I might as well get this out in the open now – on Saturday, I bonked. I went out on the mountain bike with a group of friends for a good 20 mile thrash in the Lake District and a few miles from the end I got to that stage where a little cry felt like a good idea, my legs got rather heavy, my rucksack was empty and the contents of everyone else’s rucksacks seemed even nicer. I love riding in the Lakes; the rocky technical descents and the busting climbs with all their false summits fill me with joy, so the thought of riding some old and some new singletrack meant I was looking forward to a good day out. It didn’t even rain! Unfortunately however, on the day, I overslept and sacrificed a proper breakfast to make the ride by the skin of my teeth. This is not a mistake I’ll make again! The combination of an oncoming cold and a poor breakfast meant that by around mile 17 I started to feel very wobbly indeed and by mile 18 I had eaten everything I had, some gifts of food (cheers Em!) and taken my new position at the back of the pack.
We’ve all been there, but it is never nice entering that horrible zone where you just grind the miles out willing it to end and for someone to hand you a bottle of coke, some chocolate or cake, (both are good) and a hug. But the thing is, although you feel alone, you’re not and we’ve all been there at some point or other. Sometimes lots of little mistakes combine; riding when you’ve not fuelled properly, riding when you probably should be resting, not packing enough food and going a bit too hard are all errors that can contribute to a bonk. Sometimes we don’t do anything wrong and it is just a case of it being one of those days. As Mr Armstrong said, sometimes you’re the hammer, sometimes you’re the nail. Sometimes you’ve just got to take your turn in the pain cave.
With this in mind, I went digging around PBK Towers for some bonking stories (just watch those Google searches spike…) and to prove they’re human, I even found some stories from the pro peloton as well. Believe it or not, the fit people who ride a bike for a living get it wrong too as we’ll find out. I know of one very fit rider who makes his living from riding bikes and who’s friend got them home by drip feeding them Haribo! So without further ado, grab some carbs (just in case) and a cup of tea and lets listen to some stories of pain.
In 1996, Indurain was trying for what would have been a record 6th Tour de France win, but on the epic Stage 7 of the ’96 Tour on the final climb to Les Arcs with only 5km to the finish line, Indurain was dropped by the group as he blew. Virenque, who went on to win the stage said it was one of the most remarkable sights of the Tour, as other riders broke away Indurain “appeared to cycle on the same piece of road.” Amazing for a man who won five tours back-to-back, it just shows it can hit everyone!
Armstrong famously bonked in the 2000 Tour on the Col de Joux-Plane climb of Stage 16. He described it as the ‘hardest day of his life’ and it cost him several minutes, narrowing his lead over Ullrich considerably. It transpired Armstrong had missed his feedbag which, combined with the hard chase to catch Pantani, nearly finished him off. Not eating was a mistake Armstrong vowed to never make again.
In 1998, Ullrich flatted and then bonked at the base of the climb up to La Plagne, the day after he made up for it and ferociously attacked, only Pantani could stay with him.
Contador infamously bonked on stage 7 of the 2009 Paris-Nice. This episode of hit the wall cost Contador a place on the podium, it transpired he had failed to eat and hydrate as he said he was too busy fending off attacks.
So there are some stories from the peloton, now it’s time for a few from the PBK office!
John W’s Story.
A few years ago I took part in a charity mountain bike ride across Corsica and Sardinia. It was the height of summer and during the day the temperature would soar to 30 degrees C (about 70 degrees F). On one day in particular I found the going hard with what seemed like endless climbs and false peak after false peak. The day hadn’t started too well when I missed breakfast in the morning and didn’t have time to pack a proper lunch. The night before had been spent having a few cheeky drinks with some old Corsican revolutionaries as they told us of their hatred for their French cousins and poured local moonshine down our throats. Needless to say I awoke the next day slightly dehydrated despite having consumed my own body weight in Pietra, the local beer that evening. This was definitely not the way to prepare for a hard days riding but there was no way I was going to hop in the support vehicle for the day.
By mid-afternoon we were embarking on yet another climb. I had kept a steady pace throughout the day and was fairly near the front of the group which consisted of about 20 riders. My thinking at this time was the quicker I get to the top, the quicker I can rest. However, this enthusiasm was to be my down fall as I began to zig zag up the track. My legs stubbornly refused to pedal any more and soon they became a wobbling mess. The rest of my body soon followed and I hit the mother of all walls. It felt like every bit of energy had been sapped out of my body leaving me barely able to stay upright on my bike. I had to stop and pretty much just crashed out on the floor. It was one of those moments when you question why you ride a bike but after I’d given myself a good talking to and had a couple of energy bars, I eventually made it to the top where I realised it was definitely worth the pain.
I have two memorable bonking moments on the bike. One as an amateur somewhere in rural Lincolnshire and one as a (slightly) more mature rider living in the French Alps. Right now the French experience sounds more exotic and certainly had a nicer backdrop while sat at the side of the road weeping, but the time as a beginner taught me most. I was certainly surprised and a touch disappointed in myself when it happened a few years later in a foreign country, on a boiling hot day and with 13km’s of uphill to get home (Abondance up to Chatel if anyone knows)!!!
No, the real lesson was learnt on a very flat and straight road out east of Grantham. On a Witham Wheelers Easter Sunday club ride that I got it drastically wrong. Starting off with youthful excitement at riding with lots of other quick riders I was feeling great until a point where I started to struggle pushing a ‘back of the pack’ 16/17mph. As my head began thinking of other things than making my legs go round and round the Easter eggs waiting at home are my only real memory of those last 9 or 10 miles back home.
A combination of a lack of breakfast and trying to keep up with the club aces meant I soon went downhill without having the big miles in my legs. A few riders came back to help and one saintly soul offered me his mini box of raisins which for some reason I still declined – glory or stupidity – a mix of both I think… So the lesson? Eat, eat and eat more while out riding! There’s no harm in eating two bars rather than your normal one if it means you get home happy and with some spring in your step. There’s also no shame in taking two bottles with you on all rides – if you only really need one bottle of 4:1 or energy drink to get you round your hour loop pop another one half full of water in for that ‘just in case’ time – a mega head wind home, a closed road or an extra 10km loop after getting lost…
Thankfully the final mile home was relatively down hill and never have I been so glad to get back and finish off my Easter egg haul in one go.