A long one to finish…..
The final day and a very unsociable 6.30am transfer to the start, meant we were up at 5.15am. Apparently you get used to it (sort of, in an auto-pilot kind of way) but ramming down bread and cooked meats that early isn’t pleasant. I really don’t envy the lifers who have to go through this every day, and wash clothes and pack, and ride, and eat, and all the other unseen things about life on tour that cannot be understood until you’re there doing it.
The day started with a nice roll into the first climb of the day, a cat 1, 9km at 6.4%. Nowt stupidly tough, up in a one-er, less than an hour, decent start.
The next section was, however, brutal. Undulating terrain across moorland, heavy rain, freezing rain, the waterproof came out but with 50km to the next feed, it was very much a war of attrition. I felt like I was in the moors of Northumberland on a sportive, ticking down the miles on the Garmin until some respite. It’s times like these a companion is essential, Neil and I battled on and rolled into feed two freezing.
There were freezing bodies everywhere, bumped into Michael, who at first I didn’t recognise! Blankets, changes of clothes, many broken spirits. I think because I’m carrying 16 years worth of pints around my midriff, the cold hadn’t affected me as badly as the others, but I certainly noticed the drop in energy levels when trying to power through the wind & rain. Quick change of top, visit to the WC for a much needed clean slider, and we set off towards feed three.
The weather had fortunately settled down and the scenery turned to rural France. A gentle 10km of uncategorised climbing followed up through forested areas, descending down towards feed three. This was where I think this year’s training really came into its own. Taking turns, Neil and I powered down the descent and the rolling terrain pulling into the feed just as the heavens opened again. Seeking refuge in the trees, the rain timed itself perfectly again and stopped as we rolled out.
This was then the most enjoyable/scenic section of the whole 3 days, a slight drag up to an amazing descent into the valley before the Col de Peyra Taillade. The roads have just been resurfaced, the water vapour rising from the tarmac as the sun beat down follow the deluge, we swept deep down to the valley floor, stopping for photos of what faced up on the other side.
The final cat 1 of the three days was 8.3km long at 7.4%. New to the tour, it had a 2km midsection with 14% slopes. Neil headed off into the distance and I meandered up in the now blazing sun, conscious of the sting in the tail. I stopped for a cheeky energy gel just before the 14% signs, and ploughed on, passing weary legged riders who needed to take breathers. The 14% went on for what seemed like a eternity, heart rate bouncing off your max, legs burning hotter and hotter with no end in sight. And just when you think you have to pull over, you see a rise in the distance, a house, with a driveway, an opportunity to stop, drink, recover and go again. I nearly fell into a little fire the resident had set by the side of the road as I unclipped! A few minutes later, I set off again, only 10% this time, relatively easy. Determined that there’d be no walking on this one, I saw Neil at 1km to go, and the back of the stage had nearly been broken.
Feed four was brief, and a long descent back towards the hotel before a couple of harsh uncategorised climbs and a cat 4 finished us right off.
So….day done. 120 miles. 11 and a half hours out on the bike. 3600m of climbing a really tough but an amazing day.
As it’s the last blog….a few observations (probably echoing what I said last time, but I don’t care):
An updated (and clean) version of the gradient analysis:
5% and less – flat, easy
6% – steady away
7% – yeah, it requires effort
8% – tough
9% – very tough
10% and over – rock
Anything steeper than that for over 200m will have you crying.
If you get the chance to do something like this. TAKE IT. You won’t regret it. And the charity aspect is obviously important.
Anyone can do something if you put your mind to it. Anyone. A fat lad from Dunston cycling round the Pyrenees and the Massif Central. Cycling 25000 feet in 3 days. Howay man! It’s all in the mind. Break it down. Bitesize chunks. You can do it.
Au revoir. Big thanks to the organisers, the charity, Neil Matthews for dragging me round and showing me how it’s done, Michael Leather for the opportunity in the first place and good luck to him for the remainder, an incomprehensible super-human effort.
The Quest to Become the Knightside Chris Froome has been completed…..for now….