Here's a quick recap of my race of the amateur version of Stage 16 - Pau - Luchon. It is the queen stage of this year's tour. 198K, 5 Cols (Aubisque, Sulor, Tourmalet, Aspin, Peyresourde). And if that wasn't tough enough, the heavens decided to open up and pour cold rain on us all day. This race was not just harder than I imagined. It is harder than anything I could have imagined. I have a renewed respect to all the Tour riders. Even more so to the gruppettos and domestiques.
I started in Group 6 - Number 6K-7K. There were 10K participants. But it didn't feel like a lot once you were on the road because everyone was spread out along the full road closure roads.
Quickly, i worked my way to different fast groups and kept bridging from one group to the other. I was so excited, I thought it was a crit and sprinted from the gun. Mistake # 1.
Eventually, I made my way to the 1000 and under group number and rode up with some fast riders up the Aubisque. I had to ride the climb at threshold and tapped out the KMs feeling good. I was riding above my level for 1.5 hrs up the 1st HC climb. Mistake# 2.
On the descent of the Aubisque, it was raining sideways, so descending was treacherous at best. Luckily, I was riding my crossbike and felt super comfortable sliding it around. I bombed the Aubisque descent, Rainier style. I eventually caught a moto to lead me down and followed his lines and dropped my group. It was such an adrenaline rush to descend faster than I ever have and not crash while doing it.
However, I was having so much fun the first 3 hours, I forgot to eat and drink. Then at the base of the Tourmalet, I bonked. I was shivering from the cold and dreaming of steaks and a chocolate peanut butter milkshake. But I still had 2+ hrs of climbing to do up the might Col du Tourmalet. I was just going backwards and could not put any power on the pedals. So I stopped at a cafe to get a ham sandwich, but I couldn't speak french so they only gave me a baguet. An hour later - halfway up the climb, I made it to a food stop and devoured anything I could get hold off. Yet another mistake, because minutes later, I had to go # 2. There was nothing but cliffside around me. My stomach was ready to explode. The idea of a stained chamois was not appealing at all. I was shit out of luck. So I kept climbing slower and slower, nursing the eventual eruption of Mt. Steveius. An hour later, I made it to the top of the Tourmalet and dashed to the rest room. It was filled with many riders doing nasty things too. I was just ready to blow when a door opened. I was in such a rush to get in I almost knocked over an old french man. That would be really bad especially since I was obviously an American since I decided to wear my stars and stripes jersey.
Anyhow, after I survived that 2 hr+ crisis, I ate some more and felt ready for the next 2 cols - the Col d Aspin and the Col de Peyressourde. Lots of the riders were saying that the worst was over since we only had 50K left and only 2 Cat 1 climbs (15K climbs). Hour long climbs are a piece of cake after the Tourmalet. It's all perspective, right.
But the worst part was not over yet. The descent of the Tourmalet was FREEZING rain. I was shivering so badly the bike felt like it was broken. My teeth were being grounded to powder. 45 mins. later I got to the base of the Tourmalet descent and the medics were handing out medical blankets. Got mine, and went straight to a cafe to order a boiling hot cafe au lait.
You know that saying, the darkest hr is just before dawn? Well, it is so true! I was sitting at the bar surrounded hypothermic surrounded by other freezing cyclist. And we were all drinking our cafe's like we had convulsions. I was shaking so badly, I think I spilled most of my hot drink on my hands and didn't even notice since they were so numb. Anyhow, it was such a ridiculous sight to see that I started laughing hysterically. I was speaking to a french guy and we both didn't understand each other but were laughing and shaking together. It is the key memory I will take from the ride. Cycling is suffering, and you have to laugh at it and enjoy the pain.
This image carried me to the finish. I even managed to have the 3rd fastest descent out of the many thousands into Luchon.
The things that matter most are not materialistic or grand, they are moments when you are in the moment, when you are present in every single way. This was how I felt during the Etape #2. I hope to do it again but next time, I hope to do it with some of you.