We began the long drag towards the foot of the Izoard where our GS (Good Samaritan? I think he had used up all his charitable spirit by this point. Haha) took off and suddenly I was the last man on the road. The terrain had changed and looked like something that belonged on Mars. Bleak, eerie and quite intimidating. The road here was rising, always rising, never flat and we had not even reached the magnificent monster that was the Izoard. I kept pushing on, mindful of the broom wagon but trying to hold something back for the final test. As I neared the foot of the Izoard, I came across our GS who had dropped me a few kilometers ago, lying flat on his back on the grass verge, waving to me as I rode past. He was with a group of cyclists who had had enough and were waiting for the broom wagon for the ride to the finish.
As I got to the foot of the Izoard, I came across another ‘Buddy’ from Lagos. He was pushing his bike, shoes off and obviously struggling. But he too was determined to get to the top of the Izoard somehow. So I waited with him while he wore his shoes and remounted his bike and we set off again. His fight though, came to an end less than 1 km later. I was alone again. I pressed on to shouts of Allez! Allez! By now, these shouts of encouragement were not making a blind bit of difference…I was on the mighty Izoard, 14km at an average of 7.3%. Legends were made on this famous climb.
As the last man on the road, I often had a queue of police cars and, commissaires and race officials cars’ behind me. How long do I have left to finish? I asked at 171kms, the answer was sobering: 1hr 15 mins to get to the top of the Izoard. 1hr 15 mins to cover the remaining 9kms and toughest section of the entire course. A tough ask but certainly within my capabilities I felt. I continued, climbing as fast as I dared, shouting to the pesky commissaires to drive on ahead and leave me alone.
There was one particularly irritating commissaire who insisted on updating me every ten minutes on how many kilometers I had left and how long I had left to cover them. Sigh.
At just over 5km to go I stopped to have a rest and a stretch as it was now getting very difficult to ride up this incline. No sooner had I stopped when another commissaire came up to me and informed me (wrongly it later turned out) that I had about 30 minutes to get to the finish or else I’d be disqualified. This prompted me to make the biggest mistake of the day: I started walking up the mountain while taking a rest, this triggered my first attack of cramps in BOTH legs in years. I just could not re-mount my bicycle. 5 minutes later, the cramp was still there and had not eased so I decided to press on on foot. I came across three other cyclists who were also doing the same and together we continued walking up the mountain. 500m later two of our group could not even carry on walking and called it quits, leaving just myself and another English chap who was taking part for charity. Then 500m later, it was just me.
At this time a convoy of buses which had picked up many of the cyclists who had pulled out earlier caught me and I was advised to retire but I refused point blank. I could almost see the top of the mountain and the finish. I continued walking. I was nearly there. Ten minutes later, a commissaire on a motorbike with a police car in tow stopped and declared that the course was closed and that I must retire into the broom wagon immediately. I was far too tired, frustrated, angry and disappointed to argue. The pain of the cramp hardly mattered anymore.
I had failed.
Without a word, I stopped my Garmin at ‘176.1 km’, loaded my bike and got on the bus. I sat in silence for the next half hour as the bus winded its way up the remaining 4kms to the finish, passing one or two other cyclists’ who were allowed to continue to the finish on foot unhindered! I was past caring at this point as the disappointment was still very raw.