lundi 6 février 2017

L'étape du tour 2016

They made it easy!! Without a doubt the easie... ok the least difficult of the 4 étapes i've done so far. The 4-col étape route was redrawn due to a high-rock-fall risk on the Col de Ramaz (a Cat 1 climb), a climb that was therefore removed from the route. This meant 123km from Megève to Morzine via the Cols des Avaris, de la Colombière and la Joux Plane.
A beautiful hot summers day welcomed Jeje, Veve and myself in Megève on Saturday after a long drive from Rouen. I was picked up at home at 5 in the morning and said hello be-y vomiting in the garden...I think I ate something that didn't agree with me the night before...oh yes i did - i re-vomited on the motorway in a plastic bag a couple of times. What preparation!!
Things had settled down by the time we arrived 6 or so hours later...thankfully.
We picked up the numbers, left the van at Morzine, took the shuttle back to the start and after a plain pasta meal settled sown to sleep.
I slept really well, woke at 6, set off at 7 and with the 5112 number set off around 7h25. It was a beautiful day and after a long descent we were over the first col without even noticing. The Colombière came up soon enough - not difficult and i felt fresh as we approached the summit. The descent was another matter though. After my fall in April and the broken ribs I was very wary - the top of the descent is very steep (10 - 9 - 8 % per km)...there were also a lot of riders - it was scary to be honest, especially as a helicopter landed to pick up a serious-looking casualty sprawled across the road - gendarmes holding up the cyclists as we crawled past....another was splayed under the safety barrier on one bend!! My fingers were twitching on the breaks constantly. This really slowed down what was otherwise a nice jaunty pace.
The 20km faux plat to the foot of the Joux Plan ascent was very quick as I latched onto a quick group with a couple of very handy girl riders....we took turns and passed a LOT of cyclists...
I'd been up the Joux Plan before - it is a tough climb. I'd fallen at the top and broke two ribs in i had a score dos settle - get up and down without any problem. The sun was really beating by now though and there was little shade. I stopped at the food zone at the foot of the climb and helped myself to an Isostar carrot purée - delicious!! "Nobody likes these," the lady helper told me. "It's delicious!" I said. "Mind you, I am English, so that isn't a reference !". She thought it was funny anyway... :)

I burped half way up the climb and re-tasted the carrot ! Not a nice sensation ! I thought the vomiting was going to start again. I was actually climbing well and passing a lot of riders...mind you, others were whizzing past me as well. I was enjoying the climb though, despite the heat and effort. The summit came quickly enough, and the descent into Morzine - although carefully taken - was speedy.

I didn't feel drained as I had in the past n the étape routes...and the number of finishers arriving with a smile, as well s the very few who I saw walking, was proof to the relative ease of this reduced étape.

jeudi 30 juin 2016

Meanwhile, back at the ranch...

I really haven't paid attention to the passing of time this year.
What have i been up to? Since July 2015 I went crashing onto the Spanish tarmac in a  storm in August leaving a good amount of skin and blood, ouch,  but repaired myself and took part in La Ronde Picardie in September - improving my PB on that course: finishing in 138th/577 position (26th age grouper) of the 130km course. It is on the list for this year too. Then I had a long break to get over my injuries - back, calf, achilles...a seemingly endless list of ailments that I put down to wear and tear.
The Spanish crash, the fall down the stairs on the eve of the Marmotte, added to the inevitable increase in years had taken, and continues taking its toll.
I had my back pulled and twisted back into place, my achilles hammered with ultra shock therapy, my calfs stretched and massaged...and spent the winter complaining about everything from the weather to City's lack of inspiration in the PL.
Come April this year though I was ready to spend a week training with MSA Triathlon in Argèles in the South of France, in a region renowned for its strong winds, or "cloud chasers" as one of the locals informed me. The highlight or memorable point was my crashing on Day 5 - coming down the Col de la Brousse and into the town of Cerets I took a bend, probably too quickly and as i braked on seeing a woman step into the road - a classic combination of speed, bend, brakes and gravel - and i went flying with my chest straight into my bars. Result =  3 fractured and one cracked rib, broken bars (yes, literally broken in two), 2 damaged derailleurs, one broken pedal and a damaged right shifter, and the morale in shatters. I knew immediately that the ribs had gone. I flet them pop. Not a good way to end the training week. Eight weeks later i was still having difficulty moving. Now the ribs are OK but my back took such a bang that when I started training again my running had changed and so it is the knee which has suffered. So tomorrow it's back to the osteopath who will hopefully knock me back into shape. I need it !

15 minutes before the crash we were halted by a herd of goats...wonderful :)

I'm now desperately trying to get ready for the étape du tour (July 10) and the Alpe d'Huez LD Triathlon (July 28). Yes, another slog in the mountains for me this year. Don't ask me why. I want my revenge on the Alpe d'Huez i suppose - i didn't suffer enough last year on the Marmotte, obviously.

L'étape - means a return to La Joux Plane - where i fell and broke two ribs in 2014. Hoping to keep out of trouble this time round.

The triathlon Alpe d'Huez has been on my to do list for a long time. SO this year, fingers crossed, the knee will be ok for the run - 2Km swim, 115km bike (finishing with the Alpe d'Huez, and 22km run).

I am looking for fun, fun, fun this year. Times and positions have become irrelevant after my crash(es)....:)

jeudi 20 août 2015


I picked up Mike, my brother, at Geneva airport on the Thursday before the race and he welcomed me with the remark : "they've taken the toughest sportif in France and made it more difficult!".

The closure of the Tunnel du Chambon due to an impending landslide meant the descent from the col du galibier was now off the menu. So the organisers had modified the route to include the ascension of the Col du Glandon for starters, the famous Lacets de Montvernier, les cols du Mollard and de Croix de Fer for the main course whilst keeping the Alpe d'Huez for the desert. Wonderful - 176km long and 5100m of climbing. Oh yes, and there was a heatwave on, meaning temperatures would be soaring into the high 30°cs....!


Picking up the numbers at the top of the Alpe d'Huez on Friday, 3 July was hard work with the heat and high-ish altitude. I'd slipped down the stairs on Wednesday evening and had a sore back and a very swollen left elbow, so i had a funny feeling about this race...something wasn't right!
Anyway, I enjoyed a nice swim at the hotel pool and had an early and comfortable night before a 5h30 breakfast. It was warm at 6h15 when we drove the 15km from les Deux Alpes to Bourg d'Oisans, and the start. We were due to set off at 7h30, second group to go, and the sight of thousands of cyclists winding down the narrow streets was impressive.
We flew to the foot of the Glandon and started the climb. Getting to the summit in 2h from the start was the projected target - keeping a steady pace, HR at 140-144. Got to the top in 2h01. It is a tough climb, with a steep downhill break, which only serves to make the following climb harder. The road seems to just creep up the mountain, is relatively straight and ridiculously steep in parts. The 34-28 set-up I have was a wise choice i thought. The sun hadn't popped it's head over the mountain tops yet, so the temperature wasn't too high. At the summit though, i just knew from the view of the deep and clear blue sky that this was going to be a scorching day. I saw Mike at the food stop, stocking up on calories - i did the same.
The descent was neutralized - to protect cyclists from themselves as the first kms of the descent are really steep and dotted with hairpin bends. My first recollection now is that it sounded like a popcorn factory with types exploding all over the road - due to overheating probably. I passed and stopped when i saw Mike on the roadside - his Aero Carbon 60s hadn't withstood the heat and his rear rim had warped and ripped open the tyre. I wished him good luck, hoping he'd sort out a wheel from somewhere, and set off - gutted for him because it looked like "Game Over". The tyre popping carried on all the way down, so i tried to avoid braking as much as i could. My Easton 40s and their aluminium rims held up fine though. It is a great descent - beautiful surface, and clear vision for long stretches. I was singing "oh oh oh , oh, oh ooooh, yes, I'm the great descender" and smiling to myself as i raced down.
Down in the valley the heat had become oppressive, and it was only up, the beautiful Lacets de Montvernier:

