Nearly all of us are hanging on by our fingernails now and whilst the realisation that the Tour is soon to finish is dawning, we are still willing the end to arrive.
Going into the Alps for the final week is as close to cycling cruelty as you'll get. This is typical programming from the TdF organisers who are passionate about seeing the strongest rider wear yellow in Paris. These last gruelling stages are designed to weed out maillot jaune pretenders and put the winning candidate under vast amounts of physical and mental pressure.
For us, it is a test of hanging on in there. Our bodies are riddled with fatigue. Eyes are sunken and nobody is walking as tall as they did in Corsica. Despite the exhaustion, broken nights' sleep is common as legs twitch and constantly ache, we continue to saddle up by 7.30am each day, knowing full well the next 7 to 10 hours will hurt. The masseuses are fighting losing battles with limbs as the only cure now is rest and recuperation. We are at our limits.
In terms of riding my bike and to coin cycling parlance, I am pedalling in squares. Smooth and supple revolutions have been replaced with staccato stabs. As I ascend now, I rock and roll over my saddle and grind. It's not really cycling anymore, just digging in. Today, and after two HC climbs back to back, my grip became so weak that it was difficult grasping the handlebars. My appetite constantly craves caffeine and sugar to help fight the fatigue. My throat and stomach are not so keen.
Despite where we find ourselves physically, emotionally and mentally, we are so close to Paris now. Just the final push on Stage 20 covering off some beautiful peaks near Annecy. As a group we will continue to support each other and I am sure that the unique camaraderie that has been created here will see us over the line. It's astounding that just under three weeks ago we didn't know each other and now we work as a well oiled machine, knees excluded. The Tour de Force... a giant bike ride, an amazing fundraiser and an accelerated friendship programme. Essentially a triumph of the human spirit and a legacy I am sure William Wates would have been proud of.
Another Alps col in the bag
Stage 19 finishing photo - a superb bunch of Tour de Forcers