216km, 9:14:20, 3,768m ascent, 21 cols, 35 total so far.
Breakfast was at 7:15am this morning as this was likely to be the longest day of the whole tour. Charlesy was already up and away leaving in the semi darkness so he could ride at his own pace. Another group left at 7:25 and then the rest of us at 8am. The plan being this would keep the group reasonably compressed on the road throughout the day.
13 of us headed out to the first climb in a nice organised group. I think this is helped a lot by the Ozzie “Coyote” race team who clearly know what they’re doing riding in a group and trying to keep it together. We hit the first climb of Col Palomere and it continued at a pace to keep everyone together. This was all OK till Nigel was on the front. As a very light guy he just upped the pace, gaps formed and some people started to chase it. There’s a natural feeling of not wanting to get dropped but you’re better if you just let that one person go. I said to Marc we don’t have to go that hard. We backed off and Rebecca and Peter joined us for a very pleasant, sociable, friendly paced ride to the top. Chatting all the way, just what we needed on the first climb of a 216km day.
At the top we regrouped with Pickles, Ashleigh and Matt rolling down over various cols through some bizarrely sketchy roads (i.e. – a cross bike would have helped). The views to The Med were fantastic. I was feeling great. So much different from 2 days ago. Now starting to feel like my old self, able to push.
Pickles is a lovely guy, so considerate and clearly a wise rider beyond his years. As we hit the major descent he let Ashleigh through and rode behind her. For me she descends at just the right pace, putting her in front meant the whole group could stay together without anyone pushing their limits.
We got down to Thuir and found the other guys waiting for us. This was great as the next section was across broad flat terrain where a large group (we were 13 again) would be beneficial.
This proved the case and we blitzed north towards our lunch. We took it in turns with Marc and Matt doing a grand job setting steady pace over the one col before a fantastic descent. I was toward the back behind Pickles, Ash and Scott – there was a slight break in the group and as we rounded the final bend I could see that Pickles was about to gun it to get back on, only pausing to make sure Ash was on his wheel. I went flat out to bridge the gap and had a fantastic pull back to the group.
Lunch was in a little shaded picnic area and we’d got just over 100k done in 4 hours but we weren’t even half way in distance.
Marc and I set off a little before everyone else intending to just ride easy and join up as they past. We went strongly up the first climb and then just enjoyed pushing it along getting more encouraged as no one caught us and we found ourselves at the front on the road. It probably helped that we rode straight by Ian and Julie where they were parked up. You don’t have to stop though a lot of people automatically stop. We then got lucky with the lights through the gorge. What a gorge !! You would just never believe this would apparently appear out of nowhere. The road was cut in to the sheer cliff side requiring traffic lights as cars couldn’t pass each other and fit under the overhang. Below the gorge just got ever deeper. There was a proper crash hazard as I gawked over. We were thrown out the other end onto a big open descent that we flew down.
A brief stop at the village fountain for water the on to the main road towards Foix. There was a tailwind and before we knew it Marc and I were taking it in turns on the front absolutely cranking it. It was great though perhaps not so wise given what was ahead. I certainly was motivated by the fact we were ahead and it would be nice to get to Axat before the others. We did and enjoyed a coffee, coke and double ice cream stop finishing just as the other arrived.
We got on to the road for the 20k false flat to the start of the 10.9k 900m ascent to Port De Paileres (at 2,001m one of the 5 over 2k). Both of us were feeling strong and pushed along getting ever more confused about how we were going to get to 2000m with only 900m ascent. This was resolved at the turn when Ian pointed out he’d got it wrong and the climb was 15km (and ~ 1,300m). Just before the turn we were stopped at some road works. Marc was up to asking the guy to hold up the next group of cyclists for a while. He laughed.
The final climb start with Marc saying he wouldn’t try to stay with me. I’d been feeling great all day and was ready to push so said “OK”. Thing is I never dropped him and in fact after a couple of KM he went by and it wasn’t till about 10k from the top I finally went through and pulled away a little bit. Marc is certainly riding the strongest I’ve known him.
I tried to push but soon it just became riding at my minimum pace and hoping to hold off those behind. First Rich came by – very impressive as he was going about twice my pace. Then Baz, Steve and finally Mitch (or is it Mick>?) The climb just went on and on. Even though I knew the altitude of the top and the distance at that point I kept persuading myself my Garmin was probably wrong. It wasn’t. I promised myself my last water at 1,750m ascent. This came and went. Then I saw someone looking over the top and thought that was it. It wasn’t. Still 2k and 100m – the Garmin was not wrong. I was so pleased to get to the top and quite chuffed.
Chatting with Ian, they were having a bit of a nightmare as Scott had made a wrong turn so Julie was trying to find him. This meant he couldn’t descent to the hotel with the bags. We got off the top but the first part of the climb is my worst nightmare – long open roads at a gradient where I’m not willing to reach terminal velocity (100+ kph ?). No turns to slow for so I find myself on my brakes. If you let go the bike runs away from you. This combined with having experience two blowouts due to hot rims makes me very cautious. The thing is caution here could cause the over heating. It meant in the first few KM of this 20km descent I lost Marc. On my own I really enjoyed the rest of the climb and was pleased to see Marc had waited on the edge of town for me.
Since there were no bags at the hotel we sat and had a drink with Nigel and Rebecca before heading to the hotel were we sat outside having a couple more beers. It was lovely and social (apart from the occasional modern day phenomenon of everyone on their mobiles (apart from me!)) as we all sat waiting for Ian and Julie to arrive.
It was a long day and everyone was pretty chuffed to get through it so the conversation was great at dinner. Tomorrow is ‘only’ 156k, 3,330m, so the talk was of an easy day. The 7am breakfast tomorrow suggests otherwise.