CCC Day 9
Road blockages climbed around: 4
Ascent today: 16,000 feet
Those who have done all cols so far: 5
Distance to go: 100 miles
Ascent to go: 12,900 feet (0.4x Everest)
Phil says: “Beginning in France the majority of this stage enjoys the drama of the Italian Piemonte region with some more extra-ordinary climbs. The Col d’Agnel has featured recently in the Tour and its’ steep slopes sets the tone for this epic penultimate stage. It is only lower than the Bonette by 55m ! After an adrenalin-rush descent to Sampeyre the 16km climb to the Colle of the same name is our first true ‘ Pantani-Playground-Piemonte’ climb. This brute is followed by the epic trilogy of the Esischie-Valonetto-dei Morti which provides the meat for a renowned local annual Fondo. It will be more than enough to finish our day! Finally, our arrival into Cuneo is as grand as it gets : our very classy hotel is on the Main Plaza. Although here for just one night, we certainly get the best taste possible of Italy. Best breakfast too of the whole event!”
Insane was the word on everyone’s lips today. And I want to go back to France!
So today was the last of the “big 3” days with multiple climbs over 2,000m. We started in France and crossed into Italy via the Col D’Agnel which at 2,720m is pretty much the same height as the Bonette. So another hugely long climb of some 25 miles ascending over 1,700m. By the time we got to the top we were nearly 2 miles up in the air and the air was thin. The road surface degenerated right on the border. We were all nervous about another hypothermic experience but the forecast looked better. Nervous eyes cast around the sky as we climbed but it stayed clear and the long valley climb was beautiful. I climbed well, looked around and breathed it all in – the last mega-climb of the trip. On the descent my back brake decided to start vibrating, squealing and generally making it loudly known it wasn’t happy about life. That didn’t make 14% descents into hairpin bends pleasant but I held on knowing the snack stop was close. As soon as I got there a quick rim wipe, a 30 second “toe in” of the brake blocks (making the front of the blocks touch the wheel very slightly before the back) and a tightening of all bolts and we were good to go. Or we would have been on a bike with full suspension. The road surface was fragmented giving a horrible buffeting on my super-stiff super-bike.
Then came the second ascent. “Wild” was how Phil described it. Lacking a road surface would be my interpretation. Often I had to ride on a ridge in the middle, switch to the outside to miss gravel, hop the bike over big holes and bounce across completely unpaved sections. It was another 90 minute climb, again going well, but as I got to the top thunder was rumbling. A frantic stop for jackets and off just as the heavy rain arrived. But miraculously after a couple of minutes the rain stopped. That was just as well because the descent was treacherous. There would be a smooth section when I’d gather pace and then suddenly it would degenerate into pot-hole bingo. That meant a cautious descent.
So we got to lunch dry, that was great as we only had one climb in the afternoon. Another massive one, up to 2,500m for the last climb of the trip over 2,000m. Another nearly 2 hour effort. And unbelievable the road was even worse. It pitched up to 15% in places and where it did it was just gravel making the back wheel spin. On one section I had to get off because I just couldn’t get traction. The views were good – but I hardly had time to look as I continuously tried to find a way around the lack of road. Then at the top the road was blocked by a snow-drift. Off I got and climbed over it. And then a mud-slide. Then another snow drift. Finally we got to go down and it was just a complete mess. Mud-slides, unpaved sections, parts under repair where we had to get off and walk around. I picked up my first ever CCC puncture – frankly I’m staggered it was only one and happily it was low down in a sheltered area.
But I count my lucky stars it never really rained. I couldn’t have coped with another day like yesterday and these descents were near-impossible in the dry.
We did a quick tally last night. Of the 21 riders, only 5 have done all the cols. Three have done all but one and given there were 101 cols on the trip after the extra excursion on day 4 (remember) that means we are on for 5/21 complete and 8/21 to claim “100 cols”. That’s an extraordinarily low number for this trip and a testimony to just how hard it is in terms of the effort needed, the skill required to stay on the bike, to stay well and stay safe and keep the bike in one piece.
Tonight my wrists hurt from the buffeting but the change of shoes has sorted the problems with the balls of my feet and amazingly nothing else hurts. I’ve never had a CCC so comfortable before!
So last day tomorrow, and it starts with an even wider section…
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