War Stories

‘War Stories’ are moments in your life that stay in the mind for years to come. They are often centred around an unforgettable experience (which is not always memorable for entirely good reasons) and serve as something to learn valuable lessons from. So, for this thread, we’d love to hear your ‘War Stories’ in cycling. I’ll start with a couple of mine that stick in the mind particularly vividly…

For riding outdoors, there are two episodes in particular. The first was a 300km charity ride I did in 2018. I had never ridden that distance before and, 6 hours into the 10 hour ride, realised I had got my pacing and fuelling wrong. I hit the point where I was starving, devoid of energy, yet too full of food to physically eat anything else. So, I resorted to having double espressos with two sugars at every café I passed on the way home as I crawled through the final few hours. This all happened because my route had most of the hills in the first 160km and I went up them too hard (above lactate threshold 1) so used carbs rather than fat. For a ride that distance, it’s impossible to consume enough carbs without a lot of gastrointestinal training - which I hadn’t done. I also ate all my carbs as solids rather than liquids so consumed too great a volume. These were lessons I learned and put into practice for another 320km charity ride I did last year, which was far more successful.

My second outdoors War Story was Stage 2 of the Tour of Bihor in Romania. I underestimated how hot it would be (40 degrees with high humidity). A combination of dehydration and a less than ideal dinner and breakfast beforehand (cheesy pasta, then deep fried cheese and red peppers) led to some dodgy stomach side effects. I nearly missed the start thanks to an unforeseen desperate need to visit the toilet which although left me significantly lighter than before, I also had no energy whatsoever. Fortunately, the stage was only 100km long. Unfortunately, it was a summit finish of about 1200m. Thanks to not keeping food down, I couldn’t push out any power on the climb so finished well down on the stage winner, one Ivan Sosa now riding for Ineos. The lesson learned? Heat adaptation training is extremely beneficial for hot events, as is making sure that you have nutrition that you are used to and that you know works for you.

The indoor War Story was a more recent one. After a bit of time off after the Tour of Britain last year, I got back to training 7 weeks later. I decided to go in for a lighter session, SUF Idol. It’s only 30 minutes after all so how bad could it be? However, I failed to adjust my 4DP metrics at all after 7 weeks off and, for a session with a fair bit of MAP/VO2max focus, this was not ideal. VO2max has been shown to drop as much as 7% after just 12 days of inactivity, with a further 9% or so after another month or two off. The first few efforts were fine, but then my heart rate refused to go down during the recoveries. I needed to stop after each of the final 3 efforts and very nearly threw up twice. I spent the rest of the day feeling like a bulldozer had run over my legs and lungs. After a couple of weeks, I felt normal again on the bike, but for the future I will be dropping down my 4DP metrics and power zones to a sensible percentage when starting training again after a period of inactivity.

So, what War Stories do you all have to share and what lessons have they taught you?


My cycling related war story:

When I was 17 I wanted to go and see the Spanish coast in the summer vacation with friends. Lots of youngsters travel to Lloret de Mar to drink and party. Me and my friends weren’t to keen on the drinking and partying, but were curious. So we made a plan: We cycle there from the Netherlands! (2100km)

So off we went. My road bike didn’t have carrier lugs, so I just used pipe clamps to clamp the paniers to the frame. I could get bigger than 25mm tyres on it so that was what it was… Ran about 7 or 8 pinch flats in the process. Didn’t even change the cassette or chain rings as I couldn’t afford those things. So on a 2x7 road setup (second hand Shimano 105 STI) I set off with my mates.

With no particular training ( no hills in NL ) we set off, doing 100km a day and pitching tents on small camp sites. Our French was rudimentary (high school level) and no one spoke Spanish.

First week was rain in NL, BE and Northern France. I had bad saddle soreness and ran most of my flat tyres that week. Then it cleared up and the next two weeks were great. The hills were killing us, but we’d learned to stop thinking and just get on with it. What choice did we have? It was so ridiculous, it was hilarious.

Three weeks later we arrived in Spain (via Avignon and following the Mediterranean coast line) we spent one day on the beach, one day in Barcelona and then took the bus back.

Lessons learnt: don’t use a road bike that’s designed as a racer for cycling trips. Perhaps do some training before you set off too.

The cycle trip after that (into Sweden) was a lot less dramatic (proper travelling bicycle, decent legs, and great weather all round)


That was a great story to read and thank you for sharing! It’s often not until you’ve made the mistake or embarked on the journey that you realise what ideally you need to change to get the best out of it. A fantastic adventure and achievement all the same! The trip to Sweden sounds interesting as well!

