CCC Day 6
Distance today: 115 miles
Ascent today: 10,900 feet (a breeze, well actually a gale)
Hours in saddle so far: 50
Distance to go: 490 miles (below 500)
Ascent to go: 62,200 feet (2.2x Everest)
Cols to go: Only 30 but they’re massive!
Phil says: “Back round the northern side of Ventoux for the last time, by another route, we climb through the magical village of Brantes before heading east towards the long steady climb up to the Col de Perty with its panorama over the High Alps. The second half of this very picturesque stage takes in most of the challenging and beautiful "Tour de la Montagne d'Aujour" loop, followed by the "Balcons de Rousine" with 180° views over the Parc des Ecrins to our east. Provence is now a fond memory as the High Alps now prepare to welcome us.”
It was a wet day. Now in Cambridgeshire that might sound like a bit of an inconvenience. For a long day in the saddle at altitudes around the height of Ben Nevis it makes the whole day much, much tougher. We set out into a gale. While the rain wasn’t especially hard the roads were very wet. Matt almost went down on the very first corner, locking his back wheel and only very superior bike handling skills kept him upright. That sobered everyone up. The winds were gusting, I’d guess (and I’ve had a lot of practice at this from UK commuting) to 50mph. We started down narrow lanes that were now strewn with debris, a puncture or worse just waiting to happen. Had there been a “transport me magically to the hotel” button I think I’d have pressed it then. In fact, perhaps there was….within the first 5km at least two riders were blown of the road by the wind and one suffered a shoulder strain that put him in the van for the day. I was actually quite pleased with my side-wind handling skills, while I can’t practice mountains at home, rain and wind are just as strong as the Alps!
My normal approach to wet weather and rubbish roads is to ride solo. That way you can see the debris and you don’t get a mud shower from the back wheel of the guy in front. But in these winds solo riding would have been suicidal. So into the bunch it was. And much mud came my way. In fact, towards the end of the day I was wondering why I was struggling to read road signs and wondering about eye problems. Then when I got to the hotel and took off my glasses I was amazed I’d even spotted the signs, they were absolutely coated with mud. But we’re getting ahead of the story.
So the first 15km took over an hour when they should have taken around 40 mins (there was climbing involved, of course). It looked like, yet again, a day that on paper was easier (for a CCC, still well over 100 miles though!) wasn’t going to turn out that way. Up we went and into the mist. That’s nasty. You get very wet and as a result as soon as you descend, very cold. At least there were no massive descents today so the time in the freezer was bearable. And the mist ruins the views (only joking, in a bunch the only view is the back wheel of the rider in front).
It rained and it rained. But at least the wind abated a little. We gingerly descended every climb knowing that there was a fair chance of (1) slippery roads (2) debris and (3) poor visibility. By morning snack I’d resigned myself to it and perhaps might have held off on the “get me to the hotel button”. But I was pretty sure that paying for the experience so far that day was a very silly idea.
At lunch we’d been over the biggest climb and were served hot soup. Suddenly the world wasn’t such a bad place. And the rain was easing. In fact, it mostly held off in the afternoon with a few 10 min heavy showers, the roads dried out, the scenery improved and the world became a better place. I carefully checked tyres every few hours – all good. Legs were tired from yesterday but what’s a mere 116 miles and by 4:30pm we were negotiating the rush hour traffic in Gap and using a very different set of cycling skills honed in London!
And joy of joy, the hotel shower had a large container of shower gel on the wall (rather than a token sachet). After 10 mins of hard scrubbing the tide marks on my legs mostly disappeared. And another 15 washes of kit finally resulted in the water coming off clean-ish.
So we got lucky. If this had happened yesterday Ventoux would have been a very different proposition. And today was a short day. But we’ve now got three days in the very high Alps, heading to 9,000 feet. And more rain is forecast.
With long hours in the saddle, you might be wondering what I think about. When riding solo all sorts of random things cross your mind from matters related to cycling to completely unrelated thoughts. Indeed, it’s a great time to just let your mind wander. But group cycling requires that bit more concentration and that seems to crowd out idle thoughts. So not much, is the short answer. Except annoying songs that get planted there in the morning. For some reason Lothar has a thing about the song “Ain’t nobody, loves me better”. So that’s what went through my mind on the occasions when I wasn’t thinking about how much I disliked bunch riding in the rain. Sometimes you just can’t control what you think about.
And in a rather bizarre quirk for the CCC one of the riders didn’t ride today because this morning they dropped their iPhone down the toilet and decided getting another one was more important so took a taxi to Gap to buy one!