CCC – Day 3

We were clearly in one of the less ‘traditional’ of the little french hotels overnight as for breakfast we found ourselves some scrambled eggs to heap aboard the baguettes alongside the requisite cafe-au-lait and croissant. The group assembled out front of the hotel gradually, most folks having some chain lubricating to do following the thunderstorm the day before and the long day of damp weather ahead of us. The aches and pains of two enormous days of riding were also slowing folks down and navigating the stairs in particular was a slower affair. Eventually the crew assembled at the front steps kitted out in rain gear, and generally smiling faces, ready to roll over to our first climb of the day.

Photo from gallery: CCC 2012 - Stage3

It didn’t take long to start ascending, just less than a mile to be exact. By about quarter to eight most people had found themselves in their easiest gear and trying to conserve energy as we began a long wet climb towards the Col de Perysourde. The grade backed off after the first few kilometers to a slightly less demoralizing pitch and it was possible to grab a few more gears and get going with the climb. The rain was on and off, but more off than on, for the ascent and banks of clouds floated around the mountainside as we passed through a series of villages on the way up. The views out across to the valley to our right were entertaining as they came in and out of view obscured by bits and pieces of cloud or fog drifting about, I was reminded specifically for the troutbeck valley from year spent in England. The sheep looked depressed by the weather and the varying shades of grey in the skies weren’t doing a whole lot to keep me excited either. The public fountains designated as ‘Eau Potable’ were overflowing as we climbed past dozens of them alongside this road but it was hard to be thirsty when you have a half liter of orange juice and three or four bowls of cafe-au-lait already waiting in the bladder. Stopping just seemed like a cold idea so it was postponed for another kilometer, and then another, and yet another.

Photo from gallery: CCC 2012 - Stage3

The frequency of the cars rolling past decreased the further from the valley bottom we got, giving some sense of progress, at least we were getting more and more remote. We were finally alerted to being within striking range of the summit when a series of switchbacks appeared out of the clouds ahead of us. Phil had warned us the night prior that switchbacks always look more difficult from below than they actually are when you’re on them. They looked positively ridiculous from below, and I hoped for something at least manageable upon arrival. I decided to try and believe him about that one and started to look forward to the descent which was promised to be quite fast and on a nice road. The switchbacks broke the monotony of the climb thus far with a host of names painted on the pavement and I was reminded that this was a pretty special opportunity. Something I had forgotten about for the better part of the last hour.

Photo from gallery: CCC 2012 - Stage3

Having arrived at the summit, I decided that my brain had won the game of chicken it was playing with my bladder and paused before the descent. The western slopes of the Peresourde were wetter than the east and very quickly after picking up a bit of speed water had been sprayed and driven into the last bastions of dryness my rain gear had been maintaining on the inside. That was a turning point for the morning, mentally at least, and it was pretty clear that I wasn’t going to get any wetter because it wasn’t physically possible. My mood picked up and I started to let it rip on road into Arreau. By the time I’d finished the main descent I could feel that I’d picked up a bit of grit between my teeth from the road. Evidence of a smile on the face despite being rather cold.

Photo from gallery: CCC 2012 - Stage3

Photo from gallery: CCC 2012 - Stage3

After rolling through main-street of the old medieval town we hopped out onto the main road for a minute to connect over to the climb up the Col d’Aspin. I had regrouped with Ben at this point and we made our ascent of the first half of the climb together, talking and pedaling again through the clouds. There was no indication visually how far we had to go when we looked up into a bank of white which was probably for the better. No reason to push the effort, just go at the all-day pace. The kilometers passed and we did some winding around on the side of the mountain in the fog. So many turns that it was rather disorienting and on the odd occasion that the clouds broke beneath us it took some though to piece together the bits and pieces of scenery into a mental image of the path we were taking up the hill. Eventually I split from Ben as the grade picked up towards the summit and the road began to be cut into rock rather than a dirt hillside. If there hadn’t been signs every kilometer counting down our progress towards the summit, this would have been encouragement that it was finally getting close. Topping out at a little gap in the ridge at the top I had a little rendez-vous with Carl, the CCC mechanic. A quick derailleur adjustment and I was on my way down the other side as quickly as I could to stop from getting cold.