Short, sharp, steep, narrow road....around 3.7km at 8%...nothing too difficult, but with the road full it was almost everyone at the same pace...and by now it was slowing down.
The descent back to the valley was fast, but once on the flatter road - a 1% false flat towards St Jean de Maurienne - the heat was intense. A head on wind, not strong, was actually just hot air moving. My throat was constantly dry and i was drinking a lot. By the time we swung round to the foot of the Mollard, the 3rd climb of the day, it was stifling. Crowds of cyclists were pushing up against a fence at the bottom of the climb as a kindly resident had offered to fill bottles from his own hosepipe... i thought he must have been out gardening and saw one or two thirsty cyclists so offered to give them a drink - but then this finished with his fence being swarmed - he was very pleasant and smiled at all the thanks - but people were beginning to push and jostle when i pulled free, so I was happy to be back on my way.
The Mollard winds through a forest, but there was little shade as the sun was directly above by now.
I noted my calories on the Garmin - 4000 - which read 5000 at the top - incredible! I made sure i kept eating - bars, bananas, and it was a relief to find a food zone at the top. I was still feeling fine and felt like i was moving nicely. I checked my phone before setting off for the Croix de fer, and saw Mike had sent a text - 'borrowed a wheel, on the move'.

Croix de Fer seen during the Tour

The descent off the Mollard was great in parts - new road surface - and dodgy in others - gravel. My arms were beginning to ache and my back wasn't feeling its best. The bottom of the Mollard marked the start of the ascent of the Croix de Fer...this meant an easy start and a tough finish as the gradients ramped up. As we hit the hairpins around 7km from the summit a thin veil of cloud floated over the mountain tops - it felt fresh and cool; i thought the temperature would drop, and even a welcome drizzle would cool us down. It lasted about two minutes, because the sun soon evaporated the cloud. It was cooling because we were getting higher, but the drop in oxygen levels was also felt.
Arriving at the summit was a relief.

     it's tough at the top

There were too many cyclists looking for water so i just carried on down. What a descent - fast and spectacular. I remember descending from the top of the Croix de Fer to the Mollard a few years ago and needing to wrap up due to a bitingly fresh wind; but today even with the shirt open i was feeling warm.
I was down on the bars and hitting 65/70km/h - topping at 75km/h further down. I was still being passed by others as well! The descent ends abruptly at one point and there is a steep 12% climb. I knew it was coming and was ready for the heavy leg feeling - it hits you like a brick in the face as you slow down to a near standstill. As i began the ascent i heard a pppppfffff sound, yes, it was my turn - the front wheel was flat. I stopped and began the change - ouch! I handled the rim and burned myself - it was so hot !! I actually doused the wheel with water from my bottle. Mike rolled up and stopped - he'd caught up an hour on me !!! Amazing. He took a gel from me and I slotted the wheel back in - a fast change. I stuck to his wheel for a while - until the next sudden ascent. I caught up again on the descent into Bourg d'Oisans and hung onto his wheel at 37-38km/h, but i knew i couldn't keep it up and as soon as we began a short ascent after passing the lake i was dropped. That feeling when you know you can't do any more saps the morale. There is a long straight road into Bourg d'Oisans and the ascent of the Alpe d'Huez - it was scorching with dense heavy heat, it was like riding in the desert. I joined a small group that grew into a big group as we swallowed up others and others joined us. We were at an easy 30km/h pace - with everyone feeling the effort and quite probably in fear of the final climb : the wonderful Alpe d'Huez.
I stopped off at the foot of the Alpe and filled my battles - energy drink and water. I made my way out and stopped briefly to put my bottles on the bike - a rider was leaning against a van in the shade next to me. "Ready?" I asked. "I've already started but came down - it's 40°c up there!!" He looked drained and fed up. "Ah well, there's only one way to see...",  and i made my way onto the road. "Good luck!" he shouted. 16km of hard effort to come and I was already well and truly cooked.
'Get to the first hairpin and the most difficult is done,'  i told myself. The first few kms are around 10% and are tough at the best of times, but today the heat was dripping from the sky. I drank at the first bend - the water was already warm. The bends were full of resting cyclists. I pushed on - thinking that as long as i kept moving i was getting closer. I wasn't going at any kind of speed but i was advancing. All the bends are numbered, with number 1 being the last at the top, so you always know how many you have to do - i'm not sure if this is a help or a hindrance to the morale - probably a help on a good day, but that wasn't today because I had a burning desire to just stop and sit down. I stopped in the shade and contemplated quitting. It was so hot, my throat was so dry, i was so uncomfortable, and i simply was not enjoying the effort. Why go on? Once the demons start like this it is not good. A lot of cyclists were sitting in the shade. They looked half dead. But as you and i know : "suffering lasts an hour, quitting lasts forever!"

Alpe d'Huez (screenshot of the Tour)

So, I sprayed myself with water, except it was energy drink - warm and sticky...what an idiot, i'd taken the wrong bottle ! I rinsed myself with the now hot water and thought - "get to the next bend and see how you feel". To my relief there was a water zone - an oasis -  and i just stuck my head under the running tap...what a feeling. How brilliant water is !!!! I drank, filled the bottles and set off again, refreshed and positive again. I wasn't enjoying this but i was determined to finish. I chatted with a Brit with 5km to go. He said the heat was just ridiculous - i agreed. A girl was actually lying in the gutter trying to make the water, which cascades down the mountain at certain points, onto her legs. Yes, the heat was ridiculous.  At 3km to go a cyclist in front of me stopped, stood on the road and let out a huge wail of a was comical, but I felt his pain. A few spectators were pouring bottles of water over us if we indicated to receive the shower - i nodded and felt the cold race down my back, shorts, legs and into my shoes...nice ! Many cyclist were walking and every corner was littered with shade seeking competitors.

Final bend in sight, and i could hear music at the top. Nearly done. I stood to push my way round as the % cranked up. My elbow was in a bad way and i had to sit again. The music that greeted me as i arrived at the village was the Human League's "You were working as a waitress in a cocktail bar..." but i couldn't find any connection, and just thought to myself that i didn't feel human one little bit!

Final effort for 3km up to the finish line. It wasn't getting easier. I just wanted to stop pedaling. The Semnoz 2013 was in my head. I got over the line somehow, made my way to the food tent, took off my helmet and lay down. Exhausted. One of the organisers ran up, "Ca va?" "Oui, un peu fatigué".

