Sunday. A Search for Immodium.
Sunday did not get off to a good start as the day started with a frantic search for immodium. Need I elaborate further? I did not think so. Luckily this is apparently a common condition amongst cyclists and the second group of cyclists I asked in the breakfast area had a supply. One of them happily gave me the rest of his supply, muttering “good riddance” as he handed them over.
I dare not imagine what he had been through.
So stomach settled we headed out to our respective starting pens. The organisers assign a starting ‘pen’ and time to each entrant and mine was ‘pen 15’, the very last wave of cyclists to depart. This also meant that we had the least time to make the cut off times and avoid the dreaded ‘broom wagon’. I would later regret not blagging my way into an earlier starting pen. The logic of their seeding process escapes me and the fairness of their cut-off times is also not apparent to me.
So at 8:25, (a delay of 25 minutes) we set off. I was quite unconcerned about this delay at this stage. Surely 10 hours was enough for me to get to the last cut-off point? I was even more unconcerned when I got to the first cut-off point around the 42 kilometer mark one full hour ahead of of the cut-off time.
This first section of the route was fast and fairly easy, starting by the lake and going around its southern shore, it was more ‘rolling’ with just one short, but fairly steep climb, the Col De Bluffy…some cyclists actually dismounted on this short climb as they found it too ‘challenging’. Clearly many would never make it to the end. Then its about 20km of flats and downhills through Thrones and on to the first categorized climb, the tough Col de la Croix Fry.
This Category 1 climb is 12 kilometers long with an average gradient of 6.5%. But do not let this stat fool you into thinking this is not one of the worlds toughest climbs.It is hard. There is a 2km section where the gradient does not fall below 9%…
The first half was tough but not too tough, but towards the top, many, many cyclists were walking up the climb.
The alarm bells started ringing.
This climb tops out at 1,467m above sea-level and offers some truly stunning views of the French countryside and some lovely Alpine chalets on the ascent. There is a ski station and feed stop at the summit and it was time to grab some food and rest the legs for a bit.
Rest over, it was time to tackle my favourite part of every mountain climb: The descent. A long 10km plus, fast descent into St Jean De Sixt and then a sharp left towards the fearsome HC Plateau des Glieres.
I still get shivers thinking of this 6.2km stretch of the course. Nightmares even. It was by far the hardest climb I’ve ever done, the 32km Mt Teide climb is actually child’s play compared to this vicious brute. 6km at 11.2%! There were bodies clad in expensive Rapha lycra scattered all over the lovely French mountainside. How can a place so beautiful inflict such pain? God indeed has a wicked sense of irony. Most cyclists I saw on this climb were walking. I have no shame in admitting I walked the last 700m.
The alarm bells were ringing louder.
There was another feed station at the top of the climb and then it was onto the gravel roads of this historic plateau itself. Plateau Des Glières.
I actually stopped here just to take in the beauty of the place. Peaceful, still, unspoiled, grand, majestic. I could use 200 such adjectives to describe this place without adequately capturing the essence of the beauty of this place.
I would have loved to spend some time here, but I just could not, the threat of the ‘broom wagon’ still loomed large so it was off to tackle the 11.4km Decent Glières to the Col Des Flueries. This section was fast and furious and again, the views were breathtaking. You could not spend too long gawping at the scenery though as you had to focus on the descent which averaged -6% and lost you 718m of altitude.
Then it was onto the Col itself, a gentle 5km climb averaging a mere 5%. Pah! Compared to what we just tackled and what was coming, this was nothing and was dispatched with ease before we began the descent and the rolling section that led to the third of the classified Cat 1 climbs: The mighty Col Du Romme.