Armstrong, in the early days of his TdF dominance, came to Europe in the spring to ride the climbs he would have to do a few months later in the race itself. It apparently put him at a great advantage over his rivals, which leads to the question, why the heck didn’t everybody do this? It seems to most logical thing, i.e. know what you’re getting yourself into.
Therefore, needing all the help I can get, I finished up work early yesterday and hopped on the train to Alès, start/finish point to the race next week. Here’s the flat, fast N109 outside town, where we’ll spend the first 15 km or so.
I’m guessing this will be a very fast section and that there’ll be a few mini pelotons created to separate the contenders from the rest of us. We start in age groups (mine is 40 to 49), so my first goal will be to not get overtaken by the 50-59s, who start 5 minutes after us.
Shortly after the town of La Grande Combe we turn left at this ominous sign.
Col is mountain pass in French. This is the first of two cols in the race and by far the most difficult. It is 8 km of screaming hamstrings, or at least that’s what is was for me. It was also a wake-up call for me to get some cardio back – I could hardly breathe when I reached the top. Annoyingly, not far behind me were two guys riding up CHATTING! I can’t lie, that made me worry a little. This is the top, where my ego might still be.
If I’ve learned anything from watching cycling for the past decade or so, this is the first part of the race where groups of riders ‘explode’, as commentators like to say. Apparently, it’s not that difficult to roll on the flats at high speed, riding in the slipstream of those in front of you. But, when you hit a climb like this it is not long before the bunch is stretched out all over the mountain. It’s an impressive thing to watch on TV, so I’m masochistically looking forward to actually being involved in one of these ‘explosions’. Just hope I’m on the right end of it…
From the top the road winds along the ridge of the mountain for a few km with great views of the Cévennes.
This next col is not much lower than the last one, but the grade is more human. In fact the last few km are nearly flat. The beginning though (before this sign) is steep and I’m certain this will be a point where the boys (please don’t let it be me, please don’t let it be me, please don’t….) are separated from the men.
Things I learned yesterday:
- Cramping is a real possibility. I’m stocking up on bananas this weekend.
- I can finish the race.
- Gravity sucks. I’ve got more weight to lose.