What goes up, must come down…

…and up it went and down it came.

20120721-122957.jpg 201km over some of the Tours great climbs, there was only ever going to be one way to describe this Etape: Tough. Four major climbs dotted the profile, but on closer inspection the flat sections were in fact gradual inclines to the base of the climbs. As usual the start was like being shot out of a cannon and if you wanted to avoid working on your own then best go with the flow.

This year I got put in pen 2, so the pace was slower to the climb but the group riding a little more sketchy. As the years go on I’d rather go “balls out” in the red zone with half decent group riders than at a fair pace with riders on the brakes all the time. There were about three incidents with riders on the ground on the way to the base of the first climb.

At the top of the first climb awaited one of my first memories of the Tour de France: the swooping road which connects the Aubisque to the Solour, a helicopter shot panned across a road clinging to the contour of the mountain as the peleton formed a colourful sting threading it’s way through the rocky arches. Almost tied to both ends like flags at a local festival, a lasting view which kindled my passion for the Tour. By the time we reached this part of the course we looked like washing hung out to drip after the failed spin of a washing machine.

Clouds hung low over the mountains, where we were spared the worst of the weather on the leeward side climbing the mountain, cresting the top brought us face on into the driving rain. It is a phenomenon that I’ve not encountered before, a tailwind nudging us up the climb, yet a headwind (with driving rain) taking us head-on down the descents.

Call me crazy, but somehow I was happier to have this weather than the scorching heat the South of France can bring. I missed my window of opportunity to do any heat training (read as: preferred the sofa to the turbo) so having endured a Summer of rain and wind, this is what we’d “trained” in. Besides, descending in the rain doesn’t phase me, so it played into my hands quite well.

To get up the mountains you need to train properly, the part I’d missed out on this year, but to go down mountains you just need to relax and be confident in your tyres, bike handling and decision making. Experiencing a slightly sluggish feeling going up, I released the back brakes, to no avail, nevertheless the placebo effect was enough to keep me happy. As I headed down the Tourmalet I gave my brakes a little squeeze (my usual check before the speed gets up) realising there was nothing on the back, I flicked the lever down just before coming into the first bend.

20120721-122920.jpgThe back wheel started skipping around, standing the bike upright, oops too much back brake. Ahead lay a very quick descent, off piste, which I wasn’t willing to try, well not on this bike anyway. Release brakes, knee out, throw the bike round the corner, off you go without even battering an eyelid. I don’t think my heart rate increased one extra beat, am guessing the cold weather slowed it’s reaction times, that or I spent way too much time descending mountains last year. Pity the ascending effect doesn’t last as long.

The bottom of the Tourmalet was a bit of a casualty zone, those who chose to leave their rain jackets at home (most riders) were taking shelter in the feedzone, shaking uncontrollably. The two squares of emergency foil blanket I’d cut up and taken along just in case came to good use, as I wrapped one piece around my chest, I spotted a clubmate who was in a worse state, wearing only a gilet, it was a relief to see him return to some semblance of normality.

20120721-122900.jpgThe final two climbs were quite manageable and finding my body coming to life after 170km when many around me were starting to fade, was an odd position to be in. There were no real goals for this ride, bar enjoying the ride and taking in the scenery. Low cloud put paid to the later goal and 9 months on the sofa the former goal. So it was a pleasant surprise to get in around 9.5 hours, which was what I thought it would take. What I hadn’t expected was to get 7th. Damn had I not stopped to get my cranks reattached on the Tourmalet (something to do with my dodgy mechanical skills) who knows where that would have left me.

The stats for Etape Act 2: 14 July 2012

Pau to Bagneres de-Luchon
Distance: 201km
Ride time: 9h31
Top speed: 69.9kph (in the rain)
Gels consumed: 6
Energy bars consumed: 1.5
Feedstops: 2 – taking in some very dry cake (where are those Belgium waffles when you need them)
Peestops: none (mmm maybe needed more water)
Position woman: 7th

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: