The day began with an ascent I knew well, having ridden and driven it both in the last year. The Col de la Cayolle is a gorgeous climb that traverses the Mercantour National Park. Wildlife abounds up there, but you usually only see cows. However, my Carolinian teammates swear they saw a wolf feasting on something big in the meadow. Nobody mentioned any lack of cyclists at the end of the day, so I guess it was a deer.
The climb went fast and Rob says he blew himself up on it keeping up with a very fast group. He paid for it on the next climb – Valberg – but still finished it ahead of me. It was an odd stage because the climbs were timed, but two of the ascents were neutralized for safety, meaning there were no precious seconds for me to make up on the descents. Still, they were incredible downhills and it was a lot of fun to leisurely take them and enjoy the view.
At the beginning of the last timed section (a 20km or 30km faux flat, then a climb up to the finish in Auron) Rob and I missed a big, fast bus and ended up riding the whole false flat alone, often into a headwind. That was excruciating enough, but the last 8km or so rose up and it was all I could do to not puke on the way up. When I crossed the line I was destroyed and a strong wave of emotion swept over me (very similar to my first Etape du Tour in 2011). I couldn’t talk for 10 minutes, I think. Very, very hard day.
Then Rob and I had lunch, chatted with some other riders, and commented to each other on how good we felt on the way back to the hotel. Nobody tell me that the human mind and body are not some whacked out amazing creatures! One of the guys we talked to at lunch was the inspirational rider below, M. Le Maut, who is 70 years old and has only been riding for 13 years. Oh, and he just finished Haute Route (I’m writing this on Sat) in 135th place, only 25 minutes behind me.
Next time I feel like I have a good excuse not to do something hard, I’ll think of him…and the one-armed, one-legged guy who also finished the race. Yeah, him too.