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Sweden was great - made me fall in love with Scandinavia. It wasn’t much of a war story though: we cycled to Karlstad - rented Canoes there for a week of paddling in the wilderness and cycled back. It was the same guys though, but all a bit wiser now.

I am going to read up on this gastrointestinal training you mentioned. Fuelling during rides is still a challenge for me and I’m planning to ride Liege-Bastogne-Liege this year.


War story of sorts (though my late father would rightly disagree after WW2)
Female aged 51 at the time, succesfully and enjoyably ridden Telemark tours the year before (260km in Norway) decided that with PT guidance I could do a gran fondo kind of ride in Spain called Quebrantoheusos - the bone crusher.
Up one side of the Pyrenees, down into France, up again and back down to Spain. 200km and mega metres upwards. Cut off time 12 hours.
Trained a lot - even had a PT guiding me through the training but we fell out a bit as I felt I was detraining, hours of LSD, no serious turbo during the winter. Lost much of what little speed I had as the day ticked closer.
First climb I cried a lot of the way up, told my husband to go on without me and that even if the broom wagon caught me I would continue without my number. First summit with 15 mins to spare. And so it went - Col de Marie Blanc torrential rain, Peyresourde(?) very hot, headwind back to Sabinanigo.
But I made it round with 45 mins to spare. I’d only stopped for a total of 15 mins, for nature breaks and to grab soggy rain drenched biscuits. NEVER AGAIN!
BUT it is a super ride, closed roads, well organised - so train smart and try it out!


I just looked this up. Holy COW!

Great story and superb effort!


That’s commitment!


My war story is about my first Half Ironman (so 1/3 about cycling). It was in Colorado, in June, and the cottonwood trees were shedding. It was windy and it looked like it was snowing, the 90 degree weather notwithstanding.

Having never lived anywhere near cottonwood trees, I didn’t know I was allergic. What a wonderful bonus to my race. I didn’t have any of my allergy meds with me, a mistake I never made again. So I went to one of the local drug stores and after speaking with the pharmacist, bought the over-the-counter brand he recommended.

The morning of the race was easily the worst day for the cotton rain. I took the meds an hour before the race and it seemed to help. I got through the swim with no issues.

Then came the ride. About 20 miles in (of the 56 mile bike leg for the uninitiated) I got really sick to my stomach. I was well practiced in pace and fueling, so it wasn’t that. I knew if I ate one more thing or drank anything other than water, I was going to quickly move from really sick to out of the race.

So I did the only thing I could do, I switched to just water. I felt like I had a chance to finish that way. I wrapped up the last two-thirds of the ride and came in several minutes ahead of my target time. Just maybe this would be ok.

Came out of T2 and the lack of energy hit me like a ton of bricks. I tried to eat something and the nausea was back before the second bite, and I had 13 miles to run. So back to water only. I gutted it out in the slowest run (with a lot of walking) I have ever done in a race since I began doing tris. I mean I can walk faster than that on any regular day and barely break a sweat.

I did finish. I survived to tell the story. I will never race in that area again, at least not when the cottonwoods are snowing. I do now check carefully when travelling to a new destination about such things and always take my allergy meds with me.


I checked that out. NO…just NO! :anguished:


Back in 2005 my now wife and I were dating. She was working for Wells Fargo at the time and she did a lot of volunteering. The branch she was in was sponsoring a team to ride in the charity MS 150 Bay-to-Bay bike ride in Southern California, so we decided to enter.

Neither of use were in shape at all. I hadn’t ridden my bike in years. I was a runner in high school, but it had been over 10 years since I graduated. I had a 12-speed bike my parents had bought me when I was maybe 10 years old with down-tube shifters. I have no clue what kind of gearing. My wife had a beach cruiser style bike. I decided I need a “newer” bike, so having no real clue I went down to Toys R Us and bought a Mongoose mountain bike style bike with straight bars, dial shifters, and bar ends.

We started riding up and down Westchester Parkway for 10-20 minutes in the afternoons a few days a week to try to get into shape, and I started riding my new Mongoose to work and back a few days per week (2.5 miles each way) as well, but neither of use really trained long enough and or consistently enough.

