Monday, June 18, 2018

21 June, 2013: Farewelling the Pyrenees

Previous:  20 June

After the previous day's mission, I enjoyed a slow breakfast this morning, but beautiful warm weather and blue skies awaited.

I hadn't been able to find a suitable stage starting in Ax-les Thermes, so the day's route was based on a future stage finishing there.  Sort of.  Stage 8 of the 2013 race was due to end at the Ax-3-Domaines ski-field in a few weeks' time.

I had stayed at the bottom of the final climb, so the first riding task of the day was to get myself up to the top.  In the spirit of self-sufficiency (well, actually, in the spirit of minimising communication with anyone), I decided not to piss around with my gear and took everything up the Cat.1 Ax-3-Domaines (and then straight back down again).

As I moved east along the Pyrenees, local councils had slightly different designs for these wonderful signs. 

The 8.5km climb went fast with fresh legs and only one full bottle.  It was so nice to be in the sun, and I got back down in reasonably good shape.

Some of the ski infrastructure at the top of the climb

I stopped at a café for coffee and two croissants, and managed to get Katy on the phone (the low tech, expensive way in the end – skype wasn’t playing ball).  I made sure both bottles were full, and then got on my way again.

Portable water, not to mention drinkable!
The hors categorie Port de Pailheres climb started straightaway.  It was very mellow at bottom, but still afforded good views back over As-les-Thermes.

After about 5km of climbing, I started picking off riders from a tour group.  They'd been dropped off by a van, who would stop and check in from time to time.  They weren't hauling luggage, and I was somewhat envious (they in turn, were probably envious of my pace)!

At Ski-station a few kilometres from the top, a single Garmin rider came blasting down, followed by a team van.  I presumed it was Ryder Hesjedal, who was likely to be their GC candidate in the Tour.

It was very cold at the top, and I arrived in a bit of a lather after a steep final kilometre.  There was a cool view across to the village of Bonascre at the Ax-3-Domaines summit.  As a reward for my efforts, one of the riding-tour group kindly took my photograph.

The road down was a work of art.  There were some very tight corners and short sections of road between them.  Despite donning my jacket and fluoro vest and beanie, and the multitude of photo stops, I still got very cold.

I saw Jess Douglas's crew on their way up - of course they were riding the stage the way it was meant to be done - and stopped to talk to their guide for a few minutes.  He seemed like a nice guy.

Once the descent proper had finished, the road disappeared into les Gorges de St Georges.  The glorious mountain engineering was almost trumped by the effort that had gone into this road!

Despite the lost altitude, it was still a very cold ride down the gorge and my fingers got very numb.  When I finally arrived at Axat, I stopped for an omelette.  And then stopped a million times more trying to get more to eat.  Patisseries were closed, a supermarket had about a 10 minute queue, etc.  Finally, I got a couple of apples, a banana and a litre of orange juice.

It was a long ride to Limoux and it seemed like a bit of a dump - definitely out of character with most of the places I'd passed through.  I felt a little sorry for my old school friend Andy Reid, who'd worked here for a bit for Cycling NZ.  I'd battled a headwind riding down-valley to get there, and it didn't seem worth the effort in hindsight!

The next stop was Castelnaudry.  It was up a hill, but despite that had a little lake with heaps of launches on it.  I had some pizza bread and flan and coke and a chocolate donut to take away. Took a long time to get there, but started to feel a bit better upon leaving.

I had been harbouring feelings of frustration about my progress.  Perhaps too much time on internet/phone and not enough getting organised.  The late start hadn't helped.

Fucked around with the sign at the Revel city limit (in honour of the lovely Alex, Michael and Stephanie Revell), and then had a short climb up to another lake.

It seems there are both morons and talented artists the world over
The ensuing descent dropped me onto wet roads - perhaps the messing around hadn't been so bad after all?!  The roads stayed wet for final 26km to Castres, passing plenty of signs that the Tour was coming to town.

I found my pre-booked hotel relatively easily.  I was delighted to discover that my room had a bath, which I made good use of!!!

It turned out I'd arrived in the middle of a music festival.  When I went out for dinner, there were stages everywhere, often in competition and difficult to hear in isolation!  I settled on a pub, and had a big old feed of paella.

Rock on \m/
The day started with a warm-up: 11.6km, 1 hour elapsed, 650m climbed.  Then the stage itself: 198km, 10h15 elapsed, 2300m climbed.  All up, 209km, in a little over 11 hours, with one HC and one Cat.1 climb.  This was my 12th day of riding, and the distance covered by the end of it was 2182km, an average of almost 182km per day.  

Sunday, June 17, 2018

20 June, 2013: toughest day of the whole tour

After a weather-disrupted few days, it was time to get back into business.  And, today's stage really is the business - a replication of Stage 14 in the 2011 race, riddled with big, albeit obscure, climbs.

I woke to grey skies, and wet roads.  I set off in arm and legwarmers but soon had to take them off.  La Garonne was still looking fairly angry, but the waters had receded a lot since last afternoon's recce.

