Saturday, 4 July 2009

Bliss Was It That Dawn To Be Alive...

Naxos Dawn Ride

...as Wordsworth wrote apropos the French Revolution. Hmm, that turned out well...

If I'm going to tackle Ventoux in the autumn, it's going to be necessary to cycle up and down a few mountains, being as most of the landscape around Birmingham would be more accurately described as 'bumpy' than 'mountainous'.

And just to show willing, and acknowledge that I'm way behind on training (I blame the weather), I'm even prepared to train on holiday. We're in Naxos for a couple of weeks, staying at a friend's place. Luckily it has two things that I need - hills and a bicycle to use (all I have to do is service it, which I've always taken a perverse pleasure in anyway!).

I've done a few warm-up rides into Naxos Town, but today I'm tackling the hill at the centre of the island.

The hill is more of a mountain really, fully 1,000m high (that's 1 kilometre, or 0.621 miles to those still working in pounds, shillings and pence). That's about half of Ventoux, but it's a start...

The only problem is that it's about 100 degrees in the shade, so long rides during the day are very much mad dogs and Englishmen territory. The only answer is to get up at 6.00am before the sun's even over the hills.

Wordsworth did have a point, though, there's something very uplifting about the freshness of the early morning, especially when you know that most people are still in bed (including, sensibly, my wife).

The old millhouse we're staying in is along a donkey track from a country road, which immediately faces you with a 1 in 10 climb. Thankfully it then settles down as the road meanders across a waterless moonscape on which the only life seems to be goats and their shepherds (goatherds, surely?).

After 45 minutes and ten miles and I'm at the hill town of Filoti. This is where the real climb starts, 5 miles of relentless, winding hill up to the top. But it's still only 7.15am, I have a Mars bar and can of coke in my bag, and someone even waves to encourage me on - rather like the French shouting 'chapeau' (hats off!) as you cycle uphill.

The hill is far easier than I expect - there's very little traffic, the gradient is only about 5% and this side of the mountain is still mostly in stage and quite cool. As I ascend, the view changes and I start to look down on the hill town and towards the sea in the distance. And then I come up to the height of a church, perched high on a neighbouring hilltop.

And then I'm at the top. Always an exhilerating feeling - and it's only 8.30am. I'm less than halfway around my 30 miles loop, but most of the rest should be downhill. Another 4 miles and I'm at the true summit -it's always the way. And I have 15 miles of almost uninterrupted downhill. That's more like it, with the wind rushing past and virtually no pedaling. 2 hours of uphill is over in 45 minutes and I'm back at the house, ready for breakfast at 9.30am, surprisingly fresh and a full day of holiday to enjoy.

Now why can't I force myself to do that in England?

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