Thursday, September 04, 2014

Day 4 - 2014 Haute Route Pyrenees - Long Climbs & Lonely Descents

Day 4 - Bagnères-de-Luchon to Angelès-Gazost
119 km / 3600 m+ / 3800 m-

After a 4 km neutral start, the pace went out hard up the first climb Col de Peyresourde (900m over 15 km). My body reacted like I was on the Sunday training ride in the Okanagan (!) and I jumped onto the back of the leading group.

Strange to put in a strong effort after having a rough night’s sleep with coughing. It felt like I could have used 2 more hours of sleep. Not to mention the fact of getting my period the night before.

The pace was hard and my breathing was on the edge. My legs felt super heavy. I wondered if this was a smart idea or I goofed using up too much energy.

Soon, I dropped off the pace as I realized this was not just a weekly group training ride - this was the 4th stage with 3 huge climbs ahead. It was exciting to try!

Photo from 2013 with peloton in sight and cows on the steep hillside
Alone, I rode up the top switchback turns hovering at a decent pace. The scenery was as I remembered it last year, with cows perched on the steep banks.

The descent to Arreau was twisty and fun. I was alone for quite awhile. On the long flat section through the Aure Valley, a peloton finally caught me with Caroline in tow. Doh, I could have just ridden the climb more relaxed at Caroline's pace.

Short steep 20% section through a village - photo Manu Molle
Steep start to the 2nd climb Col de Hourquette d’Ancizan (700m over 11 km). Average through the woods was 8%. I jumped to follow the pace of the guys and sensed that Caroline might not join us. Her breathing was heavy when I passed by her.
photo Manu Molle
With heavy legs I climbed with a few guys. Dropped off a little with only another UK rider. A few cool views of the village way down below else it was mostly forest. Crested and quickly descended alone. 

I saw a few riders ahead and knew I needed them for the descent. Fortunately, there was another short hillclimb ahead allowing me enough time to work hard to catch up to them.
Followed them down the next descent and through the valley. Our group grew to around 7 riders before going into the start of the big climb up Col du Tourmalet (1270m over 17 km).
Lead group leaving the villages - photo Manu Molle
The road started out with a deceivingly easy grade. Up high in the distance, I could see the avalanche tunnel we would be riding up to.

Slowly riders dropped off the pace. I ended up riding with Iron rider David Faltus from Czech Republic and Jon Bula from Canada. I had to focus strongly to stay with their pace, staring down at their back wheels.

The cumulative fatigue from the climbs was felt. The grade was average 8.5% to start and not so bad, just tired at this point in the day. It would be a bonus for me to hold onto the guys pace until the 5 km to go sign.

I caught that view! - photo Manu Molle
Before we continued under the avalanche tunnel, I did turn my head to capture the amazing view of the tiny village below.

A sign just like that one frazzled me with the statistics left to go to the top - photo Haute Route Twitter
With 6 km to go, seeing the 10% grade on the distance marker sign frazzled me. Normally, I appreciate reading the information of elevation, % grade, and distance left to the summit. I mentally dropped off the pace. Took out a gel, then started my pace again. The boys were in sight only 100m ahead the rest of the way to the top.

steep - photo Manu Molle
Fortunately there was no headwind. Crazy sheep were crossing the road at any moment unexpectedly. Cows were all over though keeping to the side of the road happily eating grass.

Passing by the feedzone 5km before the summit, I hollered “orange” in my best French accent. A volunteer kindly grabbed a couple, handed me one while pushing me as he jogged beside me, then gave the other one – so Tour de France!!

Pic du Midi as a backdrop in the ascent of Tourmalet - photo Manu Molle
A slow march up the last 4 km. The grade was not so bad. The views of the switchbacks and the summit so high above was menacing. Meanwhile, the scenery was outstanding.

pic of Benoit finishing Day 7 - photo Fabrice Calatayud
Benoit passed by. He was riding well with the lead group until his tire had a puncture.

the cheering sheep - photo Manu Molle
Riding by a few buildings, I could have sworn I heard a person cheer “All-ehhhh All-ehhhh”. I looked around a few times to wave hello. Realized it was just sheep baa-ing! Tired!

