Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Stage 4 - Tourmalet conquered ... but not by much

Distance - 133 km*
Climbing - 4000m over 4 cols

Today was the marathon day - the hardest day on the Haute Route tour.  

Incredibly hard with lots of high intensity climbing up some ridiculously steep climbs.  And it was hot.

WTF Hill pales into insignificance compared to today (this will only mean something to people who have done the Alpine Classic Extreme normal route - ie not this year).

But I got to the top of Tourmalet with half an hour to spare before the cutoff.  Woohoo!  Here's a photo of me and Detlef from Canberra at Tourmalet.

After we had a coffee and just before we discovered that we didn't have to do the transfer ride back down and could get in the sag-wagon! Despite having made the cutoff.

Actually, this was a good thing as it turned out because the route down had been massively flood damaged, and the road was still partially closed. It was a dangerous and long descent and everyone else did it under police escort.  The stage finished at Tourmalet and it would have been 35kms of sitting on the brakes on some pretty rough and scary road.

But I'm ahead of myself - there's those other 3 cols.

The first, Col de Peyresourde was only about 14kms long or something but a relatively gentle climb.  I was feeling quite strong, which is a surprise on day 4 with quite some distance and elevation in my legs already.  I'd had a slightly delayed start trying to fix my Garmin and doing a 2nd hard restart on the run.  And then I passed quite a few people on the way up, which is a bit surprising.  Including a farting Australian who I jokingly said "well we've had confirmation you are an Aussie!" but he seeemed a bit offended by that.

A quick snack at the top and the first of what must be 10 cakes for the day and a handful of sultanas followed by a wonderful descent into the next valley. Well, the descent was wonderful except for the alarmingly narrow streets of one of those little villages where the houses are built right onto the road and a goat designed the street layout on the side of a hill.

What I didn't realise when I saw the lake at the bottom, and quite a nice lake it was too, was that the next climb up Col D'Azet was immediately in front of me.  Here's a accidental 2 second movie I took on the bike during the 2nd climb.  Wait for it to stop and you'll see the road I'd just descended.

It was the easiest climb of the day.  But by now we seemed to be following famous Tour de France climbs.  And the evidence is painted on the roads.  Allez Tomas Voeckler!  Contador! going up Col d'Azet.

But the descent was classified too dangerous to race and was therefore an untimed section.  There was gravel on the road, except you could hardly see it, which made it very challenging when I hit it.  And the most amazing pothole.  Fortunately there was a man with a flag standing in it!

In the short flatter section between D'Azet and Aspin I had fantasies about just giving up.  Everything hurt and I was worried about what was coming up next.  Had to give myself a good talking to.  I was riding by myself at that point and it all seemed quite difficult.

Col d'Aspin was a hard climb! There were some really steep bits and it was getting hotter and hotter.  More evidence that the TdF, writ large all over the road.  Didn't spot any Cadel signage though.  I made it up this col with 2 gels.  More than I've ever had.   And a nice pic at the top taken for me by the Dr on motorbike woman.  Complete with cows, of which there are many up in the Pyrenees.

A great descent, although my feet were starting to hurt about now and it was still getting hotter and my nervousness about Tourmalet was mounting.  There's a reason why it is Hors Categorie (for the non-cyclists that means it is "beyond having a category" i.e. ridiculously hard).  Not just because it's steep but also because it's long - a 1200m long climb in the ascent we did.  There are signs along the way saying that it is a famous TdF climb and has been from the beginning.  Perhaps the best graffiti I saw painted on the road was Vive derailleur!   I cannot imagine doing it without gears.  But there you go.  They did.

It went on forever and got harder and harder ... and hotter.  I stopped a couple of times at running streams to soak my arm suncovers and neck scarf in the super-cool water.  Best not to dehydrate or overheat at this point.  I was also keeping an eye on the time knowing that it was ticking away and that I was close to cut-off.

But I did stop for 30 seconds to take this picture halfway up.  I had to stop else I would have veered into a tour bus.  That's a hydro power station at the top of that lake.  

With 5km to go there was a welcome drink stop at the ski village of Tourmalet.  You could buy an "I climbed Tourmalet" cycling jersey.  This really is a mecca for cyclists.  But the girls one is pink ...  and I didn't have time anyway.  So onwards and upwards.  Those last 5 kms took forever and were SO HARD.  But finally I arrived and met Detlef.  Had a coffee ... and you know the rest.

Now, because this is a race, best I update you on my results.  I'm slowing moving up the women's rankings from 2nd last out of 33 to 29th.  Two women have missed cutoff and are now out of contention (but still riding).  The other woman in my age group is 2 hours ahead of me in the GC so not much chance I'll catch her!  

Tomorrow is a sort of rest day.  There's a time trial up Hautacam, another famous Tour climb.  It's only 16km and because I'm down the end of the pack I get to ride first ... and then have the rest of the day off!  Result!  

*Because we caught the bus down and avoided having to ride the descent, I only did 99km riding.  


  1. Congrats on beating the time! Is your training paying off? How on earth is there a women 2 hours in front of you in your age group?!

    You seem to be wearing a lot of clothes at the top of Tourmalet considering it is so hot?

    Wow. Sounds amazing but hard. Very hard.

  2. I think we need to start a DHBC list. Who wants to follow in our fearless leaders footsteps next year?
    I'm so jealous, and thanks for the blog I'm loving it!

    1/ Philip