From Zero to Italy
Over the past year, many people discovered the most beautiful sport in the world and started cycling. If you're a beginner, what other cyclists are doing may often seem a long way off. The truth is: you can do it, too.
Henri (@henricyclinginparadise) shares her journey from zero cycling to crossing the alps 620 km from Munich to Bologna just a few months later.
What a regular Sunday in 2018 looked like for me? Waking up at 2pm with a huge hangover, ordering some pizza and binge watching some series on Netflix until it got dark outside. I basically waited on Monday to creep up on me.
I did very little sports back then (yoga, hiking and a bit of cross-country skiing) but my life was focused on going out and doing detrimental things to my body (which were also a lot of fun, don’t get me wrong). But I didn’t even realize that there was another way to live. I did not know any people that were passionate about sports. I also did not feel like anything was missing in my life.
To my own surprise all of this changed in 2019 when I discovered my love for cycling. It was really love at first sight, the bike and me. It felt like my body finally had found its match, the perfect machine to complete it. It started all with a 60 km ride to lake Starnberg close to Munich and I was instantly hooked. The speed, the freedom, the power. I needed more of this. My big love story with cycling began.
The beginning was tough though. I was knocked out after every ride and my hands felt completely numb. I remember one time after a solo ride, I had no power left in my hands to open the front door of my apartment. My hands were shaking like crazy and I could not even turn the key. I spent 10 minutes waiting in the hallway with my bike (lots of awkward greetings to the passing neighbors) until I was able to get inside my apartment. I had never experienced something like that before and it made me question if I was actually doing any good for my body.
To test if the suffering was really all worth it and if I could see myself on the bike long-term, I decided to book a last-minute cycling vacation with a random group of women on Mallorca. So after just 5 rides on my road bike in Germany, I sat on a bike on this Spanish island surrounded by all these bike-crazy people, exploring the amazing roads. I remember my biggest fear being 1,000 meters of altitude in just one ride, that sounded impossible to me at the time. But with the moral support of the group, l learned that everything is possible - and suddenly Cap Formentor was conquered.
Back home I was convinced that I was passionate enough to suffer for becoming a better cyclist. I was getting better, but still felt so far from what I saw other cyclists doing. At the time I knew no other female cyclists in Munich and all the men I knew were doing crazy distances, crazy speed and had crazy power up the hill. Me, on the other hand, still had to watch out to not forget to click out of my pedals when stopping at a red traffic light.
Nonetheless, I had the absolute inner urge to become one of these people for which cycling looked like they had never done anything else in their lives. So I decided that I needed an ambitious goal to push me further. Crossing the alps on my bike in September, from Munich to Bologna. 620 km and 5,600 moa, that sounded impossible enough to be just what I needed. I started training a lot. After-work rides, weekend rides, trying to reach ever longer distances. I remember clearly the first time I rode 120 km and couldn't believe that I had just doubled the distance of my very first ride. The feeling to have pushed my body to do something I never would have thought was possible was really addictive. So I started to push further and further.
I also discovered RTFs, basically long rides organized by local bike clubs, where all cyclists ride together (or in groups) on a defined route. I happened to have to go to Berlin for business and thought, why not take the bike and ride a random RTF there. I picked the medium route of RC Berliner Bär (120 km, still a lot after just two months on the bike) which happened that weekend. It was all great and I pushed hard to keep up with the mostly male groups. 2 km before the end it happened. My wheel got stuck in a train track and I came flying off the bike. My helmet had a huge bump and my body was covered in bruises. Luckily, my bike was still ok and I completed the rest of the route (crying in pain).
As hard as this first crash was, it did not stop me from getting closer to my vision of becoming good at cycling. I started to take part in group rides of Facebook cycling groups. I invested in a power meter for my bike and rode intervals after work, learning all about watts and FTP. I started to adjust my diet, fueled up before long rides with porridge and other easily digestible stuff and paid more and more attention to my protein intake, especially after rides. Within just 3 months on the bike, I was aiming to ride at least 200 km every week. I did this all summer long until September came close.
One week before the actual crossing of the alps I was totally freaking out. I thought I could never do it. That I did not train enough. That I should have practiced more climbing (I am super tall and heavy, therefore climbing is actually the worst for me). Then the big day came and I realized I couldn't get out of it anymore. I was so psyched, the first day was surprisingly easy, crossing from Germany into Austria. On the second day, the hard part came: Timmelsjoch. If you never rode an alpine pass, it is something special. From Sölden onwards it was basically three hours of continuous climbing. I was pacing myself carefully, watching my watts to not blow out before the top. And then, just like that (and many stops along the road), I reached the top of the toughest climb on the track. I was super proud of myself.
After that came another 400 km filled with heat, absolute exhaustion, close call almost truck accidents, some crying, lots of Pizza and Spaghetti, joyful laughter, beautiful nature and all kinds of emotions you can feel on such a journey. After five days on the bike, we finally reached Bologna. It made me fall in love with cycling for good. And I realized: I just went from zero to Italy within three months.
So, if I can do it, you can do it, too. If you ask me about three things I would have loved to know earlier, it would be:
- Have some kind of a training schedule, pick certain days/nights that are blocked for cycling. Getting a training/ride partner works miracles.
- Nutrition does make a difference. Watch what you eat before a ride, make sure it is easily digestible for your body. Do take breaks to fill up with some energy bars or similar during a ride. Nothing worse than to bonk during a ride. Same goes for regular fluid intake (you always find free water at grave yards, at least in Germany).
- Connect with your local cycling community. I have met so many great people during facebook rides or other kind of community rides. The good thing is you all share the same passion so there is plenty to talk about.