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 énergétique...et 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 all....la 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 être...et 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 partants...ca 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 compacte....il 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 énergétique....et 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 arbitres..je 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 pas...et 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
5h21
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'....so 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 km..je 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.
video

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.


Conclusion
"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 vie...et c'est pour ca que je le fais.
Next up ? Prochainement: 
La Marmotte sportif
Le LD Triathlon Alpe d'Huez

                                                  ....and after the race.....la 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 wheel....it'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


video

video

                                         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 !!!!

6h55
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 :)