Distance today: 128 miles
Ascent today: 16,700 feet (back to tough days)
Hours in saddle so today: 9hr 30mins (that’s a long time to be pushing pedals)
Distance to go: 362 miles
Ascent to go: 45,800 feet (1.6x Everest)
Cols to go: 22
Phil says: “This stage is the first of the final four stages that between them cover almost all of the Classic Giants of the Southern Alps. After a rolling ride towards and across the Durance valley, followed by more steady climbing that brings us down to the Ubaye valley, we reach the outskirts of Barcelonette and the start of the epic trilogy-loop that makes up just over half of this stage. Over stages 7,8 9 we climb no less than ten cols well over 2000m altitude.”
It was a big day today. We were into the high Alps which meant climbs that took 90 mins or more. It’s hard to get your head around a climb like that. When you turn onto the climb, your legs hurt and you know there’s no let-up for an hour and a half. The logical part of your mind says “you’ve done it before, you can do it again” and the physical part says “it’s going to hurt, surely there’s easier ways to spend a weekend” and the two do battle for a while.
Quite a few failed that battle today. One went home this morning with saddle sores that had become untreatable. I’m lucky that I’ve never suffered in that way – indeed, given my ultra-thin and virtually unpadded saddle and the time spent sitting on it each day, it’s a minor miracle that it still feels comfortable! But the balls of my feet are on fire, at one point the pain today was so intense I could hardly bear to pedal. I do have a solution of a sort – my other pair of shoes, which I like less because they’re a lot heavier, don’t seem to have the same effect, so they’ll be on tomorrow and probably for the rest of the trip (which is just three more days). Anyway, I digress. The trip today was in two parts. A morning stage that climbed multiple smaller cols, getting within 4 miles of our hotel, then a “classic” loop of three well-known climbs, - the Col D’Allos, Champs and Cayolle trilogy before getting to the hotel. This classic loop is a major day’s ride for most cyclists, of course for the CCC team it was an afternoon’s outing. But sadly the allure of the hotel and missing three massive climbs was too much for some of the slower CCC cyclists and I think around 4 opted out, I’m sure all for good reasons. So I suspect we’re at about the normal 1/3 attrition rate or maybe slightly higher.
On the plus side, we had an extra – Thomas’s partner arrived at lunchtime looking sleek, tanned and sporting a matching bike to Thomas. So the fast team had an extra member. It was really interesting to see how we’ve changed. After lunch or a descent our legs stiffen. Getting going is painful and best done gently. But after 5-10 mins we’re humming along and into an all-day endurance groove. So Thomas’s partner (sorry, I don’t know her name) would shoot off leaving us behind, but before long we’d overtake and our solid climbing would eventually leave her off the back of the group at which point Thomas left to join her. I can no longer sprint, but I can lock in my 150 heart rate and climb solidly all day long!
We got lucky weather-wise today. It was forecast to be wet in the morning and thunderstorms in the afternoon which sounded gruesome when we were up over 2,000m (nearly 7,000 feet – or Snowdon on top of Ben Nevis) three times. But the morning turned out dry and mostly sunny. That was a good thing as one of the early descents was just awful, with more pot-holes than road, huge lumps of rock everywhere and stream running across and down the road. Add in early morning sun in our eyes and deep shade masking all sorts of trouble and the risk factor went off the scale. I descended at near walking pace, which meant I was late to the snack stop and in the rush to leave forgot one of my drinks bottles. Although I had another, with 45 miles and a massive climb to go to lunch that wasn’t enough. I was in trouble. The fast team were great and Dan gave me some of his drink and I rationed things out then, miracle of miracles, the snack vehicle drove by, handed me my bottle out of the window and drove on. Great tactics – I didn’t need to carry the water halfway up the climb! But not clever. There’s just so much to remember and tired minds are befuddled that it’s all too easy to forget something.
The three climbs of the afternoon were gorgeous. Fantastic scenery and the weather held off – just. It started raining on the peak of the second climb but within 5 mins of descending had stopped and kept promising on the third. We had 20 miles of descent off the climb but the roads were lumpy. Go fast and dry or slow and comfortable? In this case the risk assessment was fast. I stood out of the saddle as the bike bucked underneath me. Then I braked sharply as a marmot shot across the road without looking, followed a mile later by a cat! Rock strewn roads required more caution as did cars that didn’t want to give any space to cyclists. So it ended up being rather slower than expected, but safe and still in time to avoid the rain. Now I need to go and replace brake blocks – they wear out fast here.
So the first of the “big 3” days over. Tomorrow is even more epic over a pass at 2,700m – but more about that it tomorrow’s blog. I’m still going well – and the legs don’t hurt too much. Not bad for an oldie!
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