It was about a 20km warmup to the start of the Col de Portet d’Aspet, and as it was featuring in the 2013 edition only a few weeks away, I was back in amongst the public service announcements.

On a more sombre note, this climb was familiar to me, and most who follow pro-cycling, due to a fatality in the 1995 Tour de France.  As I started the climb, I was horrified to almost immediately see a road-side tribute to Fabio Casartelli, presumably where he fell.  It was no more than 200 metres from the base of climb – on the very last corner he had to negotiate.

Around bend itself was the memorial – there I also found an Australian tour group, whose number included current 24 hour world champion mountain biker, Jess Douglas.  I was familiar with her through following my Cape Epic team-mate, Megan Dimozantos, and Wellingtonians, Jude Young and Charlotte Ireland.  I chatted to them for a bit, and learnt that they were cherry-picking 2013 stages with full vehicle support.

With Jess Douglas in front of the Fabio Casartelli memorial

The Cat.2 climb took about an hour, and after a quick photo stop, it was time to take advantage of gravity.

Pretty vandalism at the summit

At the bottom, I met two guys I’d seen arrive on their bikes at La Grotte in Lourdes two days earlier.  Dutch, I think.  I talked briefly to one, before clearing off.

The Col de la Core was a long but beautiful Cat.1 climb and it was wet over the top.  One good thing about touring is you never ride into bad weather and wished you'd stashed a coat in your pocket - everything's always with you!  (The flipside, I guess, is hauling it all around when you don't need it!)

Looking down off the Col de la Core climb
I stopped at the very bottom for a long lunch.  Today's treat was salad, a deconstructed kebab and fries - the "menu du jour" surprise was turning out to be a highlight of each day!

There were heaps of other cyclists in the area, which was somehow nice.

A bit of water in this valley too, but no sign of the chaos of the last few days further west
After lunch, I had a slow climb up the valley from Seix to the base of the Col de Latrape, a Cat.2 climb I'd never heard of, and then a short descent leading straight into the 10km Cat.1 climb up Col d’Agnes.

I was stunned to see "Mimi" written on the road - this was the name I'd given my maternal grandmother some 40-years ago (much to the amusement of my Māori cousins, despite the pronunciation being "mee-mee"!).  I'd thought of her when I'd passed through Mimizan a few days earlier (mid-Stage 9 from 2006, between Bordeaux and Dax).  Today's twist was that it was the first anniversary of her death, and the graffiti brought feelings of both happiness and sadness.  She'd have been smiling knowing what I was doing today, that's for sure.

Rest in peace, my dear Mimi

The climb was hard work, but I was rewarded with stunning views, both near and far.

Not surprising, given the road-side snow banks, it was cold at the top!

Le sommet de la Col de la Core

After another short descent, I stopped for coffee at a lakeside café, and then straight into a short 4km Cat.3 climb up Port de Lers.

That was followed by a proper descent (Port de Lers would have been Cat.1 in the opposite direction), and a snack-stop at the bottom - this time two apricots and a Pepsi.

Then my legs fell off.  I slogged down-valley to the main road and needed yet another snack.  Then it was onto a false flat road to the base of the final climb for the day, the ski-field access road of Plateau de Beille.  The base was 15km from Ax-les-Thermes, where I had accommodation booked, but first a 16km hors catégorie climb ascending 1200 metres.  And then, I drop back down the way I'd come. 

Someone's gods somewhere were smiling on me - tomorrow was another anniversary - my mum's birthday.  Her name is Suze...

With about 4km to go, I'd disappeared into the cloud.  Eventually I reached a series of large and empty carparks, and at the very top, some buildings associated with the ski-field.

The descent was very cold and for a long while I had very low visibility in the cloud. I really grovelled through to Ax-les-Thermes, the 16kms taking me 40 minutes.  It didn't help that I was oblivious to the false flat.  Mercifully, I found my hotel without trouble.

Called Ma to wish her a Happy Birthday, and to tell her about the day's incredible graffiti.

After doing my washing, it was a short walk to a nearby restaurant for a 9pm dinner.  As just reward for the day's efforts, I ordered a main-course risotto as well as a pizza!  The waiter double-checked I wanted both!  YFY I want both...

207km ridden, 12h30 elapsed, 5100m climbed.  One HC, two Cat.1, two Cat.2, one Cat.3 climbs.  A hard day in the office, but duly nailed.

Postscript:  I look back on this day with a sense of pride and fascination.  I'd set myself a somewhat arbitrary goal of riding an old Tour de France stage each day.  The Plateau de Beille climb added two hours to an already tough ride.  It wasn't famous - I probably hadn't heard of it before planning this trip - I could easily have skipped it.  I didn't, which tells me something about my tenacity and focus.  

While my "average" mood is low, treatment for my depression almost certainly smooths things out a lot, with both the peaks and troughs squashed in towards each other.  Whether it is that, or some other aspects of my personality, (or all of the above) I don't experience sadness in the way I expect to, nor when.  It was nice to cry a little when I wrote about Mimi (and now).