Stage 7 - final stage Pau/Arette - Anglet Côte Basque
Distance - about 144km (shortened due weather)
Elevation - 2,400
Final stage of the Haute Route Pyrenees and I made it! As did everyone on our tour - fantastic result and everyone achieved a personal goal. Some had unfinished business from the Alps last year, proof that they could make the distance and another placing in the top 10 in his age-group.
My goal had always been to make the distance ... and to stay within cutoff. Determination would drive me through the distance, no problems. But I had real doubts that I would be fast enough. Not really knowing what to expect didn't help. And it was a long time between real mountains. January in Bright was the last time I rode up an incline that took more than about 15 minutes.
Originally a 177km stage, with two cols and a day that started with a transfer - it was always going to be a huge day.
And then it started to rain ...
The first col was discarded by the organisers as being too dangerous in the rain. The last thing you want is 350 cyclists hurtling down a steep incline, in the rain and fog with the added obstacle of livestock on the roads and VERY slippery cow-pats everywhere. That would be an accident waiting to happen. I heard no-one complaining about this decision.
We set off to rousing music in the town square of Arrette in the Basque country, rugged up for the cold and wet.
None of us were expecting how hard that col would be. It had some very difficult gradients in it, some of which went on for ages. And just as we started to climb, it really pissed down. And although the summit appeared to have been reached, there was another 5 or 6km uphill in the complete fog. It's weird riding in fog, you feel completely alone. I got bored and took a selfie whilst riding.
Then a fast, windy descent on a hugely rough road down off the mountain. It was a goat track. I saw two guys pushing their fully laden tourers up this hill and later, when I mentioned this to some of the guys well ahead of me, they had seen them too. Must have been a long and tedious push only to arrive at the top of a col with no view and no attractions like an auberge or anything.
Once down the mountain there was about 50km to go on slightly undulating gentle downhill to Cambo les Bains which was the end of the race part. And a chance for lunch. I rode much of this last part with Nick, who I rode with on Stage 3. Sometimes we got into a chain-gang and sped through the countryside in style and with speed. Other times there were just the two of us until finally we suffered one more short, sharp hill ...
...to the finish line!!
And to pick up my medal and finisher's polo shirt - yes, it's black :-). And to have a sit down lunch before we got on our bikes for the last time.
A slow 40km procession, under escort, into Anglet near Biarritz, finished our ride. It was nice to ride as part of a big bunch, to chat to people along the way and to have the road to ourself with no pressure. It's actually remarkable and I think yesterday I was too stuffed to really appreciate that part.
We finally arrived to a huge welcome from family, friends, the local Mayor at the end, right near the Atlantic Ocean. As we crossed under the banner, to something like "We are the champions of the world" suddenly I got all emotional and teary. It had been a big week.
I'm writing this at stupid o'clock, having woken far too early after a night that was far too late at the post ride celebration.
Greg LeMond, 3 times TdF winner and now the only American to have won the tour, came to the celebration last night. He rode in the first stage, but is still recovering from a severe car accident last year.
I introduced myself and we had a quick chat about the UCI, the need for reform and his plans to come back to the Haute Route next year, fitter and faster. We're in the same age group :-)
2nd in my age group. The winner was tiny and also on 650c wheels.
301st overall and 25th of the women.
It's pissing down outside, I might have a day off the bike. Although Will has promised to teach me to do a wheelie ...