Monday, 1 July 2013

The Pyrenean Pain Cave

I have made it to Rest Day 1 and safely through the first nine stages of 21 of Le Tour. Whilst the legs are sore and we are all fatigued, everything seems to be in working order thankfully. Rest Day 1 is a decent milestone and we can now look forward to some flatter days in Brittany following the raid into the Pyrenees over the last two days. 

For Stage 8 we rode 90 miles before facing 30 miles consisting of the HC Col de Pailhères (2001m) followed by a summit finish on the Cat 1 climb to the ski station at Ax 3 Domaines (1350m). The Tour categorises its climbs based on the length of the climb and the average gradient, Cat 4 being the easiest through to Cat 1 and then to HC (hors catergorie, directly translated as "outside category" or English slang, "huge climb") being the hardest. To give you some idea of the criteria for HC climbs the Col de Pailhères was a nine mile climb into the snow line above 2000m with an average gradient of 8%. I found it a difficult stage with wooden legs and a fragile stomach on the Pailhères but managed a strong final push up to Ax 3 Domaines. The next day, stage 9 saw us ride over four Cat 1 and one Cat 2 climbs. It was an incredible day of dramatic riding with beautiful weather and scenery in the mountains. Like a Wiggle express delivery, my climbing legs arrived and going uphill started proving fairly straightforward. However, the fifth and final climb of the day saw me take a visit to the pain cave. This is a dark and unpleasant place where the mind must overcome the voices from your legs begging you to stop driving upwards. I suspect my next visit to this foreboding spot will be on Mt Ventoux at the end of Stage 15 - Christian, I hope you are ready to make the visit with me!

Coming to the summit of La Hourquette d'Ancizan, with its breathtaking views and knowing that the Pyrenean stages were complete was an incredible feeling. It also inspired belief that making it to Paris was possible. As I sit here on the eight hour coach transfer up to Brittany (some rest day!), that self belief grows even stronger. Thank you to all that have been following this blog and sending messages of support for helping fuel that fire.

Looking forward and having learnt so much about managing my efforts in the past nine days, the plan is to ride the coming flat stages mid pack and look to conserve as much energy as possible as we build towards Ventoux and the Alps. A strong showing in the final week would be a great result. 

As usual here are a few snaps to reflect events since the last blog...

View coming down the descent of Col de Val Louron-Azet

The beautiful and moving memorial to Fabio Casttelli on the descent of the Col de Portet-d'Aspet, an Italian professional rider who crashed and died at this spot when racing Le Tour in 1995...

Your correspondent looking louche and moody prior to Stage 8...

 
And of course the promised pro tan shot from Rest Day 1... coming on nicely