Mike was behind her - he didn't ask how i was, he was too busy taking photos and laughing, "for the record". I was not looking my best, let's say :

Death by Marmotte

To conclude.
A very difficult day. It was the extreme temperature, more than the actual route which was fantastic, which made the event so gruelling. Ascending the Alpe d'Huez in 40°c temps with 160km already in the legs was not my idea of a nice day out.
I have an overwhelming feeling of not enjoying myself - which is the first aim of such an event for me. Pity. Glad to have finished and overcome the demons of Quitsville, because seeing so many cyclists on the way down climbing into cars having given up was something...
Having said that (don't you just hate that expression?), i'll probably be back again - i still haven't done the Galibier!!
Oh yes, the aftermath of my falling down the stairs -  a chipped bone in my left elbow, which explained the swelling, and a displaced vertebra in the back, which explained the pain...!!
Apart from that....the alps is a fantastic place to ride a bike.

samedi 11 juillet 2015

Half the year gone ! Half de Compiègne and La Viking

Half the year gone ! Half de Compiègne and La Viking

I finally got my running into shape by the end of March - a few 5km runs, a few longer and slower jaunts, with the Half in view for May 17. But it wasn't the legs that were a problem in the end.
Thursday 14th May a few club members organized a lake swim and a short ride....2.5km in the lake at Jumièges, 40km on the bike along the Seine - nice and steady, with my aero bars for the first time this year - and back home  i followed up with a 9km run at a good pace. I felt a slight discomfort in the side and thought i'd pulled or overstretched something...nothing serious.
Saturday morning swim session i pulled up with a short sharp stabbing sensation in the side...i really had pulled something. The coach thought i'd had a cardiac arrest - but would this stop my triathlon the next day ? You'd think so, but....
Compiègne is about 2 hours from Rouen by car, meaning a leisurely drive to arrive in time for the 12h30 start. My side was not feeling right so i strapped it up with kiné tape.  I felt better, though the medical benefit was somewhat dubious. Driving along with Guillaume and Arnaud meant we could chat about the race and other things and i could avoid stressing about the swim start. On the website from last years race there was a film of a swimmer not moving as he battled the counter-current of the river....i was not amused!
Transition was a football field, and with the sun shining, the atmosphere suggested a family picnic - everyone was in good humour - and the fact that 13 or so MSA triathlon club members were present made it more familiar and fun.
Swim start - a slow walk along the river to the start line. The current didn't seem strong looking at it, but the water was cold though. The wetsuit held my side together and i felt fine. As I swam back towards the start 'line' the gun went off - i had to turn round and go - so i had no time to think. Yes, the current was strong and i felt like i was flying.  I was constantly kicked, hit and swum into - i gave as good as i got though - but this was due to the relatively small space - the river was about 20m wide, maybe. Passed quite a few - swimming over, around, under, but always forward... i was actually enjoying it...this is how i felt when i first started triathlon... 1400m with the current went quickly - swimming at the same pace as the spectators walking on the banks - a strange experience. Turn round point and the counter-current - everyone seemed to be at the riverside where the current was weaker...this changed when we had to swim round a fallen tree and i found myself in the river centre - i was advancing, so the image of last years stationary swimmer wouldn't be me this time, a relief at least.
Out of the water in 31.32 mins for 2km, i was amazed - it's amazing what a fast current and a wetsuit can do for the morale !
Onto the bike - after a lot of messing with the wetsuit, and trying to get arm warmers on...not easy with wet arms. i say arm warmers, i really mean sun protection. The sun was out and it was quite warm. All i remember about the bike was:
1. passing people.
2. Not seeing a lot with my head down
3. long straight roads through the forests
4. 2 big climbs and equivalent descents
5. my side ached on the descents
6. a water and banana refreshment - that i missed first time because i was going too fast ! and this two times - though i managed to snatch a banana second time round.
7. the volunteers telling you your position.

I enjoyed the cycling - even better with the position updates. I remember hearing 97 - then 88 - then i know i was doing well.
2h38 for the 90km - 2x45km loops. Not bad. Averaging at 34km/h, or thereabouts, and 74th position out of 340. 1st loop in 1h17, the 2nd in 1h21 - and yet i felt i was faster the second loop... . I only saw the occasional drafting - teams working together, which is always annoying - but i was happy to have been alone from start to finish.
Getting to transition i was apprehending the run, not knowing how this would go - despite having done quite a few training run sessions off the bike. Vincent - injured, so here a spectator, shouted me to "alleeeerrrr"- "this is the start of the race" i replied. I felt good, and was soon into a steady, albeit slow, pace. The run was 3 loops of 7km - along the river, through the forest and then into the forest before returning back along the river. This meant MSA triathletes would be able to see each other... suffering, which is always a boost. My sides ached as i turned the corners and the bends, and i wasn't feeling comfortable, but i felt light enough on my feet.Two sips of coke and two sips of water at each feed station and a red tonic gel at 7km and 14km was all i needed to finish the final 3 km in accelerated mode...i still had something in the legs. Finishing with a sprint in 1h37 - my best time yet...and with an overall place of 87 in 4h53:45. Satisfied, tired, and with a pain in the side.

Next day the pain was more persistent and an x-ray revealed two fractured ribs. What? And i just managed a Half Iron Distance PB !?!

Bad news is that i had to pull out of the Geneva to Nice trip...the less i say about that the better i think, as it hurts more than the ribs ever did ! But when the doctor describes the possible complications of physical effort with broken ribs - punctured lung, collapsed lung, both lungs start listening to reason.

After a complete week of no activity other than watching Contador smash the Giro Italia, I climbed onto the Home Trainer and then the road bike after three weeks. And then Sunday, June 21 i took part in my second real cyclosportif - La Viking 76. 153kms along the coast via Dieppe to St Valery (the route for Stage 9 of this years Tour de France) and back to Mesnières en Bray.

As we were waiting for the start towards the back of the 153km race pen, a spectator shouted - "they've gone". I looked up and saw some cyclists riding away. I, and the others around me, began to weave our way through quite a lot of others who were waiting for the shorter race (90km) 9am start!!
Result - i missed the leading peleton. I actually set off thinking that i'd catch them soon enough - but after 3 or 4 km of hard pedaling i realized it simply wasn't going to happen. I could see the large group up the road, speeding away round the bends. I was so disappointed. I could feel the wind against me, and the fatigue in my legs already. I knew that this was therefore going to be not just a long day, but a VERY long day. So, no choice, head down and pedal.
It wasn't until i got to Dieppe - 30km down the road - that i started to catch small groups - all going way too slow for me. Riding up the hill out of Dieppe and reaching then coast plateau the wind was fierce and head on - the windsocks were completely horizontal and pointing directly parallel to the road. I wanted to stop and turn round by now. But i kept on. At one point i turned round to find 6 or 7 cyclists stuck behind me. They weren't offering to take the lead, so i had no choice. I moved over to the left and one went in front. The speed dropped from 29km/h to 24km/h, so i took it up again.

