One of the athletes I coach, Alain Lambert, is passionate about cycling and pursuing excellence in cycling. He is also passionate about sharing his journey with other riders and inspiring them to live a healthy life and pushing their physical abilities as far as he does. Over the last couple years Alain has been particularly focused on getting ready to ride the Haute Route, a series of three “one week” events through the Italian Dolomites/Swiss Alps, French Alps and the Pyrenees. On his blog, he shared his 2013 Haute Route Alps and his currently keeping his fellow 2014 Haute Route riders informed of his training. When Alain asked me to contribute content for the blog, I knew right away that the story of the improbable Haute Route rider was the story I would tell. Let me explain…
In November of 2008, I stood in front of a group of 15 athletes describing the week ahead for the El Tour de Tucson cycling camp. This was to be a week of endurance riding in Tucson Arizona preparing for one of the largest cycling events in the USA. At 178km and less than 1000m of climbing, the speed of El Tour de Tucson would be high and with over 8000 cyclists, group riding skills would also need to be high.
That was when I first met Alain Lambert. He had grabbed everyone’s attention with his French Canadian accent, very loud love of climbing and that same loud love of red wine. So why was he here at this camp? There was good wine but little climbing beyond Mt. Lemmon (40k and over 2000m vertical). I don’t think Alain knew exactly why but by the end of the camp he knew very well and would set off on a journey of the pursuit of excellence.
Preparing for a specific event in only one week can be difficult but in the big picture, I was preparing the athletes for the next goal event and the next one and the next one. Some would understand this and some would not. I taught event preparation thru training and specificity and more important I taught the athletes about themselves thru baseline testing and learning how to challenge those baselines. It was the pursuit of excellence that I wanted to impart on these athletes only asking the best in themselves in everything they do.
It’s the details in each activity that contributes most to the biggest results. Alain would understand this and finish the week strong even though he found himself uncomfortable in many of the situations like group riding, high speed cornering, and even being placed in the “B” group at the camp. He found many challenges that week but he did not complain or succumb to negativity. He challenged himself to be his best and when he came back, he would be better.
The next time I met Alain, was the following year at L’Etape du Tour. We just happened to meet at the startline by chance. I was happy to see Alain there again pursuing that excellence. He had hired a coach, gotten a power meter and put himself at the start line of an event 170km long and finishing at the top of Mt. Ventoux! What a challenge! Alain would go on to finish that day. It was not a fast time but it was a success and another step towards that pursuit of excellence.
What did he do afterwards? Celebrated with great food, wine, and friends and then said what’s next?! You see when you are pursuing that best in yourself, you are always challenging yourself to bigger and bigger goals.
In that year, Alain’s coach changed his career path and Alain called me up to see if I was willing and able to coach him. I was more than enthusiastic with the opportunity. I love to work with athletes when they have challenging goals and willing to do the work. And getting to work was the first thing we did.
We sat down and plotted out Alain’s strengths and weakness and wrote out his goals. Then I planned a strategy to accomplish those goals. Alain returned to the El Tour de Tucson camp and we made another goal of finishing this non-climbing event with a time of less than 5 hours. We didn’t make it that year but we knew what it would take.
He would need improved performance in many areas. We would still focus on his love of climbing but we would also work on this descending, group skills, diet, bike maintenance, everything! The pursuit of excellence is not just your cycling power. It’s everything about the bicycle, the work, the family, the YOU. The pursuit of excellence bleeds over into everything you do.
That year, Alain had one of his best years. He became very organized and really had no choice. He is married, a father of six, with two granddaughters, five different demanding full-time jobs, and challenging cycling goals. Our goals that year were:
●Tour of California camp where we would ride every stage in the hours before the pros
●Mt. Washington Uphill Race
●El Tour de Tucson race in under 5hrs
In preparation of these goals, Alain upgraded his 4 year old bike to a light weight, race worthy bike and purchased a climbing wheelset. This was the first time I noticed Alain had upgraded any equipment and he deserved it. Plus that extra bike weight adds up. There are only two secrets to climbing — power and weight. In that, Alain also took some weight off his body slimming down to 68kg. He also took on one of his biggest challenges—red wine. We were not going to take it completely “off the menu” from his diet. We just wanted to moderate it. I must say that I heard more whining about no red wine than any VO2max interval we did. Did I say whine?