Slogging the last few km climb... typical chalk markings on the ground for entertainment -
The last 500m was so slow. I glanced down at the pavement for the next marking on the ground after "500m". Finally saw “200m” written. Even the last 20m was steep and slow to get over the timing mat.

I called out for water. The exceptional volunteer at the feedzone remembered me from prior days and quickly filled my water bottle.

Love those descents! - photo Haute Route
I zoomed down fast alone. It was a long 38 km to get to town. The first few corners were tricky where a couple riders crashed and hurt themselves, fortunately not too badly.

I was careful for any sheep or cow crap on the road which was slippery for the skinny tires. Many twists and turns then mostly a long fast straight-away easily going 65 kph.

The long "fast" descent - photo Haute Route Twitter
I had to pass a few vehicles. Re-passed the same vehicle a few times within the next 10 km. Tucked, and held on!!

The road was exception with fresh pavement. Last year, the road was in rough shape due to the major floods in the spring and had been under construction most of the way. Swooping down was amazingly smooth and confidently fast.

As I tucked downhill, I periodically checked over my shoulder for another rider. No-one in sight. My concern was the peloton bringing another woman closer to me again.

Ripping through a village with faith the volunteers were controlling traffic! -
Heading through the village was dodgy with many intersections and corners. Made it through cleanly and continued down the long 7% graded stretch.

Finally, a rider was in sight behind me with only 13 km to go. I welcomed Triple Rider Paul Donnelly when he caught up to me. I told him I would help when I could though I was deadweight to lead at his pace.

Paul pulled so smoothly at 41 kph. When I took a turn at the front, our speed dropped immediately 4 kph. Barely enough time for Paul to get a break, he took the lead again. When the road had any rise I would accelerate hard to go ahead and give him a teeny break.

Riders crossing Argeles-Gazost finish - photo Haute Route Twitter
Big thanks to Paul for being a huge help to get me into the village.

Quite pleased with my effort for the day! The darn head cold is diminishing. Yesterday's choice for recovery ride was the best thing I could have done to gain energy.

Checking the start time list for tomorrow's time trial, I was listed starting 1 min behind Caroline. The order for the time trial was to be slowest to fastest GC times of the riders. Hmm, could I possibly have surpassed her huge GC lead of 16 min? The unofficial results for today had Caroline listed in 2nd place only 6 min back of me. Puzzled... 

Cyril Tiné took over race Leader for Day 2, 3, and 4.
I scored a beer for Paul and local miel for myself!
At awards, Amy was called up for 2nd place. I went up for 1st place. No Caroline. I was then surprised to be called up as the new Leader. I was not clear on what happened to Caroline.

When I saw the official results later... Caroline had a super rough day finishing just under 20 min from me. Amy finished in an awesome time just over 6 min back of me. I was only 4:25 min ahead of Caroline in the GC.

Anything is possible and Caroline could still work for the Leader's jersey. She is super strong. It will be another interesting women's competition this year.

Feedback later from Amy... at the start of Day 4 when I jumped to follow the lead group, she said Caroline attempted as well, as did Amy. Caroline dropped off, and Amy said that pace just hurt her legs. Knowing it was a hard move for me, it was hard for the gals as well.

View from my hotel room
Happy to find the bio market in the village with fresh figs and homemade biscotti. Based at the same hotel for two nights in a row with the Time Trial stage the next day.

Hotel entrance was at the back of a restaurant with a teeny staircase to climb up many many stairs.

Very closed in buildings, view from my room

Angelès-Gazost was yet another spa town at the foot of the Aubisque and the Tourmalet. Both of these are the most legendary Tour de France climbs.

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