Photo from gallery: CCC 2012 - Stage3

Within a couple hundred meters a stop resulting in getting cold seemed like it wouldn’t have been much of a loss. As least if you stop and eat and get cold you get to do the eating part. Now I was on the way down, cold, and hadn’t eaten. It was very cold in the forest on this side of the Aspin but the road was curvy and entertaining so it kept my mind off of it for the most part. Sooner than I would have thought we pulled off to the right and headed off on a gravel track through to forest towards the Col de Beyrede.

Photo from gallery: CCC 2012 - Stage3

The forest reminded me of the western slopes of the Roger’s Pass and the road looked an awful lot like the forestry access roads that go straight up the side of the mountain there. Knowing that we didn’t have all that far to go up this track through the forest it initially seemed like a short entertaining detour. The fact of the matter was that this detour, while short in length was not going to be short on time or effort. The pitches ramped up to in excess of 15% a number of times. Speeds dropped to the ‘barely perceptible’ level and I made some really slow progress. Not eating at the top of the Aspin was a mistake and while I dumped a bit of sugar into my stomach the effort level on this climb was preventing my body from getting it from the stomach to the muscles. The gravel road was interspersed with some rather crazy steel trenches. They were spaced out along the road to allow the rain to drain from one ditch across the road into the other. About 3 inches wide and 6 inches deep, it was going to be the end of your wheel, and quite possibly a few of your bones, if you rode into one. Fortunately on the ascent I was moving so slowly that I had a full minute to contemplate crossing each one before arriving at it and could ride across on a perpendicular. Where the gravel was loose it was tricky to stand without losing traction, and it was necessary to grind the gears from the saddle while negotiating the grades. A minute of this would have the quads and glutes aching for a rest. I’d then decide that the surface was probably intact enough to try standing and hope I could keep the rear wheel from slipping and would get out of the saddle and grind the gears from there. The lats and lower back would be complaining only moments later and I’d be back to seated at 40 rpm in my easiest gear winding my way up through the trees. The track through the forest backed off in steepness to a very welcome 5% or so as we broke into a meadow and we rolled past a little Auberge and around the corner towards the col proper. Tom was there with our first feed of the day and was certainly a welcome sight. A cup of hot tea warmed things up and we were able to rummage through our bags to replace wet apparel with soon-to-be-wet apparel.

As we rolled out from the top of the Beyrede Tom reminded us to be careful on the descent. “Pay attention to the trenches”. How could we forget to the steel drainage system waiting to devour our front wheels and send us sprawling headlong onto the graveley tarmac. The descent through the trees warmed appreciably as we lost elevation. We was a loose term. I had started the descent with a group of 7, but by the time I’d woven my way through the forest I’d gained more than 10 minutes on my companions. I rode the entire vertical kilometer cautiously and worried about coming around a corner and being surprised by a steel trench, they must have been absolutely terrified to go that much slower. The foggy-grey broke into a patch of sunny sky midway down the mountain and the occasional view out through the trees showed a beautiful and tight valley forested on all sides, a reminder that we were in the National Park. The trenches became less frequent the closer we got to the valley bottom and were interspersed with a few wet cattle-grids for additional excitement.