Finally at ST Valery we got to turn out of the wind, after 40 km or so. I was feeling well and truly tired. There is a steep climb out of the town, and the wind was now sideways. My Aero 60 wheels were being blown all over the road.
15 km to Cany Barville with the side wind, but then we hit a left again and the wind is behind.  We had just completed the Tour de France Étape 6 segment...they would head on to Le Havre, into the wind. Now there was one rider behind - n° 22 - blue top. He thanked me for the shelter adding "you are a strong rider into the wind, well done, chapeau!". I smiled and offered him to take the lead. He looked like a hardened rider, around my age, maybe a little younger...or less old i should be saying now!
With the wind in our back, a downhill section we were at 55km/h in no time.
The return leg - 75km - to the finish was a lot like this - me in front, pushing hard, catching more and more stragglers dropped from the lead group, and a lot doing the shorter race...only on the final climb did i wobble and was left behind by n° 22. I had no food left, a bit of water, and a lot of emptiness in the legs. As we got to the line though, i'd caught up again, and  n° 22 turned, thanked me for the help, shook hands and let me pass the line before him -   a true cycling gent. So i finished with a huge smile and a feeling that i had done everything i could but knowing it wasn't my day  - 153km at 32km/h average speed (no power reading unfortunately - i need to invest!).

Next up: La MARMOTTE - the queen of cyclos...

vendredi 27 mars 2015

2015 - spring has sprung...

It seems like yesterday that i was writing the same thing - spring has arrived !! Strange how the year seems to have past by quickly, although i must admit that when i was coming down the Col du Tourmalet in July it felt like a year itself, and the marathon at IM Barcelona felt like an eternity...Einstein has an explanation i'm sure.

But anyway, it's that time of year again - the birds have started waking us up as early as 6 again with their singing...the flowers have begum to bloom, a little later than last year, but the color is as refreshing a sight....the air is slightly  less chilly, and the sun hangs around a bit longer at the end of the day. Yes, it's springtime.

Yesterday i treated the Boardman Air 9.8 to a spin with the Aero 60 wheels for the first  time since October. The whipping wind blew me all over the place at times but gave me a real buzz and a real update on where a i am fitness-wise.
Winter hasn't treated me kindly - niggling injuries every few weeks have halted my running, although cycling and swimming have come along nicely.
With the swim i have spent the winter months working solely on technique, which has led to many hours spent slowly moving from one end of the pool to the other, with one arm, with arms under water, with a float, not moving at all and just repeating the gestures... It is slow and painful but I am finally feeling some progress in position and slide as i now know where my hands and arms need to go and move if i am to advance efficiently and smoothly. I never learned how to swim - i remember going to the pool as a seven year-old with my brother, i was pushed in and i swam. Simple as that. I think i've just been swimming in the same way ever since - as a reaction, so i don't sink and drown. But now i'm learning. One day i am determined to be able to say, "i can swim," rather than, "i know how to swim". Yes, as the Ironman slogan boldly states :anything is possible - or : You can teach an old dog new tricks!

For the bike, well a lot road has passed under the wheels, i was happy to be out on both December 25 and January 1 in the freezing cold, with the ice and the wind wearing my red Rapha rain jacket which allows no cold air or humidity inside. No holidays for me there....So i've managed to maintain a good level of form... I only wish i could say the same for my running !

I have no idea why my calfs constantly plague me. I've tried stretching, massaging - i even bought a foam roller to help recovery and preparation. Nothing doing. I am now trying strengthening the calfs and legs and back by using an elliptical machine - not the most interesting way to spend an hour, but at least i'm moving and hope to be back on the track very soon.
I will need to because coming up very soon - May 17 - Long Distance triathlon in Compiègne, followed by the cycling trip Genève to Nice, put off a few years ago, but now very much a reality, before taking on the toughest of all the cyclosportifs - La Marmotte.

No Ironman this year - i'm saving that for 2016. You have to wait for desert, so they say.

mercredi 22 octobre 2014

Ironman Barcelona 2014

Here i am again, bike and bag packed up, stressed and nervous, heading off to the airport for Ironman Barcelona round 2. This time though, i was looking to compete and improve my performance - aided and pushed by the fact that 15 other MSA Triathlon athletes were also competing.
Training had gone well enough over the year apart from breaking 2 ribs following a fall in June meaning i'd only been running normally again since the start of August - two months. Whether this was enough...well, i'd know soon enough !
Et me voilà encore,  le vélo et le sac prêt, moi stressé et anxieux, sur la route de l'aéroport pour Ironman Barcelona. Cette fois-ci je voulais être compétitif, et améliorer le résultat d'il y a deux ans - le fait d'être accompagné de 15 co-équipiers du club MSA Triathlon était assez motivant. Mes entrainements se sont bien passés, à part les 2 côtes cassés suite à une chute de vélo fin mai, ce qui m'avait empêché de courir avant le début du mois d'août. Suffisant? J'allais le savoir bientôt!

The Friday and Saturday pre-race were warm and sunny, but the forecast for Sunday, race day, was for rain. Up at 6h for a 8h34 start time - big breakfast - banana, fruit juice, coffee, cereal biscuits, energy bar and energy drink...and a gel pre-swim.
Il a fait beau le vendredi et le samedi avant la course, mais on a annoncé de la pluie pour le dimanche 5 octobre. Je me suis levé à 6h pour manger (mon départ est prévu pour 8h34) un grand petit déj - banane, jus de fruit, café, gateaux céréales, bar et boisson énergé le tout suivi d'un gel pre-natation.  
Full, Esther drove me to the start as the clouds burst - it was dark and eerie. I was totally drenched by the time i'd arrived at the Bike Zone. I was even beginning to shake with the cold - Étape du tour all over again !! - so i simply put my water bottles on the bike, not even checking the tyre pressure - they weren't flat, and that was enough ! I got into the wetsuit to keep dry and warm and headed down to the swim start - a 1500m walk, with David and Tony from the club. The rain was easing but the lightning was scary,  lighting up the entire sky and cutting the electric lights around us. I jumped into the sea - warm at 22°c - but the lightning danger was obvious putting the swim in question. There was an announcement to this effect, but finally the start was just delayed by 30 minutes as the storm headed away.  2500 athletes sighed a sigh of relief.
Repu, Esther me dépose près du départ au moment où le ciel décide d'ouvrir  - il faisait toujours nuit, tout avait un aspect un peu sinistre, et j'étais complètement trempé en arrivant au transition. Je laisse les bouteilles sur le vélo, mais je ne vérifie même pas les pneus (ils étaient pas au plat, donc ca me suffisait) tellement je tremblais avec le froid (étape du tour encore!). Sous la tente de la transition je mets la combinaison afin de me protéger du froid et de la pluie, et pars à pied vers le départ à 1500m, accompagné de Tony et de David du club.
La pluie commençait à ralentir, mais les eclairs allumaient le ciel. Impressionnant. La mer était toujours bien chaude - 22-23°c - mais il y avait danger à cause de la tempête, et on nous demandait d'en sortir. Le départ dans l'eau était en question, mais l'annonceur nous informe, au bout de quelques minutes anxieux, que l'orage s'éloignait et que la natation aurait bien lieu, mais avec 30 minutes de retard. Soulagement massif des 2500 athlètes.

The Swim

                                                          this look says it tête !!

