Make no mistake, this is a brute of a climb (8.8km at 8.9%), made all the more difficult by the fact we had ridden over 100km and climbed over 2,000m in near-40 degree heat. The heat, severity of the course and exertions at high altitude had begun to take its toll. The energy gels and bars tasted horrible and the eloctrolyte mix in my bottles gradually tasted more foul with each sip. Ugh!
I arrived at the feed station at the bottom of the Romme with a group I had ridden the last 10k with, one of them complimented me on my bike: “Nice C60!” she said, “The best looking bike I’ve seen today” she continued, I responded: “Give me your legs and lungs and you can have the bike”.
I did not spend too long at this station, the fear of the broom wagon drove all of us to start the ascent. I was still feeling good about completing the course, I had ridden as slowly as I dared, while keeping an eye on the cut off times. I was hoping to get to the last cut off point with two hours in reserve to complete the last climb, the Col de la Colombière.
Onto the Romme,the road pitched up immediately to over 10% and the fight began. This would be a long climb but luckily for us, the early sections of the climb were blissfully shaded. This did not last though, we soon emerged into blazing hot sunshine as we approached the beautiful village of Romme where, mercifully, some of the residents had running hose pipes trained over the road. I made a beeline for every single one. The cold water was shocking and a welcome relief and distraction from the torturous climb. Many cyclists by now had given up and were walking and strangely making almost the same progress as those who were riding.
The alarm bells were ringing stridently now.
I knew something was up when I saw a super-fit guy, a guy who was slowed down because he was staying with his partner, racing past me towards the top of the Romme. Why was he suddenly going full gas? I immediately picked up the pace and tried to finish the climb as quickly as I dared. Got to the top after a few stops to stretch the aching legs and began the 6km descent, which included a 1 km climb, to the last cut-off point at the bottom of the the Col de la Colombière.
This is where my race ended. I got there just as they were closing the roads. In fact, I could have snuck through, but what would have been the point of that? I still would not have been classed as a finisher as the timing equipment was being dismantled. Sigh.
Etape Du Tour: 2, me: 0. Twice I had taken on this challenge, and twice it has beaten me. In the group stages of the recent world cup, a team with two straight losses goes home. Could I have finished it? Undoubtedly. All I needed was an extra 3 minutes or less, or an earlier start. The cut-off times are not based on your starting time or groups, there is one cut-off time for everybody, so the group which left at 7am , a full 1.5 hours before us, had an extra 1.5 hrs to complete the ride. A very unfair system.
That though, is irrelevant. The brutal truth is that I should have been fit enough to complete the ride within the time limits irrespective of my starting position. On that day, I was not. And until I’m sure that I am, there is no point going back.
And that is the most bitter pill to swallow.
*The Frenchman, Julian Alaphilippe,riding for Quick-Step Floors won stage 10 of the Tour De France in an astonishing time of 4:25:27.