La Hubert Arbes
With the Tourmalet, Aspin and Hourquette already in the
legs, it's time to move from La Pyreneenne
to La Hubert Arbes. A week's acclimatisation has gone by and a few
mid-week climbs that included the Hautacam, Pla D'Adet and the Aubisque
(with a big ring push for the last kilometre of each) have got me as ready
as I can be for the day ahead.
So it's a quick trip down the road to Lourdes, where we
stay at the Ibis just 200 metres from the start. Picking up the
numbers and freebies (a not very fetching bum bag but a nice bottle of
wine) from the Salle des Fetes was a doddle as usual. A quick check
out of the last kilometre and it's back to the hotel for a snooze and a
Amassed for the off was around a 1000 of us, sitting behind 200
riders in full on Mapei kit. Mapei had a big presence here to
celebrate their 90th anniversary, it made an impressive site. At
8:00am we moved off and as usual I ducked and dived my way to the front.
About two miles out of town we are all drawn to a halt and held in the
road for five minutes. Comfort breaks ensued en masse. At 8:15
a horn beeps, all the motorbike marshals scream off ahead of us and it's
kick-off time. Game on.
We clear the Lourdes suburbs and head the 7 kilometres to the
deceptively long and steep climb of La Cote de Loucrup. The speed is
reassuringly high and as we hit the early slopes it ratchets up a notch.
As usual on the first climb I don't feel too hot but give it big digs to
hold the wheels. I'm doing La Petita, the 110k event. It's
been a long week and I want to finish my holiday with an enjoyable race
rather than another gruelling 170k slog.
already riding on the edge but this time I'm going forwards rather than
backwards. We climb the 2 kilometres Loucrup in 7 minutes 20 seconds
at an average power of 297 watts. It hurts but it appears to be
hurting a whole lot of other people a whole lot more!
At the end of the climb (or more realistically at the foot
of the descent) I'm still in touch with the leaders and glowing slightly.
The gilet can come off now.
A big big climb
Once the break has been made around 100 of us scream towards
Bagneres de Bigorre. I'll be honest and say I've felt better but the
speed was so high I daren't ease up for a second or I'd be shelled out the
back. I use the corners, roundabouts and level crossings to get near
the front. As we hit the town of Bagneres I'm in the top twenty.
we exit the town and head past the Laurent Fignion Centre, or home as we
called it for four days, I take a drink and an energy bar. It's now
29.1 kilometres and an hour and fifty-five minutes to the summit of La
Tourmalet. The early slopes are not too intimidating but at this
speed they'll take their toll if I'm not careful. I ease up to pace
myself. My brain begins to formulate a cunning plan...
I expect the whippets to be doing the 175 k monster ride.
To get a half-decent result in my ride, I should let them go, maintain a
rhythm and pick up the speed towards the end if I can. Sounds like a
good idea! I don't need to think it twice. I applaud my wisdom
and begin to let wheels drift away. I'm no longer in the top twenty!
The worst for last
From this direction the Tourmalet winds up to become as brutal as it is
steep. The first 16k to Gripp are a relative doddle. It's just
one long, long, long false flat that averages 3-4% and saps the energy
from your legs like a leg energy sapping machine. It's not until you
leave Gripp that the real climb starts.
From Gripp to La Mongie it's an eight kilometre haul, with
the climb steadily increasing in severity as it increases in altitude.
Each of the kilometres are paced out at 6,7,8,8,9,9,9 and finally 10%.
La Mongie brings little respite. The gradient may
drop to 9% but the road surface becomes "irregular" and the herds of goats
become a tadge unpredictable and moveable road furniture. At this
gradient and altitude you can't outrun or out manoeuvre them; so don't
try. Just hope they don't get under your wheels.
Leaving La Mongie you can clearly see the summit and the
gathering supporters. It's there right in front of you. You
can almost touch it but it's still seven kilometres distant at 9%.
Or nearly half an hour in real money!
As we leave La Mongie I begin to pick off riders and groups
with alarming and surprising regularity. The plan seems to have
worked. As I did in La Pyreneenne the week before I hold around 210
watts. I know this doesn't sound a lot but at altitude, and for me,
it's quite a feat. At the summit I fill my bottles and get away with
around 30 seconds lost. Now for the descent.
Let's crack on
was joined by two other riders over the top and fell in behind them to put
on my gilet. I thought I'd be okay with them as they looked
half-decent riders with good equipment, top bikes and a racer's physique.