I was anxious, as usual, but happy that the start was in waves rather than the notoriously spectacular mass start - spectacular for the spectators, a massacre for the swimmers, well, for the less strong swimmers like me. But as soon as i hit the water i felt fine. It was warm but quite choppy. I got to the first 200m marker quite quickly and with no problem. Turning left at the 800m buoy was ok too,  only 3km to go.
Je m'inquiète toujours au départ dans l'eau, un peur inexplicable, 
mais j'étais quand même heureux d'y ê en plus soulagé que le départ était en vague de groupes d'age, et non pas en départ unique - ce qui est sans doute spectaculaire pour le public, mais reste un massacre pour les nageurs comme moi. Mais une fois lancé tout se passe bien - et je trouve le calme et contentement que je connais - j'ai fait comme David m'a expliqué - au départ tu comptes jusqu'à 10 et puis tu y vas, ca donne le temps de trouver une place et un trajectoire parmi les 300 a bien marché et j'arrive vite au premier buoy à 200m, avant de virer vers le droit et le deuxième. La mer était assez agitée, mais les vagues n'étaient ni forte ni haute. Le deuxième et troisième buoy arrivent et 800m sont déjà parcouru - que 3000 à faire!

The long straight line along the coast - 2450m - was more difficult. The faster age groupers soon caught us and i got quite a few knocks. I moved to the left of the marker buoys to avoid being hit again. There were a few cold currents and a lot of debris - always the case after a storm - bits of wood, plastic. The med isn't the paradise it is made out to be.                                           
                                                                                                           La longue ligne droite longeant la cote - 2450m - était assez difficile...les nageurs plus rapide des groupes qui partaient après nous, les vieux, nous rattrapaient et j'ai pris pas mal de coups. Je me suis positionné sur la gauche des buoys, et là ca y était. Il y avait quelques courants froids et beaucoup de débris - comme toujours après une tempête - des bouts de bois, plastique. La mer de la med n'est pas le paradis qu'on peut croire!

In the summer i swam here on holiday and was stung by jelly fish quite a few times, maybe 6 - on the arms, legs, and face... sharp electric stinging shocks. Luckily, the medusas kept away today. Ironman events have the swim indicated every 500m, so i was happy to see where i was - 2000m, 2500... going well, not tiring, but drinking quite a bit of the sea with the waves, being bumped by other swimmers. The final buoy  in sight - they look small, but are huge once you get close to them - again a lot of knocks here with the age groupers bunching to make the final 300m dash to the bike zone. I was relieved to feel the sand under my feet. I didn't feel tired and even ran up the beach, bu t it wasn't the most enjoyable swim i've done.
Cet été j'ai nagé ici et me faisait massacré par les méduses - au moins 6 fois j'ai pris des coups qui piquent comme un choc électrique. Heureusement il n'y en avait pas aujourd'hui. J'étais content de voir les distances indiqué sur les bouts tous les 500m...c'est un événement Ironman, donc mon premier, et ca fait un point positif au moins - 2000m, 2500m - si l'on trouve le moyen de calculer la quantité d'eau avalée.... j'aimerais bien le savoir! Le dernier buoy était devant - ils semblent tour petit mais une fois à coté, ils sont énorme. 3000..3400...3500 et le dernier virage vers la gauche et le sprint vers la plage. Beaucoup de nageurs ici, et donc des coups à nouveau - j'en ai donné aussi, j'étais bien présent et battant...mais c'est pas agréable. Donc j'étais bien content de me sentir le sable sous les pieds - pas fatigué, j'ai même couru en enlevant la combi - mais ce n'était pas la partie de la journée la plus agréable. 
1h14 - 3 mins quic...less slow (:0) ) than before...
3mins plus rap///moins lent qu'il y a deux ans...
T1 - still way too slow - getting dry to avoid the cold. problem with a broken shoe, forgetting the Garmin...gggrrr - will i ever learn?      
Toujours trop lent, en me séchant pour éviter le froid, une chaussure cassée, mon garmin oublié...j'apprendrai un jour !               

The Bike
Looking forward to this. New wheels - Full carbon Aero 60 clinchers - fast and compact as they whizz round. This is a relatively flat and notoriously fast course and i was ready to go out and find my limit. I rode this in 6h 2 years ago with a damaged crankset and without pushing myself. I was quickly into my Aero position and simply got my head down and pedaled as fast as i felt possible - often at 38/39km/h, feeling comfortable and in good shape.
J'ai hâte de faire ce parcours, connu d'être plat et rapid, avec mes nouvelles roues à la fois rapide et y a deux ans je l'ai fait en 6h, avec un pédalier endommagé et sans me pousser. Je trouve rapidement une position aero, me baisse la tête et  pédale aussi fort que je pensais possible sans aller dans le rouge. Souvent à 38-39km/h, confortable et bien.
It's important to eat and drink - the plan: every hour a solid cereal bar, and a gel - carbs and salts - and energy drink and water at will, with a banana at the food station (for the taste as much as anything else) - and remain focused. The sun was out, but the road was strewn with debris and mud and huge puddles in places, and steam was rising as the rain evaporated. The number of cyclists bunched together was incredible - groups, defying the no-drafting rule, were flying on both sides of the road, making it impossible for the referees. I was careful overtaking and keeping my distance - i didn't want a penalty ruining my time today.
L'importance d e manger et de boire sur le vélo est primordial: le plan - chaque heure un bar céréale (des carbs), et un gel (sels et minéraux), et de l'eau et boisson énergé une banane à chaque  zone de ravitaillement ...juste pour le goût! Rester concentré aussi, très important. Le soleil est sorti et faisait monter de la fumée en séchant les flaques sur la  route, qui est couvert de débris et de boue suite à l'orage. Le nombre de cyclistes était incroyable - des pelotons - malgré le règle no-drafting - étaient partout. C'était impossible pour les faisais attention à garder mon distance et en doublant - je ne voulais pas de pénalise aujourd'hui.

90km in and i'm starting to feel the effort. A group passes me - at least 50 riders. I'm at 32km/h with the slight headwind proving uncomfortable. I was digging in to find the effort, knowing this was just a normal phase. I took a gel and a banana. "Keep with us' a voice shouted. It was a Russian rider hanging onto the group. Without thought i caught him - curious to know the speed the group was at. An effortless 39-40km/h. I chatted a while - what about the no-drafting rule ? Everybody is riding in groups, he said. True - there were mini pelotons everywhere. A referee passed, whistling the riders a warning to separate - i dropped back, thinking how this was possible - it is cheating, and anti-triathlon. Earlier i'd chatted to an English rider who'd spoken to a referee about the danger of the groups - there were simply too many cyclists bunched together, and triathletes are notoriously bad peloton riders. I replied we should do away with TT bikes and just have everyone riding the course like in a sportif. At least the rules would be clear to everyone - but it wouldn't be a real triathlon, a non-assisted race involving 3 disciplines.
But this is Ironman - increase the number of participants, and the entrance fee ! Simple economics !
À 90km je commence à me sentir fatigué. Un groupe me passe - une bonne 50aine de coureurs. Moi à 32km/h avec ce léger vent en face qui rend l'affaire peu confortable. J'ai pris un gel et une banane afin de nourrir mon effort pendant ce qui n'est qu'un passage momentané, je le sais. Une voix m'appelle - "reste avec nous"....sans penser je rattrape le groupe - curieux de savoir leur vitesse - 39km/h, sans effort! C'est un russe qui s'accroche derrière ce peloton. "Et le règle no-drafting?" je lui demande. "Tout le monde le fait," il me dit - ce qui n'était pas faux. À ce moment une arbitre nous passe, sifflant au groupe de se séparer. Je ralentis et reste derrière. Il y avait simplement trop de coureurs sur le parcours. Mais c'est la triche, pur et simple, et surtout anti-triathlon. J'avais déjà parlé avec un anglais que s'était plaint à un arbitre. Je lui ai dit qu'on devrait interdire les vélos CLM et laisser tous rouler comme dans un sportif - et là le règle est clair. Mais ainsi ce ne serait pas un triathlon - une course de trois disciplines non-assisté!! 
Mais là, c'est une épreuve Ironman, et on augmente le nombre de participants et les prix - la loi de l'économie est simple!

