Hubert Arbes 2010 ~ Andrew Perree

Hubert ArbesWell its done. My first ever mountain.  And what a beauty it was.

We had spent Thursday night in Niort at 34 degrees C.  I had thought that the aircon in the van had gone but I guess its just not designed for 30 + temperatures.

The next day we arrived midday in Lourdes and it had dropped down to a cool 31.  We went to see the sites and filled our water bottles from the local church.  Seemed to be one or two other people with the same idea.

Practice Day
The local Ibis catered to our Pasta requirements and I still had another day to acclimatise before the race.  However, Saturday brought a distinct change in the weather.  A low cloud was sitting over the town and a light drizzle was falling. This would continue for the rest of the day on and off. The temperature was a much more cycling friendly 20 degrees.

With time to fill, the family loaded and my son asleep in the back of the car, I decided to drive up the Col du Soulor to get an idea of what was to come.  As this was the smaller of the two passes, I thought that there was some mistake, it just kept on going up.  Maybe I had taken the wrong turning?

This was some reality check for me. Being always out of breath after climbing Jubilee Hill at home, how was I meant to keep going over this one and then do the Tourmalet afterwards.  It was during this epiphany that I decided to stay steady and pace myself up the mountain. 

As I had no time set on a mountain stage, whatever I did would be a record.  The day ended with a thunderstorm with heavy rain - time to re think my choice of clothes?  Ahh - its only rain.

My Big Day
The morning of the race arrived and after a quick breakfast at the Ibis, and a 300 yard walk to the start, I joined the remainder of the crew to start the race. 

This sportive has two distances, La Petita at 100k and the full  Hubert Arbes at 170k.  In my naivety, back in Jersey, I had decided to do the long one.  In for a penny in for a pound.  So at 8 am we were gathered outside the local sports hall ready for the off.  It was now just drizzling but Hubert assured us the slopes of the Tourmalet were sunny.  The brass bands were playing and off we went.

As Tony has previously warned me, we had an organized stop at the edge of town before the real start.  Now I’ve read Tony’s reports of the sportives he’s attended and I know how he likes to go off fast to keep with the strong riders. 

Well, I was so far down on the start line, there was no chance of staying with the front runners and I smugly thought that I’d see all these people again as I overtook them up the hill.  Well in reality this was the last I’d see these guys - they were gone. 

I guess I had about an hour or so of fast group riding before we hit the climb.  12 km of steady climbing.  Conscious that I was a beginner I stayed steady and slow.  Wow its a long way up.

They kept on passing but I let them go. I did not race, I did not bother about anyone else except for me.  Steady Eddy.  The whole of the climb had been in cloud so I never got to see what I was climbing.  However at the top the sun was shining and I stopped for a welcome bit of food.  Baguette and cheese, well when in France...

I had been climbing for one hour and five minutes. The descent was a lot quicker however as they had warned us about gravel on the road I took it nice and steady.  I was hoping for a bit of a respite between hills but the Tourmalet came up as soon as we finished the descent.  Well at least the long slow incline before the 18k to the top. 

The Biggie
I got in with a small group of individuals up this fast incline and we worked together before we all found our own pace as soon as the hill tilted upward ever so steeply.

I had never done a climb like the Tourmalet before.  What power should I be putting out?  What was a good cadence?  I had no idea and no reference point. I just kept my heart rate under control and the cadence steady for just over two hours.

Towards the last three k people seemed to suffer. The odd person lost the contents of their stomach and the odd walker was very off putting.  This is where it got steep.

There are signs every km telling you what height you’re at and what the average gradient is.  When the sign showed 10% for the last kilometre your heart really does sink.  Just grind it out. 

I had thought that I would be too tired to see the scenery however all the way up I was astounded by the beauty of the climb.  At no point did I wonder what I was doing there.  I knew what I was doing and I was enjoying every minute of it.  Hubert had been correct and the sun shone on the whole of the climb.  This is also when a guy started shouting that it was all finished, the climb was over. I still had 10 m to go and therefore it was far from over.

I did have a bit of a mechanical at the top. The inability to remove my right foot from my pedal.  Did not really think about it again until I needed to get back on the bike and realised that I could not get my foot clipped in.  I started going downhill with one foot bouncing on top of my pedal.  No this was not going to do.  So I stopped and tried again to force my foot in.  I finally managed it and off I went.

The weather had been beautiful on the way up.  However the other side of the mountain was covered in cloud.  I could not see a thing.  The other side of the mountain has many avalanche protection chutes over the road,  this together with thick cloud made the descent very interesting.  Did not get above 5 kph (well felt like).

The next 50 odd km was mainly rolling roads apart from the kick at the end.  A small hill (read Tony's account).  I seemed to have a bit more left than my fellow survivors and therefore broke away with one other to the top.  As we had no idea how far it was to the end we waited for the guy who had spent the last 20k telling us where to go.

Flamme Rouge Mantra ~ If in doubt?  Attack!
With 3k to go I was getting bored of towing 10 other people to the end and decided a lone break away was called for.  Well it was a bit of an accident really they just didn’t follow me,  however once committed you just have to go.

The thing was they decided to “finally” work and try to catch me. Well for some reason pride etc, this was not going to happen and I decided to throw caution to the wind and keep on going for it.  By the time I hit the final roundabout which we went around to doubled back they had given up and I took line honours for my group.

Great experience.  I can still walk.  All in all, a great time.