Nothing Is Easy
Thankfully after the excesses of yesterday Day 4 is an easy day, although as this is the Haute Route an easy day means a 12km time-trial, uphill, to the top of the 2413 metre high Col Du Granon, a mere 1100 metres of climbing from the start in Serre Chevalier. Ah.
Riders are set off in the traditional reverse ranking order every 20 seconds and I’m off quite early, thanks to my somewhat low position on the finish list due to me stopping lots and taking pictures. As I’m not going to pause to take any photos on the climb it’s been suggested to me that I absolutely pin it to the top to see where I might naturally lie if I was actually racing the event. Never one to leave a gauntlet untidied away I’m five minutes from my start time and my mouth is suddenly dry and my tummy is tingling. My number is called, my bike is steadied by a firm hand on the saddle and the bars and I see five fingers in front of my face, then four, then three…..
I overtake three people within the first minute as they’re not even trying to put any effort in along the flat section before the climb proper, I’m amongst the survivors, results bottom-feeders simply aiming to get through another day, and I feel like a terrible impostor. After this initial flat section the road ramps steeply up through a village and then settles down to about an 8% slope with some random steeper ramps along the way for the next 11km, I have it in my head that I’m going to be working hard with a mouth sticky dry for just about an hour.
The road zig-zags through the trees and then suddenly opens out onto shade free grassy alpine scrub, I grind my way along, glimpses through the tunnel vision and erratic breathing reveal that there’s a real nice view across the valley but I must instead concentrate on the string of riders ahead of me that make the perfect carrots to chase down. Unlike any other hour of racing there are no places to relax and rest, no downhills, no flat sections, no place to catch a breath, only 12kms of keeping just the right side of vomiting.
I look ahead and see a red flash of colour in the distance, thinking this to be the finishing line I stand up on the pedals slip into a harder gear and give it my all, only as I get closer to discover it’s the “1km to go” marker. Crap. Slump down on the saddle a bit Bambi-legged, regroup the breath, settle down, try to remember to sprint again later. As the road twists tighter to manage the last 500 metres I can hear cheering and attempt to muster a valiant response and at the top I know I couldn’t have gone any faster.
At the finish line I stand aside to return to normal and let the slightly spacey feeling subside, which takes some considerable time, an old man exhausted and in tears is chaperoned past me to a seat, and people collapse over their bars at the summit sucking in precious air, there is drool. Riders are wrapped in space-blankets to keep warm on the blustery summit, some wander up to the small café for sustenance, while others opt for recovery in a mountain-top massage. Once all the peloton are finished we are regrouped and led in a controlled convoy to the bottom where all the riders are free to disperse and fill the rest of the day as they wish.
Which is eating, mainly eating.