Dauphine Libre Challenge

Overall Distance 130 kilometres Time Taken 5:14
Height Climbed 2,100 metres Overall Position 757th
Distance Climbed 63 kilometres Brevet Merde!
Date May 2005 Country France
Entrants 2,100 Region Vercours

The Dauphine Challenge 2005 was certainly that.  It turned out to be one of the worst day’s I’ve had on a bike, not the longest, not the climbiest, not the hottest but most definitely the worst.  And worst still, Charley Mottet was there to see me suffer like a chein.

The Warm up
Staying in the delightful Villard de Lans, we were in the perfect place for the event only 5k from the start line.  We did, however, stay at the Hotel Dauphine, whose Rigsby-esque hotelier had an alternative approach to customer satisfaction; for him everything was too much trouble.  Maybe he was an AC Milan fan and my accent upset him!  Still had a good laugh taking the mickey out of Le Rigsby, winding him up by pressing all the lift buttons each time I got out of the lift and saying "Mon Dieu!" at every opportunity.  Childish I know, but it made me happy.

The Prologue
Signing on took place at the Salle de Fetes in Vercours de Lans and was formality itself.  The race number had a built in timing chip which is why it's placed in the centre of our backs.  The foil from gels and powerbars gives missed readings if you put it over your pockets.  Just in case you thought I'd gone all triathlon!

The Salle was the actual finishing line, 100 metres from the start line and 500 metres from the first climb!  The organisers wasted no time in splitting up the peleton and deemed the first hill would be used as your warm-up.  From the centre of the village we passed a cafe, rode to the village roundabout and took the second exit which took us straight up the 4 kilometre, 1220m climb of the Col de la Croix Perrin. 

Having ridden it the day before I knew it's a pretty steady 5% climb that is just doable in the big ring.  The field started to string out due to what really was a shot-out-of-a-gun pace.  Two lanes developed with the steady riders staying to the right and those wanting to press on using any bit of road and verge that was available. 

The event profile showed a drop on the far side a lot steeper than it rose on the climbing side and as we came to the crest, there was the now almost obligatory “Dangerous Descent” sign.  But for once they were right. 

Mon Dieu!
Not 6k in to the race and it’s chaos and mayhem wrapped in a devastation blanket.  The French are as good descending as they are negotiating EU rebates.  Like a scene from Kill Bill there are bodies everywhere; I counted at least ten people off their bikes queuing for treatment from the two paramedics..  One person was even dragging his bike by the front wheel from out of the woods,  He was at least 50 yards from the main road!  After the race I asked Dianne if she was okay on the descent and she said it was alright but she started to take it a little more cautiously after she came around a corner and found two riders lying unconscious in the road front of her!

I thought the best solution here was to get in front of as many as I could as quickly as I could.  Even then I was twice taken to the very edge of the road by people braking hard through the apex, unable to steer and heading lemming like for the edge and the gravel.  A third hit me from behind when he couldn’t fathom that the cliff face in front of us indicated a hairpin turn was the only option.  Still I survived in one piece and made it into the valley unscathed.  I joined a chain gang and went off, through chocolate-box scenery, heading for Autrans and a 20k blast the long way round to Villard de Lans.

So far so good
Twenty k in we’re at 936m of altitude and starting the 12k climb of the Col d’Herbouilly which takes us to 1370m.  At first the stats don’t seem too overwhelming but this long, long climb, in two sections, has a 4k false flat in the middle that makes the beginning and end of the climb a tadge steep.  I’ve already started to feel a little drained and don’t appear to be firing on all cylinders.  I’m drinking like a fish and eating like a plague of locust(s(es)!?). 

Although I’m not losing ground to anyone I feel as though I’m on the limit.  This is my first race of the year at altitude and I know I’m going to suffer but a quick look at my pulse meter doesn’t help.  It’s reading 165bpm.  Okay for a normal person but I can get that pumping my tyres up!  My normal climbing rate of 195-205 is miles away.  Like a novice I push harder to get my pulse up, at one point I see 175 but my legs are empty; today isn’t going to be a good day.  After what seems like an age the summit appears. 

The descent starts with a blind sweeping bend on which is a water station!  People are out of the saddle sprinting with their head down while a lady stands at the side of the road handing out bottles of Evian.  I stick out a hand to grab one just as the rider in front of me who missed his decides to brake and turn round to get a drink.  I leave the bottle, brake, swerve, dodge and resettle all in one movement.  Didn’t need a drink anyway;  there’s a descent to tackle.

Again the danger signs are out but this time they appear to be either over cautious or people are beginning to pay attention.  Another chain gang develops and we crack on at a pace to the first feed.  I'm beginning to feel a little fatigued and click through my computer to see what we've got.  We've done 45 miles in a little under two hours.  We've been over two cols already and still averaging over 22 mph! No wonder I'm knackered.

