Dauphine Libre Challenge
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.
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
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.
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.
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!
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)!?).
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.
starts with a blind sweeping bend on which is a water station!
People are out of the saddle sprinting
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!