Sunday, September 14, 2014

cycling in Basel, Switzerland: Gempen climb from Dornach

On Friday afternoon, I decided to try again for a paved climb up to Gempen. I wanted to climb the road I'd descended on Thursday, the one I'd seen so many riders climbing. My nominal goal was a Strava top 10. I thought this should be attainable from the VAMs I saw on the leaderboard if I was feeling good.

I decided to head out along the Rhein, crossing the river near where I was staying to the northern shore (German-side, but not Germany here), then heading east, crossing again near where the Birs river feeds into the Rhein from the south. Then I'd head southward to Dornach and begin the climb from there. I once again used Strava route-find, this time putting constraint points at the base of the climb and at the river crossing where I planned to recross the Rhein southward.

I was mostly able to follow the thus designed route, and it was again an okay route, but not as scenic as I'd hope. That bridge crossing wasn't great, with some slightly dicey navigation immediately following, but I made it fine into Dornach. Once there I clearly missed a turn because I found myself climbing a decently steep residential road. I viewed this as good warm-up for the main climb, and the power numbers I was seeing were fine for my perceived exertion, despite having done a middle-distance run after my ride the day before. At the top of this climb I stopped to check my position, and realized I'd taken an alternate, hillier route which got me with minimal added distance to the base of the main climb, which I could reach from this point via a short descent. So it worked out fine.

So there I was, at the outer edge of Dornach. The climb itself didn't begin immediately, the road starting generally flat before gradually transitioning into pure climbing mode. I wasn't sure where the segment began, so I needed to begin at a decent yet fully sustainable tempo before ramping up the effort only when I was sure I was on the segment. I expected the climb to take around 14 minutes.



Here's the profile, along with the grade. Comparing to Old La Honda, it's very similar in distance, but it gains close to 100 meters less. From where I hit the lap button (where I felt like the real climbing began) to where the grade finally drops toward zero is 5.2 km and 295 meters, an average grade of 5.7%. In contrast Old La Honda gains 394 meters in 5.4 km, an average grade of 7.3%. So the climb is clearly easier.

The day before there had been two weed-trimmers working the fringe of the road, and today they were still there. They presented no delay, however, as one passed me going the opposite way, and for the other I was waved pass in the opposite lane. Vehicle traffic was otherwise very light: just a few cars. The temperature was moderately warm. I was wearing my shorts, a wool undershirt I didn't need, my jersey, gloves, my Poc helmet, and a Poc cycling cap under that. Despite being a bit overdressed, I was fine, however. I'd rather be too warm than too cold.

But for some reason my power just wasn't where it's been this year on Old La Honda. I pushed and pushed but my legs just wouldn't let me keep it there. As I passed ten minutes, I tried to ramp it up a bit, not knowing when I'd reach the top. But as 13, then 14 minutes passed I still wasn't in sight of the buildings marking the outer fringes of Gempen, and the end of the segment. FInally I saw them, and the grade relented a bit as I approached. I'd been "ramping up" the effort for too long at this point, my lap timer now exceeding 16 minutes, and I was unable to avoid letting the power drop with the reduced grade. The penalty for doing so isn't as severe on gradual slopes, however, and I reached what I knew was the end.

The road continued to climb through the town, and on this portion I rode at strictly recovery mode, feeling fatigued from my effort. I knew from my time I was going to be disappointed with my Strava ranking. Why the bad legs? Loss of fitness from insufficient riding in the very busy weeks leading into my last week before leaving for Switzerland? Having run each of the preceding two days with insufficient running base? Residual jet lag after having arrived only the Monday 4 days prior?

I didn't think jet lag was a large factor at this point, but the running and fitness loss likely were. In any case, it was what it was.


Here's my power during the climb, comparing with what my power's been in recent Old La Hondas done on the Wednesday noon ride. You can see the rate of power loss during the climb is similar in all cases, it's just that the power on the Swiss climb is lower. The result was a 42nd place on one of the Strava segments for the climb, 51st for the slightly more extended one I'd been targeting (I lost rank on the reduced grade portion where my power had slackened). I was around a minute over my target 10th place. To reach 10th, I'd have needed to not only close the gap to my Old La Honda powers, but to go a bit higher still, as could be expected for a climb of shorter duration. With how my legs had felt on that climb that simply wasn't going to happen.

I'll have another chance, at least, before I leave Switzerland. Next week I'm working out of my company's Zurich office. Hopefully I can work in some decent runs that week despite my relatively long Basel - Zurich - Basel commute. This isn't a "riding" or even "training" trip, but hopefully I can find a way to at least retain what limited fitness I had. Indeed since my 50 km race in April, this year has been a massive downer on the training and fitness front due to work and moving. The goal on this trip is to get myself pointed in the right direction.

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