Updated: Sep 10, 2019
Today was the first time in two weeks I've had a clock on me. I had somewhere to be in two hours time and I was on it. My legs felt fantastic and I was rattling along at my normal Sunday club pace. I have nothing to fear from Belgium. As I was riding I was thinking of the value of rest days and the long term or benefit, if any, to my cycling ability of doing this trip. I have certainly noticed I am riding differently and can't help but wonder if I will be faster once I get rid of the luggage (thank you Sara for putting the question in my head). As I tested my legs, I could convince myself I was going to come out of this much stronger. First, a little bit of science Our bodies have three energy systems, one aerobic (fueled by oxygen) and two anaerobic (fueled by the energy stored in our bodies). Of the latter, one is accessing energy stored in our muscles and moved around through our blood. This is the energy we use for endurance events and it gets depleted during use and has a waste product, lactic acid.The other (ATP) is stored in our muscle cells and can be accessed very quickly. It allows us to make maximum efforts, but it for very short periods of time (8-10 seconds). We then need time to recover before accessing it again. The 10 second rule is more or less true for everyone, hence we see cycling sprinters like Mark Cavendish sit behind a lead out train before unleashing their max power only at the very last moment. What differs is our ability to recover and use this source again, so we see cyclists like Chris Froome capable of huge accelerations uphill over and over again. But they must hope to break their opponents in that 10 seconds because even they cannot sustain this maximal effort. If you want to know more, ask a sports scientist. I live with one, so I have instant access to answers. Why bother telling you this? Well because on this trip I have feel that endurance ability has been growing but my maximal effort is only about half of normal and I can't sustain for more than 4-5 seconds. It means I can only use it very infrequently if at all during the day. My in-house sports scientist tells me I am not imaging it and that have overloaded so much in mileage that I have not had sufficient rest/high quality protein/time to recover sufficiently so my ATP capacity is continually reduced. I would, says Rachel, feel the benefit in a weeks time. But this morning I managed to hold a 25kph average for two hours on my way to Lessines to meet with Tim Bench a fellow Warwick Lanterne Rouge cyclist and a sponsor of the club (which automatically makes him a good guy). So maybe, I was thinking, that my resident sport scientist is wrong. I've already recovered and I'm now in the shape of my life. For reasons best known to themselves Tim and a mate had driven to Belgium for the weekend. In a 1988 Toyota MR2. Although they were staying in Ghent, well north of me, they took the trouble to drive down to say hello. If that doesn't endear someone to you then nothing will. Tim's was the first familiar face I had seen since Rachel dropped me off 13 days ago and I really appreciated the effort. I headed off towards Roubaix in good spirits knowing that I had dealt with everything Belgium has to offer. Sure enough Belgium offered it usual crap signage, cobbles and potholes. This included a ridiculous section of cobbles and dirt that lead to a dead-end above a new Road being built. I had to scramble down with a the grace of a giraffe on skis. But what really did for me was the heat and the stupidity of pushing too hard this morning. It's all very well doing a hard 50km on empty roads in 24 degrees. But it's something else to do another 80km in 32 degree heat. What an idiot. I should listen to the sports scientist more. I was so tired when I arrived in Roubaix that I rode straight past the famous Velodrome without bothering to get even a selfie. I was completely cooked. My Airbnb host had told me on email that there were many places to eat with short walking distance of his place. It turns out there's a MacDonalds 15 minutes walk away on an industrial estate. But by 6pm tomorrow night I will be back in England drinking a cup of tea planning the route for my final day. There's just the matter of another 145km to sort out before I reach my hotel in Ashford, Kent. I will be pacing myself.