Superb Scenery, Horrendously Hot, Stupendously Steep, Unbelievably Up !!
Day 20 Stage 18 Thurs 17/07/14 Pau - Hautacam 145km
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Day 18. The Tourmalet and Hautacam…..
Hot. I think that’s all I really need to say…… 43degC we saw (that’s 109 Fahrenheit)
Up at 5:15am again for a 6am breaky and 6:30 departure. (Bags on the coach, creams applied, all kitted up etc! ). It was the best breaky in France to date (bacon, eggs, sausages!) and a shame to rush it…. But needs must.
Nearly 2 hrs coach ride and set off around 8:15am after a little sleep for most of us. The first 30km as usual was easy-ish and relatively flat (with just one Category 3 climb) but the heat was definitely on.
We were then treated to a Russian themed Feed Stop! Sarah (the boss!) has lived in Siberia in the past) don’t ask why she “chose” to live there! And Nick (a fellow Lifer) teaches Russian in a school in the UK, and went to the same Uni as Sarah….. and I work in SIberia right now! So, Sarah with her brilliance asked me to bring some stuff back from Russia and she bought a few ingredients locally and hey presto we had a fantastic feed stop. Everyone was very impressed. I must say….. (sorry to any Russians reading this….) it was in fact better than any Russian snack I’d had!)
The day then got hot….. It basically went up, up, up for the next 60km to the top of Tourmalet at 2,115m.
My legs were tired, it took a long time to get going, but eventually (several water fountains later) we reached the top….. Met up with a group of Irish lads over for L’Etape on Sunday. L’Etape by the way is held every year. It’s basically the biggest and best (most prestigious climb of Le Tour) and is held for the general public to ride/race a few days before the real TdF race it. Usually several thousand take part…. I believe 5-6,000 cyclists pay to ride I each year. This year it is this stage (Tourmalet/Hautacam) and will be held on Sunday just before the pro’s race it on the Thursday just after. Many top amateurs race it so it’s a big event. We of course didn’t race it, just the usual plod… for some. There were a few of the younger lads of course who sprinted at the end, but true to form, Matt was first….again. What a star he is. Such a modest rider, but absolutely brilliant in the mountains. Chapeau!
The descent from Tourmalet was brilliant. Massive speeds. We then had lunch in a beautiful setting, and I even had a can of shandy! It tasted so good! Ice cold and 1% alcohol!!!
By now it was 3pm and the Hautacam loomed. The temperatures were up at 43degC ! It was searingly hot. A long slog up the Hautacam, stopped once at a fountain to top up water bottles and I managed to reach the summit by 6pm. I was in the top third of the group, so after a very quick coffee at the top, and a rapid descent (something the pro’s don’t need to do…hence my extra mileage again today) managed to get on the first bus to the hotel. Basically we need 2 buses for the number of riders we have (about 70 today). A few riders didn’t ride up Hautacam due to the heat, so the first third to complete the section and the guys who cut the day short took the first bus back. The next bus waited for all the others.
A Campanille. We arrived around 7:30pm. Just enough time for a quick shower, wash the clothes before feeding time at the zoo at 8pm. No speeches / briefings as the second bus was a couple of hours later. It got in around 10:15pm. It’s still incredibly hot…… and I am ABSOLUTELY EXHAUSTED.
The climbs up the 2 mountains were very slow today (ave speed 18.9 kph includes the descents of 60kph!). At times I was grinding along at 7kph. It was just soooo incredibly hot. And the lack of sleep, the continual day in day out riding is definitely catching up on me…. Getting moving after a stop is starting to hurt. Today was tough, I suspect tomorrow will also be tough (physcologically). It should be easy, a flat-ish ride, no major climbs and only 210km… but the heat will drain us. And it’s kind of the last decent long stage. But the general toil of 20 days on Le Tour is definitely affecting us all. Tired and weary, the spring in our step has gone, although generally our strength is definitely up.
But we only ride the routes. I have so much respect for these boys who race the Tour de France. It is incredible what they do. Really incredible. Chapeau boys, Chapeau !!