Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Day 2 - 2014 Haute Route Pyrenees - Epic & Steep

Day 2 - Font-Romeu to Ax 3 Domaines
120 km / 3000 m+ / 3400 m-

Rough night with a fever. Slight sinus congestion though felt ok on the bike. Leaving the hotel, I followed a couple riders to get to the start line an easy way by road. Directions given to me to the hotel last night were just bad.

Cool early morning on the neutral start - photo Manu Molle
Neutral start for 9 km with a descent. I dressed on the warm side with my light Sugoi rain jacket and heavier gloves. Was almost not necessary as the sun just poked out. When we were in the shaded valley, the temperature dropped from 13C to 6C. I was glad with my choice especially with getting over a cold.

Wave 1 being lead out of the village in convoy - photo Manu Molle
 Needed to be attentive to descend with the peloton with riders all over, abit sketchy. Once the neutral section was over, the pace did not go much quicker. It was easy to hang onto the peloton on the slight ascents up the first two Cols, Col des Moulis (154m over 2.6km) and Col du Garabeil (222m over 3.8km). 

The first descent was ultra scary with one line of riders to follow down twisty shaded corners. Never knew when the rider in front would brake quickly. Just had to be cautious.

The canyon - Twitter photo Haute Route
I was first woman to the top. Long descent which was twisty into a canyon, shaded and difficult to see corners and bumps. I almost missed a couple corners which frazzled me so I dropped off the pace of a fast guy. 
Soon, I was caught by a small peloton which had both Caroline and Amy in it. We all worked together as the peloton grew. Slight long twisty descent finally headed into an uphill grade.

Only Triple Crown challenge woman racer - Amy Brice - at the start Day 2 - Twitter photo Roy Pearson

Eventually we started the next climb Col du Port de Pailhères (1207m over 14.9km). The grade started steep so I hung back letting the girls go. Once the grade lessened I caught up. 

Caroline pulled away again on a steep section with Amy hanging back. Then the winds hit. I clung onto a quicker guy when he passed me, and eventually caught up to Caroline. She attempted to go his pace then let him go. I stayed behind her as her pace was tough enough. 

Shattered by Caroline's pace into the headwind nearing top of
Col du Port de Pailhères - photo Manu Molle
Caroline was amazing pulling strong into the headwind. I took a scant few pulls when the grade lessened but mostly hovered behind her. It was gruelling and still 5 km to go. 
I'm not smiling as Caroline pulled strongly up a steep climb into a headwind - photorunning.fr
The Col was scenic with the switchbacks layered above each other. Could see the riders just in front on a couple different switchbacks. I so wanted to let go of Caroline's wheel... though knew the wind would be tough alone. I clung on. I was shattered at the top still knowing there was a tough last climb.

Switchbacks of Col du Port de Pailhères - photo Manu Molle
Caroline received fuel from her support before the feedzone. I needed to stop at the feedzone as she began the descent. The guys were still refuelling so I started the descent. It was better on my own as the corners were more than 180. 

When one guy flew by me, I jumped and hung onto his wheel for awhile. Amazing draft! On a tight corner, he got away when he passed a vehicle. I was alone again before a few riders from the previous day caught me. 

One rider was Benoit Ramsay, a good climber from UK still working on his descending. I was wowed how he improved over a day.
We all started together into the last ascent to Ax 3 Domaines (670m over 8.4 km). The grade was instantly steep and I was fatigued. The guys went ahead. Later Benoit said they wondered where I was and momentarily waited for me to catch up – so cool to hear! 
How I felt and looked on that 3rd and last climb of the day
 - Twitter photo Haute Route
I got  into a survival pace mode and sauntered up. I was hurting and sat forward on my saddle in my littlest gear spinning like a mountain biker. Ouch… a few guys passed by quickly. It was took a long time for only 8 km!

the gals!
At the finish, Amy had gained good ground and was only 40 sec behind. Caroline finished a good 10 min ahead of me just behind Benoit. Oh well, I did what I could.

I chatted with Triple Crown rider Nicolas Raybaud at registration. We met last year at the Pyrenees race. He told me to join his team "For Adventure". Good thing I did, as it was laden with the top guys in the race and we were top team the whole race! 
L to R... Steve Richard (CH), Marg Fedyna (CA), Nicolas Raybaud (FR), Cyril Tiné (FR), and another Triple Crown rider Paul Hamblett (UK) - missing Christian Haettich (FR), Lizzy Foremen (UK), Triple Crown rider Nuno Luz (PT), Sergio Costa (PT)
Fun comradry post event with getting to know more people, Canadians from Quebec, riders I rode around, riders with just stories to share. Best part of this whole thing. 
It certainly was not the lunch provided, yes I know I come from the raw food world. Looked like leftovers from the previous day. The menu did not change. Unfortunate that the fruit provided (bananas, apples, pears) were not near ripe so not immediately edible. Just a logistics glitch.

My hotel was 5 km away on a quiet side road. Took opportunity to get a massage and see the amazing osteopath. I waited until after awards and briefing to check in. 

Ate at the hotel with the riders staying for the night, and roomie Vanessa who was at Pyrenees race 2013. Vanessa was a proficient GS skier in France years back.
Ax les Thermes renowned for its hot thermal spring used by the Romans. Ax 3 Domaines is a ski resort where the climb was used in 5 stages of the Tour de France (2001, 2003, 2005, 2010, 2013). I received a couple free passes to one thermal spa. Ended up giving the passes to the host of our hotel.

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