Well 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.
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
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
My Big Day
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
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.
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
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
Flamme Rouge Mantra ~ If in doubt?
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.