I think I was just deflated by the early flat yesterday, because today I perked up, way up.
We took our first samples of the High Pyrenees that feature frequently in the Tour de France, climbing the 23 km Bonaigua and the 9 km Col de la Portillon, crossing the border at the end from Spain to France. Tough 160 km day in the saddle from 8:30 am to 7 pm. Dropping back to Group C, the day began with a slow 23 kph paceline up an 85 km fairly flat valley to the base of the Bonaigua. This is the kind of ride where we (the Montgomery County riders) would have been hammering away at 18-20 mph at least, but with these two monster peaks up ahead, we went slow. My legs had no business feeling good, but actually felt great, and I was able to power up both peaks quickly in the second chain ring. The Portillon was particularly tough as we did the top half in a cold rain, and you know how I feel about cold. The descent was a nightmare 9 km on wet switchbacks, and remembering my Crash last year on the Madeleine, I rode the brakes all the way down. This is not good for the brakes, the wheel or my hands, but was very good for my overall life. My clothes are soaking wet, and right now I'm trying all sorts of tactics to dry them in the hotel room, including folding them up in dry towels, draping them over lit lamps and blowing them with a hair dryer. The top of the Bonaigua which is at 2000 meters, was also very cold, but sunny so manageable. Still, I wore full winter garb including Balaklava on the descent which was a spectactular 40 km drop on a clean road carved into the canyon wall down to the town of Vielha. Technical at the top, it later became a straight drop at 5-6% so I could really let it rip Mama style.
The tour over here is completely different from what we experience at home. First, it lasts 7 days. Second, it has the feel of a military expedition, with strict scheduling, early rising, obsession with weather reports, injury reports and provisioning, focus on eating and drinking enough to get the job done; male bonding; subservience to a commander-in-chief. Everything but the raping and pillaging, although it's still early days. Also, I think I may have mentioned before that sustenance is based on a completely different philosophy. In the US, we grab a bagel before a long ride and are provisioned at frequent rest stops with gatorade, fruit, carbs, whereas on this tour we eat 3 large complete meals a day: bkfast, lunch and dinner. The ride is broken up by lunch which can take an hour, and at most one other stop for fruit, cookies from the sag wagon, which provides only water, no sports drinks. I'm finding that if you eat complete meals you tend to get most of what you need (could there be a book contract and movie in this idea?). I'm also finding that with proper pacing, I feel pretty good at the end: no bonks or cramping. In general, I think we ride harder in the US rides we do, but we never face 25+ km climbs or these types of hair-raising descents. It's also different from the rides I've done previously in Europe, which were basically just big cols, up and down in 3 hours. I'm finding that I'm getting more confident and stronger as we go along. Two days ago, if you asked me to predict, I would have said that by now I'd be down to my last sarcomere. We'll see about tomorrow though which brings the Queen stage: two category ones, the Peyresourde and the l'Aspin, followed by the Tourmalet,, which is hors categorie. I'm confident I'll do it, but this is not oing to be easy under any circumstances, and certainly not after riding four days in a row. The A group has been ripped to shreds with only 3 guys left from the original 9. The B group is also all over the mountain. I ended up way out in front of C on the big climb today and passed half of B and a few A's who started quite a bit ahead. Still, I'm going with C tomorrow-it's a fun bunch of guys, and anyway it's all climbing tomorrow, and the moutain is going to be littered with alphabet soup.
An interesting observation as we march across the Pyrenees is to see how simple throwaway language can take on new meaning under duress. Simple greetings like 'How are you' taken on massive significance here since everyone is going through so much physical stress, and not everyone is well. We've had some guys need to back off and ride in the vans, and two guys with GI problems both seemingly related to food. Other guys are just fading on the mountains as the vertical feet take their toll. So when I ask 'How are you?' I'm usually looking into the person's soul, anticipating a serious and potentially chilling answer.
There's been one crash I know of, but at low speed and fortunately no broken bones.
Wish me luck and I'll let you know how things go, hopefully tomorrow.