Eiger Bike Challenge 2018

Posted on August 13, 2018 with tags cycling. Part 3 of a 5-part series on bike races.

So… another “fun” ride. Probably the most fun ever, both subjectively and in terms of Strava’s relative effort level. And that despite it being the “short” version of the race (55km/2’500m ascent vs. 88km/3’900m).

It all started very nicely. About five weeks ago, I started the Sufferfest climbing plan, and together with some extra cross-training, I was going very strong, feeling great and seeing my fitness increasing constantly. I was quite looking forward to my first time at this race.

Then, two weeks ago, after already having registered, family gets sick, then I get sick—just a cold, but with a persistent cough that has not gone away even after two weeks. The week I got sick my training plan went haywire (it was supposed to be the last heavy week), and the week of the race itself I was only half-recovered so I only did a couple of workouts.

With two days before the race, I was still undecided whether to actually try to do it or not. Weather was quite cold, which was on the good side (I was even a bit worried about too cold in the morning), then it turned to the better.

So, what do I got to lose? I went to the start of the 55km version. As to length, this is on the easy side. But it does have 2’500m of ascent, which is a lot for me for such a short ride. I’ve done this amount of ascent before—2017 BerGiBike, long route—but that was “spread” over 88km of distance and in lower temperatures and with quite a few kilograms fewer (on my body, not on the bike), and still killed me.

The race starts. Ten minutes in, 100m gained; by 18 minutes, 200m already. By 1h45m I’m done with the first 1’000m of ascent, and at this time I’m still on the bike. But I was also near the end of my endurance reserve, and even worse, at around 1h30m in, the sun was finally high enough in the sky to start shining on my and temperature went from 7-8°C to 16°. I pass Grosse Scheidegg on the bike, a somewhat flat 5k segment follows to the First station, but this flat segment still has around 300m of ascent, with one portion that VeloViewer says is around 18% grade. After pedalling one minute at this grade, I give up, get off the bike, and start pushing.

And once this mental barrier of “I can bike the whole race” is gone, it’s so much easier to think “yeah, this looks steep, let’s get off and push” even though one might still have enough reserves to bike uphill. In the end, what’s the difference between biking at 5km/h and pushing at 4.0-4.3km/h? Not much, and heart rate data confirms it.

So, after biking all the way through the first 1’100m of ascent, the remainder 1’400m were probably half-biking, half-pushing. And that might still be a bit generous. Temperatures went all the way up to 32.9°C at one point, but went back down a bit and stabilised at around 25°. Min/Avg/Max overall were 7°/19°/33° - this is not my ideal weather, for sure.

Other fun things:

  • Average (virtual) power over time as computed by VeloViewer went from 258W at 30m, to 230W at the end of first hour, 207W at 2h, 164W at 4h, and all the way down to 148W at the end of the race.
  • The brakes faded enough on the first long descend that in one corner I had to half-way jump of the bike and stop it against the hill; I was much more careful later to avoid this, which lead to very slow going down gravel roads (25-30km/h, not more); I need to fix this ASAP.
  • By last third of the race, I was tired enough that even taking a 2 minutes break didn’t relax my heart rate, and I was only able to push the bike uphill at ~3km/h.
  • The steepest part of the race (a couple of hundred meters at 22-24%) was also in the hottest temperature (33°).
  • At one point, there was a sign saying “Warning, ahead 2.5km uphill with 300m altitude gain”; I read that as “slowly pushing the bike for 2.5km”, and that was true enough.
  • In the last third of the race, there was a person going around the same speed as me (in the sense that we were passing each other again and again, neither gaining significantly). But he was biking uphill! Not much faster than my push, but still biking! Hat off, sir.
  • My coughing bothered me a lot (painful coughing) in the first two thirds, by the end of the race it was gone (now it’s back, just much better than before the race).
  • I met someone while pushing and we went together for close to two hours (on and off the bike), I think; lots of interesting conversation, especially as pushing is very monotonous…
  • At the end of the race (really, after the finish point), I was “ok, now what?” Brain was very confused that more pushing is not needed, especially as the race finishes with 77m of ascent.
  • BerGiBike 2017 (which I didn’t write about, apparently) was exactly the same recorded ascent to the meter: 2’506, which is a fun coincidence ☺

The route itself is not the nicest one I’ve done at a race. Or rather, the views are spectacular, but a lot of the descent is on gravel or even asphalt roads, and the single-trails are rare and on the short side. And a large part of the difficult descent are difficult enough that I skipped them, which in many other races didn’t happen to me. On the plus side, they had very good placements of the official photographers, I think one of the best setups I’ve seen (as to the number of spots and their positioning).

And final fun thing: I was not the last! Neither overall nor in my age category:

  • In my age category, I was place 129 our of 131 finishers, and there were another six DNF.
  • Overall (55km men), I was 391 out of 396 finishers, plus 17 DNF.

So, given my expectations for the race—I only wanted to finish—this was a good result. Grand questions:

  • How much did my sickness affect me? Especially as lung capacity is involved, and this being at between 1’000 and 2’000m altitude, when I do my training at below 500?
  • How much more could I have pushed the bike? E.g. could I push all above 10%, but bike the rest? What’s the strategy when some short bits are 20%? Or when there’s a long one at ~12%?
  • If I had an actual power meter, could I do much better by staying below my FTP, or below 90% FTP at all times? I tried to be careful with heart rate, but coupled with temperature increase this didn’t go as well as I thought it would.
  • My average overall speed was 8.5km/h. First in 55km category was 19.72km/h. In my age category and non-licensed, first one was 18.5km/h. How, as in how much training/how much willpower does that take?
  • Even better, in the 88km and my age category, first placed speed was 16.87km/h, finishing this longer route more than one hour faster than me. Fun! But how?

In any case, at my current weight/fitness level, I know what my next race profile will be. I know I can bike more than one thousand meters of altitude in a single long (10km) uphill, so that’s where I should aim at. Or not?

Closing with one picture to show how the views on the route are:

Yeah, that's me ☺
Yeah, that’s me ☺

And with that, looking forward to the next trial, whatever it will be!