Eleven hours and twenty minutes in the saddle, 200Km, 5000m of climbing and 8000 calories burned. Act II from Pau to Bagneres-de-Luchon was hell on wheels.
Crossed the start line at seven fifteen. I carried only a Gillet . I left my arm warmers at the hotel (80Km) and my rain jacket at Sainte -Marie de Campan (139Km)- Big mistake.
The streets of Pau were deserted as we rode through. Unusual for L’etape . The only cheer we got was from 3 guys in evening wear returning from a night out. It was like a scene from a Zombie movie.
I struggled to find a group with a pace that suited.I found the wheel of a guy completing the course on a folding bike but he proved too fast for me.
One hour gone, brief comfort break, first food of the day and 28km covered. Next up, the Aubisque. 16.4km long with an average gradient of 7.1%. Gentle climb through the woods then a steep kick through the town of Faux-Bonnes . I was feeling fine and was having no trouble keeping my heat rate below 150bpm. We climbed through the clouds and by the time I reached the top I was cold. Comfort break and water and then descent. The road was wet and greasy and I descend slowly with both front and back breaks deployed. Bikes descend in a line with cloud meaning you could only make out one bike ahead. Occasionally a Ghost bike would emerge from behind and whiz by, disappearing into the mist . Road tunnel. One eye closed before entering and immediately adjusted to the dark. After a cold and miserable few minutes I was pleased to start the 2Km climb of the Solour. I had been here before in etape 2010. The descent to Argeles-Gazost was painful and slow until we emerged from the clouds and the road dried. Great buzz in the town and I rode by the food stop. Jinked my way through the steep, narrow streets and pulled off the route at our hotel. Spectators watched in amazement as I dipped my hand in a bush and pulled out a mussette full of goodies.
The first think I looked for was my arm warmers and jacket. No jacket . Warmers would have to do. I refilled my gel bottle and grabbed a fresh bidon. Others from my group arrived as I departed. Now, up the gorge to the foot of the Tourmalet.
The time in valley past quickly and I was soon turning a hard left to begin the Tourmalet. I recalled my immediate distress on starting the ascent in L’etape of 2010. I also recalled the ease with which I went up it three days ago. This time was half way between the two extremes . I stopped for food and a rest at Borg and continued to the top. Near the top the mist was thick and the last 1500 metres took for ever. I past the first walkers of the day. Then the bike next to me veered. I thought he was in distress but then the cause of his distraction became obvious. A tall slim blonde lady cycled by. Her smile burned through the clouds and she chatted freely with all the love struck cyclists before disappearing into the mist . I checked with the guy next to me to make sure she wasn’t a mirage or that due to exhaustion that I had mistaken a tall long haired Scandinavian man for a women. This happened on Ventoux in 2009 and I had exchanged numbers before I realized my mistake (Bjorn still rings occasionally).
Now a hard left and only 300m to the top. This is where things for funny. The hill got steep and many cyclists got off their bikes in exhaustion not realising that three top was less than 50m away through the mist. At the Col I huddled under the sign and put on my Gillet and arm warmers and started the 20Km descent. The next 40 mins was the worst of the day. Cold and pain reigned as I inched down the hill. Eventually a sign said 2Km to the water stop.
Pulling hard on the brakes as I arrived in St Marie de Campan I saw a tri colour being held aloft by my Guardian Angel Sean O’Leary. He rushed me into his van and provided me with a mug of Cola and a ham sandwich. I dried off and warmed up. I grabbed my rain jacket and headed of determined to continue and keen to minimise my time. 1Km out the road and I past the first sign for the Col d’Aspin . Reached for a drink- damn! No bidon . Left it at Sean ‘s van. I slowly made many wake back through the river of cyclists and retrieved my bottle. Back on the road once more.
Five in the morning on the coach to Pau for the start. Driving through Lourdes.
I feel less nervous than usual but still am pacing and have checked my gear eleven times. Everyone seems sick with nerves. The pallor from the sun block mixes with sweat, it reminds me of patients in shock. Tension is worse than I have ever noticed before. There is silence. Then we can all hear the ‘eye off the tiger’ coming from someone’s headphones . Big laugh-tension broken. Then someone tells a story about an egg eating body builder from work. Another laugh .Silence descends again.
Tension returns. Now better check that I have my…..
Just finishing up prepartions and off to bed. Had dinner earlier this evening up town and as usual packing has taken longer than expected.
