very, very welcome indeed. I only intend to do a couple of changes: First, run larger volume tyres at lower pressures for added compliance, which is now possible with the provided clearance. I have already fitted it with 28c tubeless rubber, a pair of Hutchinson Fusion5 11storm Performance (that is a long name indeed) that I’ve been running for a couple of weeks now, and they are supple, speedy and grippy. I could even have gone bigger perhaps.

I also ditched the Lizardskins sticky tape for some old-fashioned cork tape, which is less luxurious to the touch, but absorbs more vibrations. And that’s about it. I‘m not going to make any changes that might alter the fit, so no new saddle, pedals or shoes. I’m sticking with what works best for me.

There has been a lot of debate amongst us about what to bring along and where to store it. In the end I opted for a frame bag by Blackburn mainly because I’m sceptical of the impact of heavy saddlebags on handling, and because my 58cm frame can take quite a lot in the frame triangle. Added to this is a small Deuter toptube bag for easy access to food.

Space is therefore extremely limited, and I have to be very economical with my gear choices. Here’s what I plan to have along, and needless to say that it will be a pretty ‘smelly’ tour :)

Electronics etc.

  1. External battery & the right cables

  2. Charger (phone, Garmin, lights, cameras etc.)

  3. Coin cell battery (for power metres, HR monitors etc.)

  4. Front & back lights + mounts

Normal clothes etc.

  1. Pair of flipflops

  2. Pair of shorts

  3. T-shirt

  4. Sleeping t-shirt

  5. Underwear (x1)

  6. Toiletries

Cycling wearables

  1. Extra cycling socks

  2. Extra bibs

  3. Extra jersey

  4. Wind vest

Other essentials

  1. Hydration tablets

  2. Suncream

  3. Contact lenses + solution (small bottle) + reading glasses

  4. Passport

  5. Cash - TC places may not accept cards

  6. Health insurance card

Food

  1. Energy bars

  2. Dry fruits

  3. Recovery powder (x2 sachets)

CyprusRoadie and friends will be riding around the island between the 12th and 14th of October 2018. Keep an eye on our Facebook and Instagram pages for pictures and updates as they happen. And of course we’ll have a full write up and video once we’ve (hopefully) made it back.