However they took the first two corners a little too gingerly for my
liking while I was putting on my gilet, so I decided to pass them. I
zipped up my gilet after the first set of bends then started to pick off
the riders that already looked as though they weren't going to enjoy the
descent to Luz St Saveur.
Standard descent. Maximum speed was only 75k but it
could be held for a long time. The average speed for the 18k drop to
town was 58.8kph. In the previous week I hit 98kph on the Hautacam
and was really peeved I didn't crack the 100. I thought this would
be faster but a headwind proved it to not be the case. Still it was
a nice descent with not too many dodgy bits to over focus the attention.
The middle game
Once we'd cleared Luz St Saveur it was now, for the second time
in a week, back to the Gorges de Luz. But this week it's with the
slope. We pick up speed and riders until a group of ten of us get a
through and off going. One rider, in a Renault Elf top, just like
Arbes and Hinault in the picture above, catches us and goes to the front.
He then proceeds to line us out and burn everyone off his wheel. It
really was quite impressive. And no he wasn't either of them.
Not this week anyway.
Once he'd gone, we all settled back in to our rhythm.
There were two Spanish team mates that looked something special and seemed
to be riding with less effort than the rest of us. They were doing
their turn, it just didn't seem to be any bother for them. We were
all breathing a touch harder than we'd probably like. Still, it kept
the pace high.
At 78 kilometres and the Rond Pont Villelongue, our two
Spanish amigos turned left to complete the biggie, while the rest of us
turned right for the run in to Lourdes. Happy days. We can now
check each other out and see what's what before we commit ourselves to the
End game stalemate?
The route map and profiles showed the final run in to be ripply.
What I didn't take in to account was the fact that the Tourmalet was on
the profile. Little ripples on the profile turned out to be a
succession of big-ring Jubilee Hill type climbs that kept piling agony
upon agony. There seemed no end to the upness of the topography.
Some of our group looked real "racer type" vets. I
went to the front to pace the climbs and hopefully dissuade them from
attacking. I was feeling strong but not too confident when looking
at the form of my rivals. At best I planned to stay with them for as
long as I could.
One by one our group was whittled down from eight to four
over the next four climbs. Then the elastic snapped, three got away
and I was found wanting. A 100 metres later the group became two,
and I was provided with a bridge between me and the others. I chased
over the top of Lugagnan and picked up my bridge. Luckily he worked
with me across the plateau as we tried to close the 50 metre gap to the
two out front. Then came the descent.
Finale Check Mate
Unfortunately my French chum couldn't descend. I bridged
the gap to the two "leaders" as we hit the valley floor. They were
working hard together and I did a through and rest and off type thing.
Taking my turn every other go.
At Segus we turned sharp right back on ourselves to climb
the 70 metres to the flat road of the final run in. Once more I got
drifted off. As the gap opened I sat down in my saddle dejected.
For some reason I remembered my recent
Think Like a Pro
article and kicked myself in to life for one last "sprint" up the hill to
get back on. I gave it everything and 15 seconds later I'm back in
the group. They ain't dropping me now!
The three of us rode the final kilometres at a healthy pace
to prevent the other chasers behind, of which there were now five again,
from getting back on. As we entered the last kilometre I new exactly
where we were and where I would go. We safely crossed the very, very
busy main road junction that was, like every other crossing, impeccably
manned by the Gendarmes.
Just as we turned in to the penultimate corner I jumped
from behind my two compatriots. They looked at each other as I went
past and I thought I'd made an ass of myself because there was no
reaction. Maybe I was being a little too competitive! I was
just about to ease up when I saw them coming. I cross the line 10
metres clear to give back my timing chip and pick up a well earned drink.
Not a bad day
Dianne didn't fancy a race this weekend so went for a 50k ride
around Lourdes. It was only meant to be 30k but she got lost!
We returned to the hotel, got changed, freshened up, then returned to
watch other finishers coming in and get our food. After a fantastic
meal we picked up the results; 90th Overall, 34th vet and another gold
medal ride. A great day just got better.
This is another top event. The organisation is
fantastic, the roads are very well marshalled and in some places closed
completely. The start procedure is a little strange but none the
worse for that and the scenery and parcours are second to none. If
your looking for a top event then put this on your list. I know I
always say that but how can there be such a thing as a bad sportive?
The next event is La Courir Pour la Paix Which
Bernard Hinault is doing! How daunting is that?