Roll out was great - already separated from Phil and Paul, Jason and I managed to stay together for about 20 or so miles then I was on my own over the 4th Category climb. All good so far and my only worry was mechanicals and punctures as the roadside became populated with various casualties of the same.
The Marie Blanque was a strange one for me. I entered the slopes last of our group - loads of cyclists all bunched up, going well, tapping out a good tempo but as it hit the steep stuff clearly some folks up ahead either missed gears or got off etc causing a tailback which made everyone dismount - time for a walk. I don't remember how long (But will say for the record it cost me exactly the amount of time I finished behind Stolte!!!) maybe 10-15 minutes walking, then it opened up and I found a friendly Frenchy at the roadside to push start me as it was still on the steep section at around 10%. So overall the 10km climb was not a problem for me as I rode it in two sections - Stolte said went too hard and suffered on that one though.
I actually felt worse as I approached the Soulor - my backside was in bits and the back was also hurting! Took a time out at the feed station just before the climb to load the bottles and take some painkillers.
Once on the mountain it was better and although very tough - heat was really picking up - took comfort from the mounting roadside casualties and had to keep saying no stopping till the top because, as turned out to be the case, it would be the only climb I did non-stop. Some very tough ramps with little in the way of easing off to get some respite - that couple with getting above the tree line on the full glare of the now 30 degree+ sun made it a hard slog. Finally it relented a little and got to the summit and then had a major cramp on the back of the left leg as I pulled it over the saddle. Loads of people, spectators arrived early for the coming Tour and goats, loads and loads of goats! I refilled the bottles - one hydration and one electrolyte PSP, put my sweaty top on the bike to dry, donned the wind cheater and sat down for 10 mins for a go bar and a good drink - a good move.
As I set off for the Tourmalet I honestly thought I would likely cramp up but just see how far I could go. Descent, particularly part 2 was amazing fun.
After heat on Soulor, finished my electrolyte and filled with water for head cooling purposes and refilled other bottle with two hydration tabs and crossed the start of the climb at about 8h20m with 103 miles on the clock thinking this is totally beyond madness - and I've paid to do it!!!
Tourmalet was awesome though, lined with supporters who crucially poured cold mountain water on the bonce all the way up - really hard work with some brutal sections on the first half with my only goal being the final water station at 9km to go. Had to stop briefly as my back wheel started rubbing and needed two hands just to release the skewer! Roadside casualties and people wheeling back down the mountain increasing with each km.
When I got to the water station (having popped a couple of caffeine gels) I was confident of finishing. After refilling empty bottles returned to the bike and laughed to myself as I noticed I had only been in the second highest gear the whole first half! Used the dinner plate for the rest but no easier so make of that what you will.
After that it was a couple of km before it was utter carnage. Bodies littered the mountain - saw one guy slip into unconsciousness and start to convulse - two spectators tended to him. Another chap was making a surprisingly large sports bar/gel/drink stomach whisked frittata right next to some poor Frenchies caravan! Rounded a corner to see the road rise relentlessly to two switch backs stretching to the end of the world (so it seemed) with full sun baked coverage - suffer like a pro Baggers - even if your cycling at 4.5kmh like a battered amateur.
4km to go sign and a real kick in the tanks as it also announces an average gradient of 9% - for the second time that day real doubts enter my addled mind as to whether I could do this all on the bike. The tougher ramps were causing the blood to pump in the ears and I felt I wasn't too far away from joining the roadside casualties unable to continue - ever onwards though as I know that stopping will likely be the end - and then I'll definitely have to come back next year.
Out of the saddle, but no dancing on the peddles Armstrong style, only to slow slightly and take half peddle turns and stretch the broken back (now onto 5th neurofen plus!). Constant shifting from top of bars to hoods (found that worked well) and forward and backwards in the saddle searching for respite that never came. Finally, spurred on by some Norwegian loons blasting AC/DC's Back in Black album, its the final push. Then a good smattering of English supporters are in full voice and I spot the final turns which is great, but also notice it looks like about 13% up the last switch back - surely the mountain isn't going to submit me to the ignominy of walking the final 500 metres as I fear the imminent onset of total leg cramp. It doesn't come and I finally cross the line after 2 hours and 19 minutes of climbing some 12 miles with a guttural roar which is met by equal shouts from the hundreds at the top.
I pull up next to two lads from Jersey Caesarean Cycle Club and beg some drink off them (bottle empty again) then I sit down and have a little cry.
What a day. We trained pretty hard but I had no idea it would be that tough - but that it was has made it all the sweeter to complete it. I swore to myself several times that day that if I made it it would be my last - but never say never!!!!
10 hours 40 minutes over 115 miles and some 4,500 metres going up. stop thinking about it and start planning it.