Photo from gallery: CCC 2012 - Stage3

Dropping out into the valley bottom we had a group-disrobing and pedaled onwards, north to the foothills. As soon as the valley opened up we left the side of the larger road and were back off on a little country lane winding up and off away from everything else. The next couple hours before lunch were completely different from anything we’d seen yet, short climbs five to twenty minutes in length followed by equally short descents that wound through pastures, farms, and a series of tiny villages. There was always a church steeple somewhere in view, standing out prominently in each dale. The kilometers ticked by and we ascended a long list of little knolls, some signed, most of them not. It wasn’t strenuous climbing for the most part in the foothills even though some of the pitches were still steep, in excess of 10%, but nothing lasted for too long and so it was simple enough to climb things a bit harder and rest on the upcoming descent. Lifting the effort intermittently felt a lot better on the muscles that had been abused on the first 3 huge climbs that Phil had snuck into the first fifty kilometers of the day. I did whatever effort was required to keep the legs turning at a comfortable cadence rather than slow way down and abusing the muscles to remain conservative cardiovascularly. Whether or not this was a good strategy, time would tell. Right now, it seemed like a necessary strategy because the body was pretty sore.

Photo from gallery: CCC 2012 - Stage3

As we made our way through the foothills the skies turned back to grey although the actual drizzle was minimal. The final ascent before lunch up to the Col de Palomieres took us back through a forest. The pastoral views were replaced by forest and so we grouped up together and entertained ourselves with discussion. I learned that I was riding with a Master’s ITT champion from New-York. Certainly not the smallest of states to be state champion in! We also got to hear some stories about riding Paris-Breast-Paris and dealing will some very full-on hallucinations mid-way through night three. The Cent-Cols-Challenge wasn’t really for average cyclists, or even for above average cyclists. It seemed to be for rather exceptional cyclists. While I was feeling good at this point, chatting, contributing tales from riding from coast to coast and our local racing scene, it was only to be a matter of hours before I’d be coming to grips with what kind of cyclist I was.

Photo from gallery: CCC 2012 - Stage3
Click to Enlarge

We popped out of the forest at the top of the Palomeires and were greeted with an enormous panorama. From the edge of the hill where Chris had set up a lunch stop we had more than a three-quarters turn panorama looking west, north, and east through a few foothills and out into some gently rolling countryside around Pau. The sight was incredible, tiny village after tiny village, church steeple after church steeple. I started counting but recognized the futility when I realized the panorama continued right to the horizon. After standing outside the tent and gazing off into the distance for a few minutes I made my way under the tent and settled down on a bench with a bowl of hot minestrone. Delicious stuff, accompanied by some fantastic bread (the bread is always fantastic in France), and cheeses from a farm that Chris had stopped at a few kilometers down the road. The hearty meal warmed me up from the inside and while it did nothing to improve how wet I was, it made it big difference to how cold I felt. The meal dragged on for a fair while longer than it should have. The fast trio had been remounting their bicycles as I arrived but I wanted to ride with someone so I stuck around for another few people to get sorted so we could be on our way. More chamois cream, some changed gloves, some adjusted layering. Eventually our little group was on it’s way.

Photo from gallery: CCC 2012 - Stage3

We had some fun twisty bits on the descent from the Palomieres and the road was tight in some spots, entertainingly so. Precision steering required. As had become the pattern when things got technical I put a lot of time into my riding partners and by the time I’d hit the valley bottom. I waited up on a little streetcorner and we started the valley transfer southbound towards the Tourmalet and the side of the Col d’Aspin that we had descended before turning off and up the forest-track to Beyrede. Before we’d made it too far up the valley our trusty arrows directed us off the main drag and off between a couple houses on a little winding lane. The winding lane started to pitch up and it was only a matter of meters before we were up-up and away on our way towards the Col de Couret. Our group splintered immediately and the road kept pitching up steeper and steeper. A few arrows reassured me that despite how outrageous this little road was, it was indeed the course I was supposed to be following. A little creek tumbled out of the same valley we were climbing, providing an odd point of reference to think about as I stood and pressed slowly on my cranks. The creek was really more of a continuous waterfall than a stream wandering along the valley. I thought back to following the edge of the Saskatchewan river along the bottom of the valley in Edmonton, or the edge of the Bow in Calgary. It looks almost completely flat when you look at it, but there’s a distinct advantage when you’re running or cycling downstream. There was no illusion here that the water was ‘flat’. Following the creek for a bit made it abundantly clear how much elevation I was really gaining.