Riding in a group means you are assisted. I spent maybe 4 minutes with the Russian rider group and it was easy, and i had a good rest. It got me over the brief difficult phase - but it is too easy.
So, tough luck for me when 30 km later , hanging maybe 8m behind a rider i'd caught, but decided not to overtake because it was time to eat, and taking a cereal bar, taking my eye off the road for a second, i hear a motorbike and catch a glimpse of a black card...penalty !!! The 'legal' limit is 10m between riders. As this happens a group whizzes past on the opposite side of the road. I indicate to the referee how ridiculous it is - she shrugs her shoulders and the motor bike speeds away. I refuse to let this get to me. I'm still going well. Final turn at 150km. The penalty box is in 15km, before the final turn back to Transition. I get my head down - i need to go as fast as i can to compensate the 6 minutes i was going to lose. I was calculating as i fly over the hills, onto the flat - into the 40km/h - i was still under 5h30 - what i was aiming at.
Courir en groupe est plus facile et j'ai passé 4 minutes avec ce groupe - je me suis reposé un peu et la phase difficile est passé. Donc,  autant pour moi quand un arbitre me montre un carton 30km plus loin. J'étais peut-être 8m derrière un autre coureur, en train de manger un bar céréale, je ne regardais pas trop, je ne me concentrais ca se pardonne pas. L'ironie est qu'au moment où je vois le carton noir, un groupe de 30 nous passe sur l'autre coté de la route. Je le signale à l'arbitre qui hausse les épaules et s'en va...donc 6 minutes d'arrêt dans la zone de pénalité, à 15km de l'arrivée. J'étais pas content, mais je me disais - va à fond pour rattraper le tels perdu. J'étais quand même sous les 5h30 que j'ai visé au départ..donc ca va. 
I pulled up and gave my number to the referee - 123 - noted - 6 minutes to go. I ate a banana and she saw me with half sticking out of my mouth. "No eating," she said,  but i had no option than to stuff the rest into my mouth, so i could speak to say, "ah! no se !!". Smiling at my attempted Catalan - "OK, she said, "Puedes...." Molt be - Gracias - Adeu...
I pulled out and tried to speed up - it was difficult after this break, but only around 18km to go. I was now looking at a 5h15 time - plus the penalty. STOP thinking about the time and pedal - you still have a marathon to run !!! I'd forgotten about that - Transition arrived. I ran off the bike and into the tent.
Je m'arrête et donne mon numéro - le 123 - à l'arbitre. Je prends une banane - l'arbitre est là: "non, non, interdit de manger et boire." J'avais une moitié de la banane qui sortait de la bouche - je l'avale vite et je souris, "lo siento .." L'arbitre rigole. C'est bon - elle signale que je puisse partir...... Je pars et essaie de mettre le gaz..pas facile après l'arrêt. Il me reste 17km -  je calcule le temps.... ARRÊTE de penser au chrono et pédale!!!! - il y a la petite question d'un marathon aussi...j'en avais oublié. 
5h15 + 6
Satisfied, but a hint of disappointment all the same. Satisfaisant, mais un peu deçu de la pénaltie - j'aurais pu faire moins que 5h15.
34,1km/h average speed

T2 - shoes off, change of socks, jacket off, shoes on, 4 gels in my belt. ready - here we go. 2 minutes....
chaussures enlevées, changement de chaussettes, veste cycliste enlevé, baskets aux pieds, 4 gels dans la ceinture, prêt - on y va. 2 minutes....

The run
I hadn't run more than 20km in any one session in my two-months of running since August, but i knew i had the distance in my legs. At what speed i had no idea. I'd trained at 10km/h - often doing 15km-17km at 11km/h. I was confident, but i could feel my insides turning as i headed down the beach to the finish line and turn round point.
Steady pace, breath deeply. Esther shouts me - i 'd only done 2km, so i was happy to see her - HOLAAAAA - quick bisou for the morale boost and i'm away.
Je n'ai pas couru plus de 20km à la fois pendant l'entrainement, mais je sais que j'ai le distance dans les jambes. À quelle vitesse, par contre, aucune idée. Je me suis habitué à courir à 10 à l'heure, plusieurs séances de 15-17km à 11 à l'heure. J'étais assez confiant donc, mais mon ventre commençait à tourner dès 1km au bout de la plage de Calella - ligne d'arrivée et le début d'un tour de 10km.

41km to go...sourire :)

Drink zones - water, cola energy drink...two sips, rinse out with the water, i'm away. I repeat this every time. AT 5km my stomach is not right - toilet time - not easy with a tri suit - this is a first for me - but i feel better  - lighter more than anything.  Turn round - 7km - i hear the MSA triathletes as we pass on the loop - it's encouraging and gives me something to do as i search a green athlete - Allez - from time to time i receive a "vingaaaa martiiii" encouragement - i had a Catalan flag bandana for the sun, which was now shrouded behind the clouds, so it stayed around my wrist.  Visca Catalunya...the locals shouted to me. The weather was perfect for running. Turn round - 11 down - Esther again - the time was passing quickly. Steady rhythm, but it was getting gradually more difficult. 17, 20, 21,  half-way...Esther - "i'm heading to the finish line now' when i see her at 30km, i'm surprised, but happy - morale booster again  just 10 to go - she told me later that i was looking as white as a ghost at 20km, she wasn't reassured - so stayed to
make sure i was ok. Tough tough - but final loop -

                                                        Still 20km to do - getting tough !

31...should i walk ? NO !!! I walk through the drink zone - just to the tree ahead, start up again - it's hard to get the legs going. I plod on - keep running - pain is inevitable, suffering optional...not pain, discomfort, 2 more km gone. The beach area in Pineda is deserted.
Zones de ravitaillement -  2 gorgées de cola énergétique, de l'eau pour rincer, et je repars. À 5km mon estomac n'est pas bien..j'ai peur d'avoir des crampes, donc je fais une pause aux WC - ca marche. Pas facile avec un combo de tri, mais le résultat est efficace et ca va mieux, plus léger en tout cas! Point demi-tour à km7 - j'entend l'encouragement d'autres MSA - ca fait du bien - je retourne le message et  ca fait passer le temps aussi. J'avais pris un bandana en forme du drapeau catalan pour me protéger du soleil, maintenant voilé par les nuages (parfait pour courir), donc il restait autour du poignet, il attirait l'attention des spectateurs qui me criait 'viiiinngggaaaaa.....martiiii'. Je lève la main, 'visca catluna!!!'. 
Mon rythme est lent mais régulier, et je me sens assez bien, si un peu fatigué. Les km passent assez vite...17, 20, 21 - la moitié te je revois Esther et sa mère - "viiiiinggggaaaa maaaarttiiiii" - elles repartent vers l'arrivée..."déjà?? je n'ai pas fini"....mais je la revois à 30km toujours là - elle me dira plus tard que j'avais le visage d'un fantôme, qu'elle n'était pas rassuré, et voulait me revoir encore...c'ets vrai, je lui dit à 30km que "c'est vraiment dur là"- encore 10km à faire. 31km - je marche? NON. Bon, je marche au zone du ravito. Je bois et je pars. Dur. 'la douleur est inévitable, la souffrance optionnelle'.... non, pas 'douleur' mais "l'inconfort", ca change tout!!! et je suis à 33km. La plage à Pineda est vide...étrange avec la nuit qui tombe.