A few blogs from the week are blocked up in the phone so this post is the first for a while
In brief:- Gout Ouch! Achilies Ouch ++ Form Good + Hope tomorrows goes well. Hope achilles does not cause problems
Two days after Act I I finally got around to checking out my noisy pedals. They were both cracked! Noise has been there for more than 12 months and the bike had been serviced twice at a total cost of >€200. The more I cycle the more I feel that paying someone else to service your bike is a waste
Relaxing in a cafe watching Dan Martin in a breakaway on stage from Act I. They are down Col de la Madeleine and about to commence the Col de la Croix de Fer. I went up Luz Ardiden this morning and came straight home. I started the climb in warmth and then entered the clouds it was cold and damp. In the last 4km I emerged into the bright warm sunshine with beautiful views. One of the best climbs ever! Sad to be going home soon.
Dan Martin just cycled by the place I
bgan to cry on the Glandon! I wonder if three blood I sweated is still on three road? Pumped!
Trois… deaux… un … GO!
Click, Click, ‘Allez Allez ‘ Whoosh around roundabout, dodge manhole cover, over bridge. ‘Bon Chance! ‘ Merci Madame. Bikes swallow up road furniture like a shoal of fish
L ‘etape du tour starts. It helps to have done this before. I can enjoy the start and switch modes as soon as the work starts. On this occasion it’s at 20km. Le col da Madeleine . I allow the adrenaline to drain away and concentrate on slowing down and ensuring my heart rate stays below 155. The early slopes are steep and the road is crowded. It is difficult to keep the effort low at this gradient. It amounts to riding as slow as I can without the bike falling over.
Down offthe Madeleine then on to le Col de Glandon. The last 3km are agony with the gradient almost unbearable. Then down again befor a short rise up to le Col de Croix de Fer. I took the oppurtunity to grease my pedals as the squeaky noise I had been getting all year had returned. This was to take on greater importance as the day went on ( and even greater importance as the week went on – edited 11th july).
I rested on the technical descent narrowly missing a crash when an inside pedal on a rider hit the ground and brought him down as he cut the apex on a tight hairpin. I then took a sharp right for Col du Mollard. Immediatly a sign said 5.6Km to the Summit. easy right? wrong. After a steady 1km I reach for a gel from my pocket and bang my left leg fell from the cleat quickly followed by my right. The hill was steep and it took three atempts to restart as I my foot repeatedly clicked out as I tried to clip in. This was to happen again 3 more times on La Toussuire. The climb itself seemed endless and I was glad to reach the top. More water as I prepared to remount I noticed several of my companions who had higher numbers arrive at the Col most did not stop and headed down ahead of me. I was determined to finish ahead of them and hoped that the fact that I had spared myself would come to my advantage. As the descent leveled out I made an effort push hard and arrived at the water stop at the base of La Toussuire with all of the others. I debated refilling my water bottle as it was less than 20 mins since I had done so in hindsight this was ridiculous. I would take on water twice more before reaching the top.
I started La Toussuire first and my goal was to make it up it ahead of the group I started with. I pushed along mindful of how shook Hugh was after he had done it earlier in the week. He had warned that it was long and exposed. He was right about both. Initially I was slower then those varound me. I suspected that they felt this hill was easier than previous ones and wetre pushing for the finish. I felt there was time to ‘blow out’ several times before the finish. I decided to keep myself in check until 3Km to go. One of my companions past me at speed and I resigned myself to the fact that I would not see him again- I was wrong- 6km later I saw him slummed over his bike still with 5km to go. I suffered on the hill but was passing several riders I had seen earlier in the day. I stopped for water at a fountain manned by a local who must have stood for hours filling bidons. Merci M. I later got a bottle from a spectator and continued until 3km from the finish- I threw my collected rubbish in a bin, took a comfort break and tried to straighten myself up. I was shagged but I was better than I had been on previous Etapes. 3Km to go, 2 Km to go. Le flan Rouge- More climbing and then .. BIG RING- SMALL COG and sprint to the finished- Childish but great fun
Over the line- an embrace and a medal from a French lady and off down the hill to share stories with the others
L ‘etape du tour Act I.
Got up at three thirty and had breakfast. A double potion of porridge, Croissant and Nutella and coffee
Got on the bus at four thirty and arrived at start for six. Was in Pen C the third away. We were waiting under the Olympic torch in the rain watching as local celebrities were introduced to the crowd.