The megavalanche is known bike breaker. One of the riders we met this year had a close escape....
Friday, 25 July 2008
196km to Saint Etienne today. Not straightforward by any means. A beautiful early morning leaving Alpe D'Huez in the van after what was a basic (poor quality) breakfast and a poor nights sleep in a cheap rundown hotel (which shall remain nameless!).
Recovery from yesterday's monster stage was therefore compromised just when I needed it to be 100%. The van dropped me off close to Bourg D'oisans centre for the official stage start and I began downhill into a cool headwind through the Romanche valley towards the (capital of the French alps) city of Grenoble.
Onwards and upwards into the Chartreuse mountains things were getting tiring and my legs / system just wasn't firing on all cylinders today. Before the 150km point I arrived into the Massif Central region (again) and battled my way through plenty of rogue traffic systems and round abouts en route to St Etienne - the pre-amble to the city was perhaps the ugliest of all the 3 weeks of riding - not bad in the grand scheme of things but unlike the majority of the course to date. I was glad to finish this stage - a tough one and another near 200km done.
Today, understandably, the crew were showing signs of fatigue too after 3 weeks on the road covering huge distances stuck in a van without air conditioning. Stop start, stop start looking after me - ensuring I go the right way at key points and handing me food/drink at planned and sometimes random checkpoints. My soigneur, Ed, had managed to mislay his mobile on the course somewhere and it took him an hour there and an hour back re-tracing the course to find it - worth it though as we've all been in that nasty situation before I suspect.
The van suffered a mnor bump too whilst reversing into a laybay ahead of a 'feed station'. All in all, a few cracks were appearing today and I suggested that we statt a little later tomorrow morning, take things real easy and be safe rather than ride our luck. Agreed by all!
Nearly there now... more stretches, more massage, more food, more handwashing ...bed.
time in saddle: 6hrs 45 mins
feel good factor: 5/10
conditions: v.windy, 30 degrees
ipod tune: un jour comme un autre - Brigitte Bardot.
Stage 19 - montlucon
A warm start - just like summer in France should be.
Crew and me more chilled today after agreeing to start a little later and take more time during prep/breakfast etc.
I used some of the extra time to update my alpine stages blog and respond to emails.
Today's stage was another deceptively difficult one - it was hotting up too - 24 degrees in the morning and later 34 degees.
False flats, short descents immediately followed by short ascents - this course was designed perfectly on these roads - to grind out any energies left over from the mountains - to kid you into thinking you were home and dry and then another hill - even small ones hurt more at this point. That said, It was fortunate for me that I FELT AS STRONG TODAY, IF NOT STRONGER than at any stage in this year's tour. My recovery was complete it would seem from les alpes and the legs were in good shape. From the first (13km long) climb I was in race mode - keen to get any tough terrain out of the way for good. I blasted over this climb at an average of 24.5km/ph and continued a high pace/cadence for the remainder of the day. A tail / cross wind helped me today a I finished in just over 5 hrs very satisfied and beginning to think of Paris.
Incredible countryside again and can finally say that today marked the last day in the hills/mountains.
Conditions: 34 degrees, dry heat. Windy
Feel good factor: 10/10
time in the saddle: 5hrs 10 mins
ipod tune: diesel power - prodigy
Stage 20 - time trial
My plan all along was to treat the time trials as easy, wind down stages - to spin the legs in a small gear enabling a faster recovery for the latter stages. That is what I did at Cholet during week 1 and that was pretty much what happended today although I admit to keeping it in the big chainring and doing the odd blast if only because Paris is so close now and the course was incredible - both picturesque and fast - a few hills though!
Whilst having to stay focussed my thoughts are turning to Paris tomorrow and meeting my parents under the Arc de Triomphe after what seems like an age riding around this country. Myself and the crew constantly chat about where we've been so far and it became genuinely difficult sometime ago to recall each stage - photos will help when I get home!
Ironically, today's time trial took us within skipping distance of a stage town from week 1 - Chateroux! Thats a 3,500km loop the way we've tackled it!
Real 'Allo Allo' country for Francophiles here.
Still 2 days ahead of the tour and PARIS tomorrow - will be exciting bu t very challenging logistically - can imagine it will take alot longer than anticipated.
time in the saddle: 1hr 30 mins
feel good factor: 9/10
ipod tune: let it loose - rolling stones
conditions - very dry, hot and less wind - 34 degrees
Wednesday, 23 July 2008
Staying in Mondovi - 30km form tomorrow's stage start in Cuneo. Amazing little town , typically Italian - medieval architecture with views over the piemonte hills and alps.