The sea is calm, i can hear the waves breaking in the dark to my right. . It is an eerie feeling. Turn round - no cola - Final
gel - red tonic - it takes 1 km to feel the effects - 36km - i'm home and dry. Well, almost. I'm still running and still passing runners - now walkers - some pass me - younger than me - chasing a qualifying time - qualifying for what ? Hawaii - i doubt it - anyway, i'm NEVER doing this again. It is too painful - the last time i will EVER run on this street in Pineda... never ever again will i pass under this train track, run up this steep incline....i like the beach here though, and passing the bike zone, Tony and David pass on their final loop out - Allez allez - only 2km to go for me. I'd run here in August in the heat and humidity - now it was easy - the final drink zone - 1500m to go - Tom from the club shouts encouragement - he finished 2 hours ago - incredible - i can hear the finish line announcer - turn round point, not for me - i head right, and onto the blue carpet and the ramp to the end - Esther is there, she is beaming and happy i'm still in one piece - but not as much as me !! The final 100m is a blue light zone, crowds shouting, and i hear the voice shout "You are an Ironman" - yes !! I raise my arms - satisfaction - the clock is well below the 11h 30 - the time i was hoping i'd beat...
La mer est calme vers le droit, mais on entend les vagues. Il n'y a pas de cola au dernier point de retour, pas grave - il me rest que 5 cherche mon dernier gel. Red Tonic - c'est bon, frais - c'est pas normale que j'aime ca, mon 10ème de la journée....mais un km plus tard je ressens l'effet. Je continue à courir et de passer d'autres coureurs qui marchent! D'autres me passent - ils courent après un temps de qualification? Ils sont en train de s'encourager - une qualif pour quoi? Pour Hawaii?? - je le doute!! Aie c'est pas simple là - c'est la dernière fois que je cours sur cette rue à Pineda, que je passe cet arbre là, que je passe  sous cet voie ferrée et monte cette côte là - c'est top dur. Profites-en Martin car tu ne feras plus jamais ca! Mais cette plage juste avant Calella, j'aime beaucoup, les palmiers sont beaux, le vent qui se lève, c'est sympa. Je vois Tony et puis David encore, qui partent pour leur dernier tour. Zone de transition. La fausse pelouse du stade de foot est douce sous le pied. Encore 2km - je suis là. J'ai couru ici au mois d'août - il a fait chaud et lourd, mais là c'est facile. Vas-y. J'entends la voix à l'arrivée. Je prend une gorgée d'eau - encore 1km. Tom du club m'encourage - il a fini il y a deux heures - trop fort. Je ne me retourne pas au bout de la plage. C'est la fin pour moi - la rampe bleue qui descend. Esther est là - "bravo mon ironman" je souris. L'arrivée est un arène baigné en lumière bleue - "You are an Ironman". Je lève les bras - soulagé et satisfait - la pendule indique un chrono bien en-dessous les 11h30  que j'ai visé.

Run Time 4h35 - nothing to write home about, but considering my training, i'm happy enough
Marathon: 4h35 - rien de spectaculaire, mais avec le peu d'entrainement, ca passe.
Final time :
11h13 without the penalty
11h19 with the penalty, so official.

"i'll never do this again!!" - so how will you break below 4h30 on the run? I guess i'll just have to go again. When and where ? Not decided yet, i'm not convinced by the Ironman label that's for sure...Challenge was more, i'm not sure, smaller, yes, probably friendlier, less "in the face, loud" than Ironman. But it is the distance and the thrill of finishing...and you can't stop after two Ironman races - 3 is the minimum for this discipline, which i am getting to know better - and knowledge is the key !
Je ne ferai plus jamais ca ! Donc comment vas tu passer en dessous les 4h30 à pied? Il faut encore un IM pour voir...Où et quand ? Je sais pas encore, mais il y aura un 3ème, le nombre minime à faire. Je ne suis pas convaincu par l'orga  IM - Challenge est plus petit, cette, plus amical peut-être, moins "criard" peut-être, mais la sensation à l'arrivée, c'est introuvable ailleurs... et je commence à le connaitre le distance, et la clé c'est la connaissance!
I met and chatted to so many people in Calella - Irish, German, English, French, Danish, Spanish, Catalan, New Zealanders, Australian, American, Canadian.... a world united by triathlon, all running against themselves and their own personal clocks. Is that why i do this? Maybe, but it's probably more  that the effort - both physical and mental - the adrenalin rush, the search for motivation when it is hard, and it does get hard,  the sense of achievement at the finish..., really make me feel alive....and that is reason enough to continue !
J'ai rencontré tellement de gens différent, de partout dans le monde à Calella, un monde uni dans le triathlon - tous qui courent contre eux-même, contre leur chrono. C'est pour cà que je suis là - à y participer. L'effort physique et mentale est tellement exaltant, ca donne une sens de la vie, d'être en c'est pour ca que je le fais.
Next up ? Prochainement: 
La Marmotte sportif
Le LD Triathlon Alpe d'Huez

                                                  ....and after the recompense

vendredi 17 octobre 2014

L'étape du tour 2014 - Pau-Hautacam

just found this in the 'draft box' - should have been published months ago...the étape was on July 20th 2014.

I recently read an article describing the Étape du Tour as an opportunity for cyclists to emulate the pros, which reminded me of another journalist who ridiculed the amateurs for wanting to emulate dope-driven, juiced-to-the-gills pro riders.

So i asked myself - why are you driving 900km on Friday, to spend Satrurday stressing about the mammoth 148km ride up the Tourmalet (17+km at 7.1% average) and Hautacam (13+km at 7.8% average) on Sunday, and in the rain to top it all ? Well the answer couldn't be further from the journalists' claims about 'dreaming of being a pro' ! No i just wanted to ride in a beautiful place, on closed roads, with other cyclist nuts, over a tough, testing route.

Question of the day on Saturday - how much will it rain tomorrow ? The forecast was not good - it was warm and heavy all day and when the alarm sounded at 5 in the morning it was dark, but no rain... and even on the start line at 7.30 the sun was threatening to burst out from the grey clouds...but still, the question everyone was asking was "when will the clouds burst?"
I set off at 7h50, with number 6051. This meant i had over 6000 riders in front of me (and another 5 behind).  It was a quick opening 50km - i skipped from group to group like a pebble skimming across the water... passing a lot of riders, latching on to a new group, passing, doing my bit on the front - you know because with a quick glance behind, a line has formed on your back's exhilarating because you cannot break your speed.
The groups were quiet and concentrated all the way up to the foot of the Tourmalet - the monster of the Pyrenées. I had been extremely anxious about this for some reason, not helped by Jon who said he had driven up it on Saturday and said "It is a real beast of a climb...really really steep in places, dangerously so..." . Not the confidence booster i'd been looking for. As we entered the feed zone at Saint Marie de Campan I ungraciously stuffed a banana in my mouth and looked up at the sky - it was now very dark, and the rain was beginning to fall... i quickly got my rain coat on (didn't want to get my Rapha top wet  now, did I ?) and set off ready for a long uncomfortable slog

So here we were - St Marie de Campan - the foot of the Tourmalet. It was not cold here, but the rain was starting to really fall. The black clouds in the distance meant there was nothing to see - even the hills to the left had become shrouded and veiled by the dark mist. Only one thing to do - pedal. The gradients weren't too hard here....but the ramp started to stiffen and the Garmin was reading 9 and 10%.
With the compact FSA crankset (50-34) and the SRAM Force 12-28 cassette behind, i felt well-equipped with a steady circular foot movement  i continued to pass many riders.