When it finally came time for the event I decided that my new Mongoose was not a proper road bike as I couldn’t ride very fast, so my parents gave my old road bike to use (that was collecting dust in their garage), while my wife decided to ride her beach cruiser.

Oh, we must’ve been a sight when we showed up.

The ride was two days of 50 miles each down PCH. It started in Huntington Beach with a stop over in Oceanside for the first night. Then the second day was 50 miles again to San Diego / Mission Bay with the option to do a 100 mile route instead on that second day if you wanted (we did NOT).

The first day started off with bad omens everywhere. My wife kept asking me to slow down. I figured I was just in much better shape than her. We were getting passed by just about everybody. Then it just kept getting worse. The So Cal coast is anything but flat. It just goes up and down and up and down. Fortunately, my bike’s lowest gear allowed me to still pedal on the steeper uphills, but my wife’s beach cruiser did not. So we walked most of every hill.

At some point we switched bikes and suddenly I was the one asking her to keep slowing down and we realized that my road bike had been a MUCH better choice of bikes as it was just an easy bike to ride with better and easier gearing designed for beginners.

Somehow we made it over 25 miles to San Clemente when the cable to my real deraileur on my road bike came loose and we couldn’t shift gears in the back. We flagged down one of the on-course mechanics, but they didn’t have the tools to be able to fix it on the roadside. At about the 30 mile mark there was a big park at San Onofre - right before the course went through Camp Pendleton Marine base- with food and drinks and places to rest, and most importantly some stationed bike mechanics. They worked on it for like 15 minutes before giving up. Being that my bike was 20 year old, more of a child’s bike, and built somewhere around 1985, they didn’t have the parts to be able to fix it. So, instead, they tied the frayed end of shifting cable to the deraileur in an easy gear and sent us on our way. We didn’t get far before deciding we wouldn’t be able to make it the 20 remaining miles to Oceanside on our bike cruiser and broken road bike, so we hitched a ride with one of the volunteer broom wagons who took us to Oceanside where we checked our bikes back in, got some snacks, enjoyed the festivities and dinner, and then went to our hotel for the night. Being younger and inexperienced neither of us had even considered stopping by a local bike shop.

The next morning we decided to try to get as far as we could. I think we got around 15 grueling miles on our old, broken, and poorly matched bikes before deciding it was best to just hitch a ride. A volunteer car took us 10 or so miles where we had to be transferred to another volunteer car. That got us about 5 miles or so from the finish which was mostly flat. So, we decided to at least ride in to the finish. Even those last 5 flat miles were really hard on those bikes. It was very anticlimactic, and we still finished towards the back.

After getting food and changing clothes we took shuttle to the train station and caught the train back to Huntington Beach. And it’s been a long time so I don’t remember how we got from the train to the parking lot where we left our car.

I think that’s probably the only time - or at least the last time - I’ve ever entered and participated in an event that I haven’t fully trained and prepared for.

Since then I’ve run in a couple of half marathons after my back has gone out. And one Tough Mudder that I didn’t do enough training for. But for all 3 of those events I knew I was undertrained but would still be able to finish and also knew how to adjust my race day strategy to ensure I would be safe and finish without injuring myself.


“then took the bus back.” That’s epic. LOL


Two - among many- war stories:

While a med student in West Virginia, I heard about a charity century and figured - why not? I had raced and trained for years in college and grad school. Hadn’t trained much but it seemed like a good idea at the time to have nice weekend off from studying. This was in the 80s so I grabbed my “let’s look good” Peugeot wool jersey and it was about 65 degrees F at the start. By noon at was 95 and course had way more climbing than advertised. Last 15 miles were at 9-10 MPH and dry retching (see “The Wretched”) from dehydration and poor conditioning. Could not stand up without leaning on my bike at the end. Should have gone to ER but got ice bags from the ice machine and Cokes in hotel and lay there for 12 hours. Lesson: no matter what you think you know plan for the unforeseen and don’t over estimate your ability- fitness wanes quickly !

second - 8 years ago and supposedly wiser with age, I was in a charity 2 day event. First day was 200 K and then ride back was 120 on day 2. I took a quick pit stop before the second day start and my nice club mates went off without me. Faced with 120K solo I chased to get back on and it started to drizzle rain. Blasted up a 6 % grade climb and over the top it dropped at about 18% without warning. The quick acceleration caught me off guard as I went over the top. I got a high speed shimmy and lost control at 45MPH . Crashed with shattered shoulder, fractured ribs, pneumothorax and cracked the helmet. Good thing it was straight road or would have hit a tree. Two months of sleeping in a recliner, 6 months of recovery and two shoulder surgeries later - ride within yourself particular on unfamiliar roads - a few minutes lost is better than the ICU . Just be glad you’re on your bike.


