Sunday, 22 September 2013

The Haute Route Diaries Part 5: Control the force, you must.

(Cue ominous music)


Slightly scary voice: "Peyresourde, 939 metres of elevation gain"
Slightly scary voice: "Col d'Azet, 7.5km at an average of 8.2%"
Scary voice: "Col d'Aspin, nearly 800 metres of gain"
Very scary voice, the kind of voice that is normally threatening to kill you: "Tourmalet. The giant of the Pyrenees. 17km, 1277 metres of gain, summit at 2117 metres..."
Slightly scary voice: "Each by themselves a challenge. All in one day... suffering like you've never suffered."
Very very scary voice: "And we've run out of chocolate brioche for the feed stops"

Not your usual evening briefing. They do like a bit of drama on this event.

Honestly, how hard could it be? I've done Tourmalet, Aspin, Peyresourde before, admittedly with a long lunch and an overnight stop breaking them up. I can ride slowly, for ages. All I need is control, pacing and eating.

Let's have a look at the route.

Five feed stops!
And the stage profile.

I like the little cyclist going up Tourmalet
Not much flat in that one is there? Due to safety reasons there were a couple of neutralised sections - the Col d'Azet descent (rough, narrow, sheep) and the Tourmalet descent (road washed away by terrible floods). This meant that we could have a bit of a rest at the top of the Azet (after crossing the timing mat) and the timed stage ended at 99km. Still, 4000m of climbing wasn't to be taken lightly.

My strategy for this stage was to ride it like a 12 hour mountain bike race - and I don't mean quitting after three-quarters of the time... Essentially, keep my heat rate down, don't get excited and don't chase people up hills. The trace from my Garmin surprised me when I uploaded it.


Red line is the heart rate, green line the elevation. You can see I stopped recording at the top of the Tourmalet, and you can see me taking it easy between the top of the Azet and the bottom of Aspin - the untimed section. What you might be able to make out is my heart rate didn't get above 140. That's mad. The average was 125. I'd like to say that I was riding within myself and felt fresh as a daisy at the end.

Nope.

The reason that my heart rate didn't get above 140 was mainly because it really, really didn't want to. My legs didn't want to go faster, my whole body was washed out, eroded and telling me that the speed limiter had been set and nothing was going to break it. I ground my way up Aspin and Tourmalet, legs barely turning over. I even let a funnily dressed German overtake me in the last hundred metres.

At the top, relief and photos.

Beat the giant silver man
Oh, and chocolate brioche. They'd managed to source some more.

All that remained was 33km to Argeles-Gazost. The Tourmalet descent was astonishing, in that when I rode up it a couple of years previously there was a road and villages along the way. Huge amounts of it was gone, to be replaced with vast gorges where the flooding river had ripped out everything man-made. We rolled along gently, open mouthed at the destruction. It was incredible that the road was open - a huge amount of work must have been done very quickly to make it passable and there was still an enormous amount to do.

Finally, we reached the town. There was some initial confusion as the official finish was in a different location to the food and massages, and our holiday camp accommodation was a short ride away too. It was great when we got there though, as every pair of people had their own little wooden cabin, with a sun deck too.

Only one thing for it. Washing!


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