                                                          cold and wet on the tourmalet

The first tunnel appeared, and the gradient was steep. A few riders stopped to shelter a while, but as yet nobody was walking. Occasionally a higher numbered cyclist passed on the left...with a strong purposeful pedalstroke. I breathed regularly and continued on the trek. I ate every hour - Isostar cereal bar, Isostar fruit bar...i had studied the advice on GCN - eating solids was important before, and on the Tourmalet, after there was not much use as it wouldn't be digested. La Mongie was approaching  at 2km, which meant a feed zone. The air was thinner already and the breath was visible as the temperature began to drop. The rain was lighter and so i stopped and removed my jacket. I wanted to have the benefit on the descent. Was i thinking clearly ? I thought so. No time to waste at La Mongie - i didn't need anything anyway. There was another feedzone at the bottom of the Tourmalet - so if i did feel peckish i'd get something there. People were out in force here, singing and cheering us on... 2 km more to the summit. The Garmin had stayed around the 8 and 9% it seemed for the past 4 kms but i was feeling strong.

Finally the summit - but there was nothing to see - the mist had gathered and the rain was starting again. I passed the Col sign, and the legendary cyclist statue - and stopped - time to dress for the 35km descent. Mike, my brother, had kept his Zipp 808s for this part - he'd spoken about the long winding, fast road, and was dying to ride fast, but i could feel the wind and cold already - so had it been a wise idea ? I knew he'd probably be at the bottom already, if not on the Hautacam at the end of the valley road, so i was curious to know how he'd done. I took off the helmet, put on a muffler, a hat, arm warmers, and raincoat and luckily the gloves i'd stuffed in my jacket as i left the hotel. I was ready. 3°c at the summit. It was going to be a long, cold descent, i knew it. Gendarmes were stationed at the first hairpins and with flapping arms warning riders to slow down, to be sensible....but once these first dangerous bends were out of the way it was a long winding way down, almost straight.... the rain was doing its best to slow us down - each drop like a dart on the face. I was cold already and could not feel my hands; my shoulders were also seizing up. I shook my arms back to life. It was dramatic. I was literally freezing - my legs had gone numb, and my feet had all but disappeared. This was crazy. What was i doing here ? It wasn't the ascension that had killed me but the descent. Get to the Hautacam in one piece and you can warm up there, i thought... i was actually riding quicker so i could get to do one of the toughest climbs in the region ! Was i mad ? I hit 63km/h on the descent....but with my hands constantly tweeking the brakes, and becoming numb as i did so. I knew that if i slipped and fell i would not be able to get back on the bike. I saw myself lying in a ditch and drowning, as cyclists whizzed by !

The road began to flatten - we arrived at the water stop. I checked my bottles - empty. I turned back and held out my bottle to one of the girls serving. She laughed as i could not stop my arm from shaking - and i had to place it on the table. It was funny but i couldn't even feel my face as i laughed. This was madness - did the pros suffer like this?  I don't think so - they'd have the best gear - unlike my flimsy jacket with tears in the arm (tears as in rips, not 'tears' - they were running down my face!! ha ha) I started to shake uncontrollably....but i managed to take a sachet of energy drink from my back pocket - Isoxan which has a nice taste and passes easily for me. With a couple of gels - overstim's Red Tonic in my pocket i had all i needed to get me going again. The temperature was warmer here and you could feel the heat from the road. The rain continued to pour but as i shook myself back to life i knew i was riding an epic ride. The next 20km or so were fast as groups began to form again. I was with a group going at 45km/h through the torrents sweeping over the road and over bridges of the valley, we were almost at the same speed as the river running by us.

Suddenly though the rain eased and the clouds turned white, there was even a bit of blue in the sky. The garmin read 129km distance ridden. In two km the foot of the Hautacam. We arrived quickly. The crowds were dense here. I stopped and undressed and to the amusement of a crowd of spectators i wrung out my gloves - it was like turning on a tap as the rain water flowed out... i smiled and quipped how there'd been a light shower on the Tourmalet. Here the crowd was dressed for summer, tee-shirts, shorts. It was very warm now. I checked my bottle - ok for the final 17km ascension - so i didn't waste anytime at the water/feed station.

warmer on the Hautacam
The crowds at the foot were swarming on both sides of the road and formed a tunnel - they were cheering and shouting - "Allez,  Rapha, Allez," (I was wearing the top and the shorts, so I smiled, this is what you see on the Tour - it was very uplifting. Ah!! It would be nice to be a pro sponsored by Rapha,  i thought - so it was nice to feel like a pro for a while....i took this thought to the end of the  village. and the road began to lift.
The Hautacam was  a strange climb - many tough ramps at 8-9-10-11% punctuated by easier 6 and 7%s  and even a couple of flat sections. Nothing as relentless as the Semnoz of 2013 - and as i had survived that, and the Tourmalet, and the torrents, and cold, i felt confident. I carried on pedalling and passing riders as i had on the Tourmalet - taking care not to cross onto the opposite side of the road where the finishers were descending, chatting and happy....i was glancing at their numbers - they were all high and none were in the 5 or 6 thousand - so i was going well.

                                        up the Hautacam - i'm in the Rapha shirt on the right

                                         looking a bit fitter than one year ago on the semnoz
Signs on the climb indicate the number of km to the summit and the average gradient of the next km. With 9 to go i heard my name shouted - "go on Martin"... it was Mike coming down. Too quick for me to reply, but as i tried to calculate the time difference, i was at 8km to the summit. I knew there was a really tough 2 or 3km section coming - and i kept my eye out for the average gradients -- 9.5%;10%; 9% -- then 7% - relief...only 7%, i'd been expecting higher. The race was almost done. The sun was disappearing as we climbed, behind grey clouds. Rain again. The air was thinner and my breath was now visible as i blew. The summit was above, final 2km, the road surface was new....a few drops began to fall - the red flame - can i get there before the deluge. Flattening out i put my head down and pushed again - final effort. Finish. The rain starts to really fall. Coat on, wet already, turn round and head down. The cold of the Tourmalet returns. What a feeling to get to the Village at the foot of the climb. Hot coffee, pasta, change of clothes in the bag i'd left - that was the best move i made all day - dry socks !!!!

263/1210 age category
2104/8558 finishers
Over 10000 started
less than an hour behind mike, and only 10 minutes behind Jon (6h45)
Our Mike - 6h00 - the Zipps couldn't fly in the rain ! pity.
when you consider that when i finished the Étape two years ago they had already waded through wo pizzas and god knows how many beers, by the time i arrived !
Conclusion - much better - improvement all round
The Boardman Air 9.8, the Rapha kit, and the training all help :)