Photo from gallery: CCC 2012 - Stage3

Photo from gallery: CCC 2012 - Stage3

The Col de Couret was truely insane climbing and while the pavement was in far better condition than the Beyrede before lunch it was still enough to make one consider route choice to maintain traction. A couple steel trenches were encountered and as the meters ticked on, the legs started to really groan. Some forestry work alongside the road, some debris to dodge, some dense forest to look into alongside the road. Unfortunately it wasn’t enough to distract me from the discomfort and it started to become abundantly clear that the legs were suffering from the steepness of it all. The knees and lower back started to hurt towards the top, a solid ache, and a sensation through the rest of my body of almost feeling like I was going sour, pickled from the inside out by my own lactic acid. The duration was so long that the byproducts from a hard effort were accumulating and I was not feeling good by the top. I wondered if I’d eaten anything abnormal at lunch and concluded that no, I hadn’t. It wasn’t the digestion system rebelling, it was my body diverting blood supply from the stomach and deciding that the digestion was low on the priority list when I was telling the legs to get me up this hill. I was specifically trying not to do this to myself, but the mountains didn’t really care what I was trying to do.

Photo from gallery: CCC 2012 - Stage3

Photo from gallery: CCC 2012 - Stage3

I crested the hill and rolled along through the mist at the top as we wound our way along a little ridge. I put some more food in my stomach, drank some water and hoped beyond hope that my body would figure out how to pull itself together again before I had to go uphill. I started to panic a bit as I contemplated the fact that Hautacam was looming yet this afternoon. I turned the pedals gently, perhaps waiting for someone to catch up, perhaps waiting for my body to recover from the beating I’d just dealt it on the slope of the Couret. I’d ridden myself up to Jan and Paul who were ahead of me and George was within sight behind. Pleased that I had some people to ride with I kept moving rather than getting off the bike to regroup. The gilet and arm warmers were pulled on for the descent as we wove our way through a dip and to the other side of the ridge. I felt like I had collected myself enough to head down the hill.

Photo from gallery: CCC 2012 - Stage3

The lane was narrow and paved but it had also amassed a fair few loose pebbles, dirt and patches of gravel down the center between the tyre tracks. It would only be safe to ride on one side, the left or the right. No preference really. An oncoming car would be in the right lane as much as it would be in the left lane and so I crossed my fingers that I wouldn’t have any surprise encounters and set off. It was a good thing I’d had a moment to collect myself as we traversed the little ridge up top as this was requiring complete attention. The corners came in quick succession, the steel trenches that I’d learned about this morning made a re-appearance, and the edge of the road on the left was at times a steep hill heading down for a couple hundred meters. If you go off here, you’re not getting back on your bike for the rest of the season, maybe for the rest of your life. The whole thing needed to be navigated within one of the two tyre tracks, an 8-12 inch strip down the right hand side of the road or an 8-12 inch strip down the left. If for some reason it became necessary to change, perhaps to dodge an errant sheep, or to evade a missing piece of tarmac, or to criss-cross a steel trench without it swallowing your front wheel it was necessary to navigate that loose strip of gravel down the center. Naturally in this situation, having been at the borderline of stopping for a rest in the ditch, I instinctively decided I had to fly down this hill. All of those moments commuting on icy Edmonton roads with a pile of cruddy snow piled up between the tyre tracks were coming back. Resigning myself to not steering nor touching the brakes every time I wanted to switch lanes I managed to weave through the corners at will. The sheep milling about on this road must have been scared by the dropoff as well because they had sh!t all over it. A thin sheen of it accumulated on my shins and shoe covers, slippery stuff, as if the traction on broken wet asphalt wasn’t dodgey enough.

