My third road week started with breakfast surrounded by Russian teenagers, on a school trip to Nimes and the surrounding area, I'd guess.
As with the previous day, today I'd just be cycle touring, and didn't actually have that far to cover. I was looking forward to seeing the Pont du Gard, an old Roman aqueduct, and was a bit surprised when my GPS bleated that I'd missed a turn.
The nice country lane turned into a rough driveway, which just stopped! Instead of doing the sensible thing and retracing my strokes, I walked and carried my bike for the next half an hour. A few minutes of bushbashing were needed to pick up some sweet singletrack, which of course I couldn't enjoy!
The bridge itself was stunning, and a real highlight of the non-riding side of the trip.
I got into Carpentras early, so hit up a laundromat, giving my kit its third wash of the trip. Between that and the rest, I felt like a new man when I rolled out the next morning.
I'd been nervous about this ride. I hadn't felt super in the Pyrenees, so three Cat 2 climbs followed by a Cat 4 one and then Mont Ventoux were intimidating. I barely gave a thought to the battle between Armstrong and Pantani on the same route 13 years earlier, and instead enjoyed one of my favourite days on the bike. The scenery was a bit less lush than I'd seen, and the Giant of Provence was often visible.
The main climb was long, about 1.40, but beautiful. Reaching the top at the end of a hilly 150km was satisfying, but no rest for the wicked and I had another 50km to ride to bed! At least a lot of it was downhill!
The next day was a 2013 stage, from Vaison-la-Romaine to Gap, which I very much look forward to watching them race when I get home.
This day too was beautiful, but in the more classical sense. The route passed through a stunning gorge, enhanced only slightly by the topless sunbather!!
The geology of this edge of the Alpes is absolutely amazing, with twisted, layered rock abound. After a long false flat, 40km worth, I had a steep descent into Gap, only to immediately leave town for a lap over Col de Manse. On the way down my rear gave an almighty squirm, causing my insides to do the same, on account of my first puncture since the outskirts of Paris, some 2950km ago!
The next day, I packed my bags and was off to Italy. Another stunning day scenery-wise, and while my legs had felt obviously jaded the day before, they seemed to have recovered somewhat.
The ride to Briancon was pretty easy, but things got steep after that with a Cat 2 climb into Italy, followed by the Cat 1 Sestrieres, and a nasty Cat 2 shortcut into Pinerolo. A highlight of the descent was recognising the carport Thomas Voeckler ended up in on that stage in 2011, and then finding a youtube clip of that same incident at the hotel after a shower!
I had what felt like an appropriately Italian dinner: pasta entree, pizza main course (which had me reeling not much more than half way through) followed by tiramisu!!! I was really busting at the seams on the short walk back to the hotel, but figured overeating would stand me in good stead for the next day's monster stage.
It all started well, and I was 40km in before I knew it. I got a bit reflective for a while. A feature of this trip has been a complete absence of symptoms of depression, and I got a bit freaked out at the looming transition back to real life. Kind of like getting out of jail, I guess!! The analogy isn't quite right in that I'm having an absolutely amazing time here, which I wouldn't expect in prison. But, things here are also arduous, and relatively unidimensional.
I convinced myself it would be what it would be, and resumed focus on forward momentum. And stopping every other minute to take a photo! I stopped at a village market for fruit, and only just managed to avoid getting taken home by a lovely old Signora.
A lunch stop followed soon after, about 1300m into the climb of Colle dell' Agnello. It got steep after lunch, with one section signposted as 14%. I was surprised that it felt significantly more manageable than similar gradients in the Pyrenees had. I have various theories, including legs not being thrashed from 250km days, potential weight loss, and training benefits!
The climb was stunning and I made regular photos stops. The border back into France was at the very top, but it was hard to enjoy on account of a very cold wind. I even busted out some of my evening wear for the descent, and was in better shape at the bottom as a result.
By the time I'd got over the next HC climb, the Col d'Izoard, and in to Briancon, the day had moved on. It was not only the 175km covered, and the roughly 4000vm climbed, but also the hundred photos, and multiple stops to pack and unpack suitable clothing.
The sun was low in the sky, and off the roads, and I decided I'd enjoy the final climb of the stage, the Galibier, another day!
The receptionist at the hotel had spent three months in Taupo, and convinced me Briancon would be a better place to rest up than Le Bourg-d'Oisans, my next destination, so I committed to two nights.
On Saturday morning I went for a short walk around the old part of town, and then put my feet up and watched the opening stage of the 100th Tour de France, commentated in French, by Cedric Vasseur and colleagues. I felt a bit bad seeing people ride past out the window, in what is a glorious sunny afternoon, but the rest was doing me good, and the significance of Saturday was more to them than me.
The next morning dawned with beautiful clear skies, and enjoyed the relatively mellow climb of the Galibier in mostly warm conditions. After a long descent to Le Bourg-d'Oisans, I ditched all but my coat, beanie, one bottle, pump, tube and patch kit, and gave the climb to Alpe d'Huez a good nudge with a bike that felt unfamiliarly light. It was cool to make the top within the hour. I then did an impromptu lap over Col de Sarenne, as per this year's tour.
I've now got 3495km on the clock after three weeks of riding (and a little bit of TV watching)! I'm feeling great both physically and mentally. My body's almost at 100%, with only the finger numbness to grizzle about.
Its hard to believe I'll be at Paris airport in a little over a week. Some sweet riding between here and there, no doubt!