Day 10 Mon 07/07/14 Mulhouse - La Planche des Belles Filles 161km
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La Planche des Belles Filles.... A bit of history for you.... Apparently this is where all the young maidens (les belles filles) ran to the mountains and jumped into a lake (la planche) to drown themselves, rather than risk being ravaged by invading Vikings back in the olden days of the 1600's! So there you go. History lesson over... Now back to the bike ride!
So today has 4 cat1 ascents (which means it's by far the hardest day so far) and 2 cats 2's and a cat3 thrown in for good measure.
It was also forecast to lash it down all day. Oh goodie!
Also... and the observant ones amongst you will have noticed this happen a few times already, that the distance we ride is 20km more than the pro's. They are scheduled for a measely 161km but we did 180. Why? Well firstly we have to ride from our hotel from last night to the start and secondly the finish was at the top of a mountain in the middle of nowhere..... without a hotel, so we have to ride back down the final monster. Tough life not being a pro!
Now, today even more interestingly we were supposed to stay in a hotel at the end but somebody set it on fire 2 weeks ago. Hmmm all sounds a bit dodgy that the only hotel at the finish got burnt down 2 weeks before the Tour de France... but I don't have the gruesome facts (or any made up rumours!!) about that, sorry.
So given the enormity of the stage we were up at 5:30, eating breaky by 6:15 and off by just after 7:00 am in small groups cycling out of town.
We rode v v slowly conserving as much energy as possible.
I had changed my rear tyre last night ( in the pouring rain) and was a little nervous as a steel insert in the carbon frame had gone missing so I'd had to built my own out of aluminium tape..... but then I am the "king of bodgery" so no problem, it worked.
Anyway.... a nice gentle cat 2 climb to start before feed stop 1 (FS1) and the 2 monster cat 1 climbs before FS2. All of a sudden we'd done 80km and over 2,000m climbing! Gulp.
I then broke a spoke at the end of a very rapid and severe descent, so was happy it occurred at the bottom. The wheel buckled but I managed to release the front brakes and complete the next 15km uphill to FS3 without a front brake! One of the advantages of uphill riding! At FS3 I was given a spare front wheel, quickly swapped over my tyre onto it and I was off again without delay! Well there was a small delay..... It involved consuming two fantastic Mexican wraps..... Prepared by the support team, glorious.
The weather had held so far so with gilet (wind cheater sleeveless cagool type thingy) and waterproof rain jacket, spare gloves, foot overshoes we were heavily laden but dry... so no complaints
The next session involved a huge cat1 climb which nearly killed us. It was v v steep and v v long.... some walkers but I stayed on the bike... happy. A quick final feed stop before the final 5km descent and then the last 7km ascent to La Planche des belles Filles..... we had been warned that this reached 20% in the last 400 metres. Just what you need after 10 days riding and today having done 180 km and 4,000m
Oh, and by now it was absolutely throwing it down!!! There was a stream running down the last 7km of newly laid tarmac! But that was better than hideously hot sun.... I guess!
At the top I was almost crying with pain. This is the hardest day I have ever done on my bike, but the feeling of elation was huge!! So proud of myself and my fellow friends. A lot of handshaking with whoever was there at the same time and then the descent to the bottom. 10km of descent riding the river, fear of aqua planing or just falling off.... arm pump and shivering competed to defeat us. It was so Very Very cold!
At the bottom Sarah awaited with a small cafe she had organised for us to have a burger and chips and a coke! And it was warm. Result. Glorious. What a day.
We jumped on the coach at 7pm.... almost 12 hrs in the saddle or shivering!! We would now have a 1.5 hr bus journey to our rest day hotel. So we changed I to our dry clothes we'd packed in our day bags and off we set. Tired but feeling good. Andy made a "chapeau" nominating call to the bus driver after an hour for a pee stop as he was bursting. He was a bit nervous to ask but when the bus stopped and 20 happy blokes jumped off to join him he quickly realised this was one of his better decisions of the day!
Dinner at 10 pm included beer. Some sad farewells to the "half lifers" who had ridden all 10 days with us but were off home in the morning, and the guys who'd done the past 3 days in Les Vosges mountains with us, and bed looking forward to not setting the alarm tomorrow... a "busy" day of washing, bike TLC and pizza searching.
We have now completed half of the Tour De France. Relatively unscathed. My word, I think I can do this. Only the Alps and the Pyrenees between me and Paris!! Ha ha
One final moment of thought I have to share with you as today has been very emotional for me. All day long I have been looking forward to my day off, and all day long (just like the past 10 days) I have been constantly thinking about my beautiful and extremely brave daughter Annalie. She doesn't get any days off at the moment. Darling, if you are reading this I am so incredibly proud of you. Stay strong, stay brave. All my love and thinking of you constantly. You are my hero. Love you forever, Dad xxx