Wednesday, August 21, 2013

ETAPE 2013

Well here we are again. Probably this isn’t so interesting for you as I reached the top of a difficult stage last year. ‘Obviously he will do it again so what’s the point of reading on’ Well you don’t know I made it and you may well not care so I shall still save it for the end and hope you find it interesting as a blog. Enjoy the pics anyway, how good are they!!

Last year I left you with the question what else to do this year as I ran out of daylight last year. My imagination was not really up to answering the question. I looked at the proposed Etape routes for this year and frankly they were not challenging enough. How pathetic you may say. Well you can’t go backwards can you? To cut a long story short I fancied doing something around the Col de Tourmalet before which I got swept up 3 years ago. I spotted that Stage 16 of last year’s Tour de France was in the Pyrenees and took in that Col, but it also took in Col d’Aubisque, Col d’Aspin and Col de Pèyresourde a distance of 201 kms and 5000m of climb. So I shortened it to 160 kms and 4650 metres about 19 kms longer than last year and the same climbing. It had the added benefit of challenging me to finish before dark.

This year I didn’t have so many takers as Alf had gone to live in Oz and Caryn was producing a sprog (not a bad excuse). But Simon was up for it again and so was his spouse Deborah, veteran of Alpe d’Huez so we were a merry band of 4, including a complete cycling virgin Jamie Miura my great friend Dee’s new husband. I have never seen someone take to it so seriously. He went out and bought a flash bike in red and black and of course had to buy red and black matching kit as well. He really put in the mileage training and was far faster than me on the climbs. Simon and he have that annoying habit of a low heart rate.

Tony and Pascale bless them volunteered to support again and flew in from Lyons to support Simon and Deborah, Lisa again was my stalwart support, and Dee supported Jamie.

Things did not start off too well. Lisa and I missed our flight to Toulouse on the Friday morning. It was inevitable this would happen one day but why this day, when I had planned everything so well and needed to be in a relaxed frame of mind not seething with anger – at myself in fact as it was my fault. We arrived in plenty of time for the flight but I just lost focus in the lounge and arrived at the gate 2 mins after it had closed. Normally I can talk my way past but this time it was bus transfer and there were no more buses, end of….

Next flight was 6 hours later, which wasn’t the end of the world, and the first class BA lounge at Heathrow is not the worst place to wait 6 hrs on earth.

So we arrived at our hotel in Pau at dinnertime. By then the others had decamped to a lovely restaurant round the corner where we met up. The hotel were so obliging and had organized breakfast for us at 0530 as we wanted to get started at 7 or 730 to finish in daylight. My big worry was the performance of my digestive system after breakfast bearing in mind what usually happens when I get caught short on the ride, but amazingly I was OK. I actually have an ally in Jamie here who had to look for a loo at the start and had to wake up some poor café owner to relieve himself. In fact I understand he had a few such visitations. One memorable one was at the top of the Col d’Aspin where he could be seen walking up a long pathway to a forest uphill to find somewhere suitable!!

We had to drive 25 kms to the start, which avoided some initial hills and finally set off at 8 once Jamie had rejoined us. The weather was quite pleasant about 16 C but the mountains seemed covered in cloud. In fact we cycled the last 3 kms of the first mountain in cloud, which was a real shame as the views would have been spectacular. We spent some time at the top at a souvenir shop buying some cycling shirt souvenirs before the first descent.

There was quite a long ride down to the start of the Tourmalet, which is a Hors Catégorie climb to the highest pass in the Pyrenees. Along the way we saw debris from the torrential rain and floods they had in early summer that had literally washed roads away and left fast flowing rivers. This gave us cyclists problems with gravel and stones and running water on the road for a few kilometers and we were afraid of punctures but fortunately got through unscathed.

By now the weather was heating up and the skies were clear and the mountains were all green and the parapentes were landing near us in the fields. Absolutely stunning.  On the way up we had to dodge cows sheep and goats one of which was lying in the middle of the road and condescended to get up out of the way as I went to run it over. Then started the tough climb to the top with an especially steep last km but it was so great to make it and have everyone there. Big photocall especially to look back and see the winding road all the way 20kms back down to where it started.

We were in fact trying to reduce the amount of stopping we did compared to last year but it is amazing how much time goes by without noticing. We decided to stop for coffee and what with the photos we spent nearly half an hour at the top. Anyway down a long descent to the next Col, which started quite easily and then finished steeply and down to the last, which was similar in style. Actually I was feeling pretty good. I was buoyed on by Jamie’s antics at the previous summit.

Anyway at the bottom of the next Col I saw a sign saying 18 kms to the top and end of the ride and realized I wasn’t going to make it in daylight, poor Lisa. Sure enough I finished in the dark with faithful Lisa driving behind me with the lights on, just as well as without them I could see nothing. Then, bike in the car with great relief and off to the hotel for dinner. Unfortunately we got there so late that we were just offered a plate of cold meat, didn’t feel like drinking at all.

So there we are for another year. Stats below, with the ride 10% longer than last year and my average moving speed 10% faster so things are definitely improving.

Next year there will be no Etape, thinking of plotting a route for a few days in the Hors Catégorie mountains bagging a few more iconic summits, let’s see.

My thanks as always to the Team Jamie Miura, Simon Clark, Deborah Findlay and the fab support team Tony and Pascale Passmore, Lisa Hatton and Dee Miura.

Cycling time 11,75 hrs

Elapsed time 14.05 hours

Max speed 63,1 km/h

Avge speed 13,4 km/h

Cadence 56

Calories 3129

Average power 125W

Average heart rate 120 bpm max 160.

Distance 160 kms

Elevation 4650 metres

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