Crunch time
I stock up with water at the feed and take a banana and cake.  I never stay in a feed longer than it takes to fill my bottles.  So I crack on, or rather I don't.  While in the feed someone must have switched my legs to off.  There was nothing, and I mean nothing.  The 20 k climb of St Alexis was fast approaching.  I went to the front of our 50-strong group and drove as hard as I could to try to wake my legs up for the climb. 

At the foot of the climb I must have lost twenty places on the first corner.  By time we got to the second corner I was on my own.  Okay, plan B!  I ground out the climb and survived the wind swept plateau of the a summit then at the foot of the 4 k descent I turned off the planned 180k route to take the 130k one.  Chickening out, slacking or strategic genius?  Take your pick but for me it was survival.  I ate, drank and immediately began the lesser climb of the 1337m Col de Proncel to head for the next feed.

Worst nightmare
Out of the feed we rejoined Dianne's 75k ride to hit what is probably one of the nicest places on earth.  Not that I saw it.  The Gorge de la Bourne is probably (as its name suggests) gorgeous, but for me it became an hour of hell as I rode along it's thuderingly steep one in a hundred incline. 

It was though I had my brakes on and riders were passing me like I was standing still.  There was no way I could stop because I knew I wouldn't get going again but old men (and I mean old men) were leaving me for dead.  My head never lifted from the road in front of me as I smashed out my 34x23 to cruise at a steady six miles an hour!  I wish I had a plan C.

Just got worser
Somehow I got to the end of the gorge with my body broken but not my spirit.  It's 18k to the finish; 3k flat, 10k climbing then a 5k run in.  On the flat my legs come to life again and I "race" to the foot of the 10% climb to Les Lombards.  Climbing through the village at the bottom of the climb I'm reminded of my inability.  The instant the road began to rise I went backwards. 

Halfway up there is another village and a spur road joining ours.  A young lad, no older that twelve with a massive rucksack with two tennis racquets in it, passed me shouting encouragement "Allez, M,sieur".  I dived on his wheel.  Held it for ten metres then it faded in to oblivion and the tunnel of blackness in which I'd become shrouded.  The spirit was now beginning to buckle.

The 10k climb took nearly an hour and as I crested the rise I saw the countdown kilometres to the finish.  I took a gel and went as quickly as my feeble legs would carry me.  It was even hard going downhill.  With 2k to go I saw a quarry (not the Ronez kind) ahead, something to chase, something to keep my going.  It was le petit garcon et cycle. 

I chased and chased.  As we passed under the flamme rouge I was ten metres off his wheel.  He must of heard me breathing because he turned round, looked at me and shouted "Au revoir M,sieur" then turned in to the drive for his house!  Not only had my body been broken, my delicately balanced spirit had just been trashed as well.

There's always someone...
I carried on for the longest 1000 metres of my life and crossed the line an exhausted and broken man.  As Yoda and the French would say, “Crap am I”.  I'm beginning to come round but still slavering over my stem, when all hell breaks loose behind me.  The sound of screeching tyres and revving engines stir me from my slumber.  

The race was to end much the same way it started  .The 180k race leaders are in the final 200 metres.  A commisaire's car and motorcycle screams across the line heading towards me.  We're all squeezed in to a closed 20 square metre paddock with one exit at the far end; where I am.  The car stops next to me, the bike besides him then the two leaders cross the line.  It's beginning to look a little cramped when the Mavic car realises there's no where to go!  At this point one rider heads for me and the other performs a 19 metre stoppie with his back wheel four foot off the ground.  He would probably gone on for a lot longer; but he hit the motorbike! 

Happy ending
Confusion reigned and it was a finish worthy of the classic Milan-San Remo debacle when half the peloton rode in to a ten metre gap after the finish line.  Still all's well that ends well and the two protagonists were given equal first place after they couldn't split them on the timing or photo-finish equipment after 5 hours of racing!

The fact that they rode 180k and two extra cols in the time it took me to ride 130 did little to cheer me up   Especially with Alpe d'Huez and Mont Ventoux coming later in the week.  Time to eat, sleep and regroup.

Dianne's ride
Dianne rode the 75k event which itself had over 1100 metres of climbing.  she said it was the hardest event she'd done so far, although she looked remarkably sprightly when I got back.  She overtook quite a few people on the climbs and even more on the descents.  Until she encountered the lemmings that is.  Another ride in the bank, another tale to tell.  Another shade added to the cyclist's tan lines!

website Le Dauphine Libre
hotel Hotel Dauphine