Thanks Al, but luck is no good to me - I tend to 'undo' any luck with my piss poor planning!Sun 1/7
La Pyreneenne (one day I will learn where to put the accents on that...)
185km 4000km (total 200km after ride back to start)
Arrived the afternoon before, camped near the start. Had made a strange (in retrospect) decision to sleep in a bivi bag. Not sure of the rationale. Campsite full of Spanish cyclists with their 40 grand VW californias, pointing and laughing at the guy sleeping on the floor. Woken up at 5am by a thunderstorm, and spent the next hour of torrential rain trying to talk myself out of packing up and going home. Crawled out of bed into a puddle.
Cut it too fine, arrived at the start without gloves and empty bidons. It was cold and wet, I was wearing everything I'd brought - a SS jersey, arm warmers and a gilet. Reports of 0º and snow on the Tourmalet. Fuuuuuck....
So off we go behind the director's car, a very small field compared to previous years (forecast had been bad all week), I get up to the front in order to minimise losses when I (hopefully) pull over for water. After 20km of climbing the Gavernie valley in heavy rain, the road hits Luz St Saveur and the start of the Tourmalet proper. At Bareges I spot a fountain and fill a bidon. Can't drink it, it's warm (or are my hands cold) and tastes of sewage. The climb enters the high pasture and I can see the front group, and a following one, a couple of hairpins up. I won't see them again all day.
The Tourmalet goes well, I can't feel my fingers but noone passes me, and I get a PB of 1h24. Finally get water at the top, and off we go down the amazing descent through La Mongie. On a good day, this is wide open, 95kmh, best bit of the route. It's not a good day. My hands are useless blocks, I have to stop to change to the big ring. I've got one eye on the 50m of visibilty through the fog and sleet, and one on my fingers to make sure they're actually on the brakes. I've never been so cold, I'm shaking so hard the bike is going all over the road. Riders abandoning all the way, I see one guy riding back up to the col, he's in tears. Into La Mongie, there are a load of bikes outside a ski lodge. Riders huddled in the doorway. Looks cosy, I'll join them. The guy in the lodge is annoyed at the mess we're making of his carpet, but goes off to bring coffee. One guy is on the phone to get a taxi.
I decide to get back on the bike before the coffee comes and makes the decision for me. I feel like Andy Hampsten descending the Gavia with his frozen hair. In reality, if the idea of splitting a minibus back to the start had arisen, I'm not sure what I would have done. I averaged 25kmh on the descent, maybe the slowest time in history! Game plan for the race changes, with all that time lost, there are no groups, I'm no longer going for a good placing, just to finish. That feels pretty good, no pressure. Finishing the descent, you arrive in Ste Marie de Campan and the course splits. We (4 valleys) turn right, to do two more cat 1 climbs. The 2 valleys, which starts an hour later, will turn left and continue straight to the final climb. I notice a lot of people have turned left...
It's warmer in the valley, and not raining so hard. I actually enjoy climbing the Aspin, which destroyed me last year, and get up in 43m (55 in 2011) without pushing, enjoying the amazing views, wild flowers and dodging the cows. It's a lonely climb, but at the water stop on the top there are a few people milling around trying to summon up the 'ganas' to descend into the cold. 3 of us hit it together, it's cold but dry lines are appearing and the lower altitude means I'm not shaking all over the road. We're trying to hang onto a kid whose colour coordination deserves special mention. Lime green frame, blue seat mast. Red spokes. FLouro green bar tape, red hoods. White leg warmers, three jerseys in different colours. NOTHING matched, yet looked brilliant! He's young, but daft as a brush, and tows us to the foot of the Hourquette d'Ancizan, we hit the climb and he blows up. The other lad is from Granada (ie more used to suffering in heat rather than cold) and we ride fairly easy, chatting. He didn't bring gloves either, I'm trying to make light of the situation but he hasn't seen the funny side so far
Still erring on the side of caution, I hold 160bpm which means dropping my new mate. I meant to warn him about the nasty double summit, but turn round and he's gone. There are about 60km of downhill/flat/rolling roads after the summit, I wonder if it's worth waiting for him as there is absolutely noone in sight ahead. I get to the top in 51m, about 6m down on last year, and enjoy the flat out descent through the high meadows.
It's slightly downhill all the way to the foot of the climb to Neuilh. This climb can be tough, as you overlook it in the profile, surrounded by giants. It's still 6km at 4%, and you grumble all the way up as this section WAS SUPPOSED TO BE FLAT!!!! It's raining again, I go over the top and am now passing stragglers with red dorsals from the 2 valleys race. It's another 20km to the final climb, the summit finish of Hautacam and by the time I get there, I've done 60km solo at a 34kmh average - I'm ruined. It's my first time on Hautacam, I am not prepared for its steepness. 14km, and like all these climbs, has km markers showing remaining kms/metres, and avg gradient for the coming km. Each one is 9, 10, 11%, it doesn't let up. At first, I'm frustrated with myself as my lungs are fine but the legs are shot, trying feebly to keep over 150bpm, but nearing the top my entire body goes into hibernate mode. There are cold, shaking riders, coming down - they're done for the day. I'm trying to convince myself they're mostly 2 valleys riders, but it doesn't look good in terms of final placing.
I finished in 8h15m, an hour and a half after the first rider home (ironically my time from last year would've won it!)http://app.strava.com/activities/12269344
(5th on Strava Tourmalet leaderboard, or 1st in 35-44 group!!)
"No se deja de pedalear cuando se envejece.
Se envejece cuando se deja de pedalear"