The thing I most look forward to on a rest day isn't just the physical rest but the quality time to do the simplest of things without feeling rushed along by the relentless and unforgiving rythmn that is demanded of me.
Spent a few hours on the internet in my hotel room upatuing the blog and responding to friends etc. Strolled into Mondovi itself, took the furnicular railway to the top and sipped espresso at the top, just absorbing the place at a very leisurely (tourist!) pace.
After suffering some pain in my lower hamstrings yesterday I compressed some ice on the area in bed and also at the dinner table then re-applied muscle cream to relive the aching ahead of tomorrow.
Bought a few treats whilst out in Mondovi - simple things to make the next day pass a little easier - coca cola, chocolate. Tomorrow wil be tricky after being out of my rythmn today.
Conditions: overcast, v. humid 28 degrees
feel good factor: 7/10
ipod tune: 7 mmore days - Terence Trent D'arby
Started with a beautiful apetiser from Italy over the border to France via the col de la lombarde. A tough and very scenic climb to over 2300m.
A very fast descent brought me to the base of the monster climb - the highest pass in Europe - col de la bonnette in the mercantour national park - quite a wilderness.
At 2,802m nothing grows this high up - the pass was dark, grey today with very threatening clouds - black slate scree falls dominate the upper slopes ( a bit like Wast Water in the lake district but a lot grander).
This is an interminable climb - a real slog all the way up - possibly the grandest of all the 'grand cols des alpes'.
To see the summit from 15km away was spirit breaking and to make matters worse (you've guessed it) the heavens opened midway up. Straigh away I dressed properly in winter kit , gloves, lngs, jacket and battled against the high winds (strong enough to blow the steel barriers over placed for the spectators). The temperature was dropping and the rian appeared to be turning to sleet as I was 3 km from the lunar landscape summit.
Struggling to control my 5 kilo bike my heart rate was shotting up and my speed shooting down to a pityful 8km per hour. This is about as tough as it gets . Still I had the challenge of the cold, wet and incredibly dangerous descent to Jausiers... a hard day in the saddle indeed.
On top of that i HAD THE PLEASURE OF A 2 HOUR transfer across the valley to our stage start tomorrow - staying in a hotel near to embrun. With the heat on full blast I just about dried by the time we reached our destination - irrititable, tired and hungry.
time in saddle: 6 hrs 50 mins
feel good factor: 2/10
ipod tune: here comes the rain - eurythmics.
stage 17 - alpe d'huez
***government health warning***
The coup de grace today - the queen stage - the absolute classic alpine tour de france stage and about as hard as a course gets without any extrea help from the elements. even the seasoned pros will struggle to stay within the time limit when they tackle this one.
Started out on the road early after handwashing my wet kit the night before things were still damp when i dressed. Had to clean my (totally beaten up) bike too and 05:45 was the only time I could do this so to say that I WAS UP AGAINST IT FROM THE START WOULD BE AN UNDERSTATEMENT. tHAT SAID i got on with it, then had breakfast for 06:30 and hence was able to get going by 07:00 as planned. The late bedtime (23:39) didn't help either but still I was feeling ok somehow.
The first 30km seemed to go qute fast in the coldd (still in the shadows) valleys with magnificent views of the 400m snow capped ecrins range.
I was on a good day today - i could sense it - I knew I would be ok - just had to pace it right and get the best out of myself. First over the 2,645m galibier - went quickly in clear perfect skies (but still dressed in winter kit - very cold at the top).
The desent was fast, very fast touching speeds of 85/90km/ph. My heart r ate even dropped to 54bpm on the descent near the end - whilst i was still on the bike - thats [pretty god for me and showed that I was recovering very well indeed from the previous days.
Then came the nasty long side of the croix de fer - a climb up to 2,100m with a the steepest section at the end - a leg breaker on most days - today I was riding like a diesel engine - felt as though I could ridden 250km in the mountains let alone 210km.
Alp ed'huez was crowded, crazy busy in preparation for le tour - hoards of drunken utch and german spectators in particular. I did well , heldd it together and managed just over the hour on the climb to fonish the stage in 8 hrs 35mins. happy with that.
time in saddle; 8hrs 35 mins
feel good factor: 8/10
ipod tune: the battle of evermore - led zeppelin
conditions: cold, very cold, crisp and windy. sharp alpine sun.
And the puddle that never dries. Any bike companies out there who want to give us some bike gear to test?! External bearings, hubs... give us a call!