It’s time to get the long distance training miles done and legs ready for the upcoming race in Portugal. I know I’ll be up early, struggling to sleep, working hard every day and strategizing about how to avoid unnecessary stops on the way before I know it.

The best way to get mentally focused is to take a few long days before the race starts. I neglected to do this last time in 2015 (damn newbie) but this time round I know what to expect and what not to be complacent or ignorant about.

Without thinking too much about specifics, I planned two weekends in April, one week ” normal  training” in between them to get dawn to dusk rides under my belt. Basically ride tempo as far and as long as I can.

Because I was sick for a couple weeks before leaving I decided to take it easy on the way out, aiming for 100 miles only. I figure this way there will be enough options to bail out if I’m not up to the task, or if weakness calls.

The setup I’m riding is my Cervelo R3 with my winter wheel set. OK, I admit it, I only own one set. A winter set. Mud flap over the rear wheel and a new chain, bottom bracket and brakes are installed by my mechanic. I rode the bike pretty hard for a week in California and also around Montreal every time the weather cleared enough to get out in March. It was definitely due for some love and a good tune-up.

Pack-wise, I choose a heavy setup to deliberately work a bit harder. I have a backpack with 2 litres water, a change of clothes, toiletries along with a winter jacket, hat and a few other clothing items in case it gets cold out there. I also put some extra hi5 electrolytes in the backpack, along with a backup GPS (Garmin Etrex 20) and wallet, passport etc.

I am using a half size frame bag for all my tools, spare tubes, minor replacement parts along with meds, creams and other heavier items. This bag is made by Alpkit. Installed on the handlebar is an Alpkit grab bag for food. This is preferable for me over a top tube caddy because you can just reach in and easily take what you need, and it doesn’t compromise balance like unzipping or coaxing narrow openings when you’re hungry and tired.

For me, the real test of this gear is that is doesn’t impede performance when I’m tired or hungry or suffering in any other way. Wherever possible, this philosophy has been used to guide choices, especially when weight-saving options might appear on the surface to be a better choice.

In my experience, saving a few grams is only worthwhile if it enhances performance. A mis-grabbed gel can easily lead to a crash, or a slow-down, or just a lapse of mental focus. I’d rather be 100% confident to fuel without loss of momentum.

So, I have 6 bars of various brands, 6 gels and a packet of chocolate covered almonds. I am steering completely clear of sugar other than the chocolate. No en-route sodas either. In one bottle on the frame, I have Hammer Perpetuum. In my backpack I have a couple of litres of pretty highly concentrated hi5.

What else? Rapha Pro bib shorts, my new POC helmet, new winter gloves (which I am very thankful for on this ride) and I am ready to roll.

Breakfast is short and sweet – some French toast and a small sandwich. Coffee, and it’s time to saddle up. I live on the 4th floor of my walk-up, so I have worked out a system to avoid return trips up the stairs. Regardless, I always forget something, and this little ritual has turned into a kind of good luck moment for me.

I’m wheels rolling my 8:30am. Here we go.

Part 2

Earlier in the week, I spent some time to download the .gpx file for both the out and back route. This was a real battle (see post here: http://www.bikebag.ca/single-post/2017/04/06/Garmin-Connect-Express-meet-Google-Map-Earth-%E2%80%93-aka-a-whole-load-of-gpx-Stress), but I finally figured it out and when I set off Saturday my new Garmin Oregon 600 was actually loaded with the route. A minor triumph.

My experience racing Trans Portugal 2015 taught me that it was pretty easy (for me anyway) to overshoot the GPS track and end up a mile, two miles or more down the road before remembering to check where I was. Not only that, but on one fateful occasion the Oregon 550 I was using glitched badly and sent me in a huge circle around a track which I had already covered once. There was a pretty big temper tantrum in the woods that day.

This time the technology is working well and I’m following “track up” and heading to the Jacques-Cartier Bridge to cross the St Lawrence Seaway and get to the South Shore. Leaving Montreal by bike has limited options in any direction, since it involves a bridge crossing, and only a few bridges have bike lane options.

If I mentioned temper tantrums a couple lines back, it would be prescient, because when I reach the entrance to the bridge, I find it blocked and barricaded and politely advised to turn around. It’s not a good start. I’ve ridden to the furthest point to cross from my place because it allows me to connect better with the Route Verte that will take me to Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu.

However, I rise about this setback and track back to find another option. Fortunately for me, The bike link between the South Shore (Saint-Lambert) and Parc Jean-Drapeau has just opened (like the day before!). This is good news for me, otherwise I’d be facing another 15km backtrack to cross from Nun’s Island, which I avoided in the first place due to construction on the new Champlain Bridge.

OK, well at least I’m across the river and in order to celebrate, I deviate immediately from the Route Verte and take on a Flying Crow formation taking me on exactly the same wrong route that I tried to figure out a couple years ago when I rode to New York City. Bravo. This time I know where to intersect the Route again, and sure enough, after only going down one highway entrance by mistake, find myself in Longueuil and intersecting my new friend, the blue line.

Now I’m in cruise mode. It’s a smooth, dedicated path to Fort de Chambly. Except for a special snowy section. From there the Route turns south towards Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu. Unfortunately, I can’t ride the Levy, which is water-logged and impassable on my road tires so I have to stick to the road that parallels it instead.

South of Richelieu, I head into farm country which today is basically wind country. It’s not that it’s so cold, more that the jet stream is howling and I’m heading almost directly into it or, even more fun, its cross-winding me from the right side hard across farm fields and miles of cold brown dirt.

More to come….