I remember those days. I was hit by a car and fractured my left hip. They tried emergency hip repair surgery but that failed (as it does half the time). So a second surgery six months later to replace the hip. All in all, almost 8 months in the recliner. I was never more happy to get rid of a piece of furniture in my life.


Despite a love for the sport, genetics did not bless me with what was required for greatness, so I have spent decades collecting more war stories than palmares:

My first stage race, wherein I bonked so hard I lost focus and crossed wheels with the rider in front and slammed to the tarmac, shearing off my brake lever and folding my front wheel. We hit a couple bike shops in town, found the parts, and I re-laced the wheel using the brake caliper as a truing stand and wired in a new Campy Ergo shifter to the amazement of my motel roommate for the weekend. He was a strong racer, but a terrible mechanic.

Same race following year the high point was waiting in line for the porta-potties behind a local pro whom we we all star struck by. You may have heard of him. He went on to win the Vuelta.

The mountain bike race in April that was so wet and muddy that my wife initially refused to let me into the trunk of the car to get my dry clothes. She claims she didn’t recognize me through the mud.

The state championship mountain bike race in October that was so miserable I pulled off course when I spotted my wife on the sidelines, kvetched about the conditions for a solid five minutes, got my head back on straight, finished my final lap and ended up in fifth place because the DNF rate was so high.

The mountain bike race where I was a solid 500m ahead of the field at the top of the last climb only to see it slip away with three crashes on the descent to the finish. I had been gifted a set of new tires from the sales rep for a well regarded road tire brand that was trying to cross over into the mountain bike market. A third of the tread knobs had sheared off during the race leaving me with no cornering or braking control for the descent.

My return to racing after 15 years away because of working and parenting. My brain remembered racing 60mi with 6500’ of climbing but my body did not. The cramps set in at mile 35. I spent the last quarter of the course chatting with an older gent for distraction. I finished at 6:35:00, 35 of 37 riders in the 40-49 year olds. I looked up his number when results were posted online. I put a minute and a half into him on the final descent. He finished fourth of five in the 70 plus field.

The 58 mile, 7300’ elevation gain, 90% gravel road race that averaged 41 degrees Fahrenheit in steady rain. I rolled in feeling like dog meat, the organizer clipped my timing chip and congratulated me on having an awesome day. I told him that he was being too kind. He told me to wait for results. A third of the field had DNFd, and in the 100 mile course it was more than half.

The lessons learned? Just by pinning on a number and toeing the start line, you’ve done something that most folks will never accept the challenge to do. Just by finishing, you’ve accomplished more than some. DFL has more honor than DNF. DNF is still more than DNS. As long as the bike and your body still work, you can keep moving forward.


Sounds like another great adventure and glad to hear the previous war story helped make that Scandinavian one a potentially more pleasant experience.

It’s something you can find a lot of research on if you look through google scholar. Refining the search to include key words such as carbohydrate tolerance, fuelling for endurance training, and gastrointestinal training can help narrow down the results. Also if you limit the studies to ones in the past 5 years or so to keep them up to date


Incredible effort! I think it can be a common mistake for some coaches to prescribe too much LSD training for endurance events. Because these events are high aerobic load ones, it’s important to improve oxygen consumption capacity and efficiency. Doing work at VO2max (MAP) will also be highly beneficial for this as you increase the aerobic ‘ceiling’ and can then boost other aerobic metrics such as LT1, FTP, CP and such.
But again, superb effort and a great story!

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A very useful takeaway point there! I reminder Pinot sighted his desire to race the Giro more than the Tour because of his hay fever a few years back. I assume he has managed to control that better now.
Great effort not giving in and completing that race!

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The beauty of experiences like that is you do learn a lot from them and it helps you in the future. Every great breakthrough of knowledge has mostly been preceded by many many failures and mistakes. A great story and really fun to read, thank you for sharing


Some great stories, sorry to hear about the crash and hope you’ve fully recovered by now. I know personally that shoulders can be a nightmare for rehab!

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Don’t worry, I have more war stories than successes in my racing :sweat_smile: but that just makes it all the more entertaining to recite! Impressive mechanic work on the shifter!