Friday, 11 October 2013

The Haute Route Diaries Part... oh, I forget. The last one anyway.

And lo, it came to pass. The final stage. The last time I would drag myself up at some ungodly hour, wolf down whatever the hotel thought of as breakfast, go through my eleven stage kit routine and ride off praying that I wouldn't crash into a Frenchman. Or worse, a triathlete.

This stage had another bus ride to the start so I was careful not to drink too much at breakfast in order to avoid the bladder clenching of stage one. The bus also kept us warm and dry... for the day had brought proper, rainy rain. All through the ride people were looking nervously out the windows hoping for one of two things.

  • More rain, thunder and lightning. This would mean that the first climb would be cancelled and we'd be riding a flat, shortened stage.
  • Less rain, clear skies and a sudden increase in temperature. This would make the day far more pleasant.
As it was, things stayed about the same. Quite rainy with occasional breaks. We heard that the first climb was staying in and that rain jackets we recommended. Ah well, at least we British were well prepared and equipped for the conditions. No plastic bags taped on the feet for us.

We started. The heavens opened. We grimaced. We hit the final categorised climb of the week - the Col d'Ahusquy. The stats don't do it justice, 14km long at an average of 5.6%. All I know was it was damp, drizzly, cloudy, steep in sections and seemed to go on for ever. No-one seemed to be enjoying themselves, and the fact that no-one knew where the top was didn't help. The feed station was at a minor summit - everyone thought it was the top - with a good few km to go after it. Misery.

And after misery and rain, came enjoyment and gain (OK, I'm struggling for a rhyme here). We bimbled the neutral descent (rough, wet, broken tarmac and poor visibility) and took a break at the bottom to form a group. I was with Darren, Dave B and Kirsty at this point and we were soon joined by a few others all riding with the intention of keeping the group together.

It's odd how certain sections become highlights, and the last 50km of rolling country to the timed finish of Camo-les-Bains was one of them. We worked for each other, we kept the pace sustainable for everyone and the strong took care of the weak. I'm almost tearing up at the thought of it. Much of this was due to our road captain, "Spartacus", who was one of the crazies who'd also done the Haute Route Alps a couple of weeks earlier. He told us when to ease back, kept the turns short and generally marshalled us to the finish. Only in the last few hundred metres did anyone try and drop the others but by then the objective had been achieved - we'd all finished.

We got our medals, finisher polo shirts and engaged in a round of hearty handshakes, hugs and photographs. Job done.

Almost.

You see, a couple of tasks remained. Getting fed in the piss-ant town of C-l-B and getting to the coast for the official event finish. C-l-B simply couldn't cope with the demand and we were once again treated to bar and cafe owners getting angry at having customers to serve. How dare we want to give them money in exchange for food and drink. Bastards, the lot of us.

The ride from C-l-B to the event finish at Biarritz Anglet was just that little bit too long and little bit too rolling to be enjoyable. It took about and hour and a half, which when you've mentally completed riding is not what you want. The finish line was outside the ice rink on some windswept peninsula of Anglet (not Biarritz... apparently things were changed late on in the planning) with a few bemused locals out walking their dogs looking on. This didn't really have the same feeling as rolling down Les Promenade des Anglais in Nice, with full police escort and 100's of tourists taking photos. To be honest, it was underwhelming and a massive anti-climax.

I was a bit grumpy by this point and just wanted to get to the hotel.

I stayed briefly for a team photo, then used the navigation feature on my Garmin (first time ever!) to route us the 5km to our hotel.

At the hotel, my grump left me. Party time!

One thing I can say about the Haute Route people - they can put on a good after-party. It was here.

Posh hotel/casino
And had a free bar.

Beer from the beer sponsor, naturally
And even had a Greg LeMond to entertain us.

He's a very very nice man
What more do you need?
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