Sunday. Race Day.
Woke up about 5:30 am on Sunday and began my pre-race prep; Breakfast, last minute equipment checks then donned my bib-shorts, arm-warmers, jersey and gilet and off I went to ride the 8km to the starting pens at the race village in Briancon.
I got to my allocated start pen without too much fuss and looked around for some of my friends who I knew were given the same start time as myself and thus must be in the same starting pen but could not spot any of them.
As we waited cold and nervous in the pen, admiring each others’ bikes and making small talk, we heard the announcer over the PA system building up and then counting down to the start time of each wave. At 8:30 AM she counted us down and we were off! Here we go.
The first 60km was fast and flowing with several relatively easy climbs and fast descents. I kept remembering the advice given: “take it easy”. The aim was to cover the opening 110km while spending the least amount of energy as the real tests of this ride were cruelly placed towards the end of the ride. Conserving energy meant looking for “free watts” wherever possible. “Free watts” is a phrase we cyclists use to describe the drafting effect of following closely behind a cyclist or a group of cyclists. The energy savings of drafting can be as high as 30%, So from the start at Briancon to Savins De Lac was an exercise in energy conservation. After turning off the main road out of Briancon, we skirt the Lac de Serre Poncon, one of the largest artificial lakes in Europe and a simply stunning view. Once we left the lake we started the drag up to Barcelonette where I stopped for the first time.
By now I had covered just over 100 kms and was still feeling good even though the temperature had risen sharply. I stopped to stretch, refill my water bottles and find some shade. This would be a recurring theme, the quest to find shade from the unrelenting sunshine. As I made to remount my bike, I heard (in an unmistakably Nigerian accent) “Akinso!!! Broom wagon dey behind!”. You see, the dreaded ‘broom wagon’ is the name for the vehicle that follows a cycling road race “sweeping” up stragglers who are unable to make it to the finish within the time permitted. One of the ‘buddies’ who strangely started behind me had been nearly caught by the broom wagon and he had escaped the clutches of said wagon and was warning me that this dastardly vehicle was not too far behind!
If the ‘broom wagon’ catches you, you are disqualified on the spot and you and your bike get a free ride to the finish. The End.