Yes, whine. These are not easy goals and you will want to quit at times. That’s my job to keep you honest and I will honestly tell you where you are and where you need to be. I’m not one to yell in your face but I will quietly inspire you. I will make you your best.
How did we do? Tour of California was good and Alain took the KOM on several of the climbs within the group we were with. Mt. Washington, we hit our best power numbers of the year. El Tour did not go as planned and we came in the finish at just over 5hrs. But that’s why these are goals. You don’t always accomplish your goals on the first try. So what do you do? You stay tenacious. You pursue that excellence and stay determined to achieve your goals. You look back at what you did well, what you did not do well, and you make those improvements.
The next year was a challenging one for Alain from a work perspective. He had to back off some riding hours and we planned that into his training. However he did complete another Tour of California along with the Pro Cycling Challenge in Colorado, and he did finish the El Tour de Tucson in 4 hours 38 minutes. Not bad for a “rest year.”
Last year Alain took on the Haute Route which would be his biggest challenge to date (even bigger than the red wine). We prepared endlessly. Alain does not live near any climbs over 10 minutes. So given his geographical location, family and business lives, Alain isn’t the “obvious” Haute Route rider. How do we did we do it last year?
We took every opportunity he had to involve some climbing. Sometimes that would be simulations on the indoor trainer, 10 repeats up a 7 minute climb, driving 1.5hrs to ride some 20-30 minute climbs then driving 1.5hrs back, planning family vacations around big mountains, etc… You name it and we planned it. We had to. And to do this our communication had to be very specific. Alain would communicate his business and family trips, his time he had to train each day of the week, and in return I would plan the weeks. Seldom were there any week exactly the same. Alain’s other job was to promptly communicate his data back to me. This is so I can make the needed changes immediately. Sometimes, no changes are needed but we had to maximize his time so I needed to know as soon as possible what his current stress level was and then figure out how to recover him quickly or apply more stress. You see I am in the pursuit of excellence too. My job is getting Alain and athletes’ like yourself to their goal events in the best possible fitness.
Alain completed the Haute Route and I must say he enjoyed it. He finished each day with a smile on his face and energy to enjoy the experience of Haute Route. It’s not always about the race up the hill. Sometimes, it about much more. It’s a huge challenge to complete the event but also the event itself has so much to offer. How you want to experience the Haute Route is ultimately up to you. Just do the work so you can enjoy the experience.
Now this year, Alain will challenge himself in another way. He’ll go for his best power results and highest rankings but also challenge himself to do two of the Haute Route events back to back. Again Alain has increased his goals and again we have increased his pursuit of excellence with a plan to get him there prepared. We are ahead of our fitness levels from last year and currently increasing those only secrets of power and weight.
So are you ready? Are you ahead of last year? You do still have 5 months and with the right plan you can be at your best. You’ll need be relentless and tenacious. You’ll need to find that pursuit of excellence in yourself. And then you’ll be ready for the event. If this does not sound like you, then get to work! Haute Route will be here quickly. If you need help in your preparation I’m sure that if you contact Alain he will be happy to share his secrets and training program with you. Why? Because he would love to see more “improbable riders” on the hills this summer. Alain’s email is firstname.lastname@example.org
Being ready physically is job one but you must also be ready mentally. Every day you will struggle. You will probably have a bad day. Alain called me last year in the middle of the event. What can you do? You do what you were coached to do —rise up to the challenge, get yourself to the starting line and then up the mountain to the finish. You’ll surprise yourself. You will climb higher than ever and you’ll conquer the Haute Route.