Photo from gallery: CCC 2012 - Stage3
Click to Enlarge

I hit the valley bottom and waited for Paul before transferring down the valley floor. Secretly I was just hoping for someone to draft, and I got away with it this time. Another ten or fifteen minutes later we found our next arrow, pointing us around a nearly 180 degree bend and up the side of the valley we were traveling through. We waited for the whole crew that had been in contact back at the top of the Couret to assemble and I tried to put some more food in my stomach. As the group pulled in and we set off up towards the Col de Lingous I noticed that my rain-jacket had been dropped. I’d had it tucked in a stuffsack and strapped under my seat, now it was gone. Somewhere between here and lunch, more than two hours of riding. Fortunately the choice was clear, keep riding, there’s almost no chance that even if I rode the two hours backwards and forwards I would be able to find a little navy-blue stuffsack that had bounced off my bike and into a ditch. Today was already going to be 12 hours on the road and making it sixteen wasn’t an option. Forget the jacket, keep going.

Losing a jacket is unfortunate, even though it was a nice one that I’d got for my birthday, but it is something I can handle. This day though, it was too much. I had to lift my effort and ride away from the other guys because I was starting to cry and there was no way I was going to let any of them see it. Luckily my body had managed to absorb a bit of energy from the food I’d been forcing down the hatch and I could get ahead. An odd tactic considering I’d just waited up for everyone so we could ride together. Onwards though, I hadn’t cried in more than two and a half years and I’d forgotten how it felt. I think every human being is aware of it on some level but there’s something very raw and physical about crying, and it’s not just in the tear ducts. A good cry has a whole lot of hormones involved and boy was I getting a solid dose of them. The whole thing was weird, I didn’t really have much to cry about, but here I was, riding a bike in the middle of nowhere and totally sobbing. The hormones that come out when you cry are incredibly comforting, they relax muscles that are tight all through your back and neck, they allow you to breathe out much more completely than you normally would, especially when exercising, they relax your jaw. I think my body needed to cry if it was going to keep pedalling, it needed to be re-booted and this was how it was going to happen.

It was as close to an out of body experience that I’d had since perhaps kilometers 35-40 of Ironman Canada in 2010 trying to will my body to run under the ten hour mark after committing the previous 16 months of my life almost entirely to that one goal. I had a general idea of where I was and my body was just holding itself together when my brain was falling apart. I was somewhere on the side of a mountain in the middle of the french countryside with a bike and a few arrows to follow. All of the corners on the previous descent had me totally disoriented with the grey sky above and I had no sense of which direction was north or which way we were generally headed. This was unsettling to me, normally I can keep track of these things, even in places I’ve never been before. I can pay enough attention to the terrain as I ride through it that I could easily backtrack it if needed, or I could easily do it again with almost absolute certainty that I could would be successful. Not a chance here. I was reduced to an animal on a bike, following arrows aimlessly through some fields of sheep.

The next 20 kilometers are a total blur. As I got to the top of the hill I had mostly stropped crying and I blew my nose and wiped my eyes before the others would catch me. Unfortunately I blew so hard that I gave myself a bleeding nose at this point. Hopefully it would go away I thought and just sniffled for half an hour, hoping it would stop, blood running down my throat, the taste of steel in my mouth. Completely unappetizing.

Photo from gallery: CCC 2012 - Stage3

I asked the guys if anyone had something to cram up there to stop it and eventually Jan remembered he had a latex glove for doing mechanical work on his chain without getting his hands greasy. That would do I suppose, and now with a big chunk of latex crammed up my face and blood dribbling down my upper lip I sat on the back of the group and followed the wheels of the guys with me down into the valley below. The top of this descent was cold as it had started drizzling and I was wet with no rain jacket to wear. I remember shivering and being concerned that I was going to be hypothermic because my body probably didn’t have much energy to spare to keep itself warm. I remember a close call with a passing car but not much more of the details beyond the fact that I was following the other guys and they had some choice words for him.

Things come back into focus when I was sitting on a lawn-chair at the next feed stop. I’d got my nose to stop bleeding and I was wearing almost all of the clothes I had stashed in my bag in Tom’s van. The guys whom I had been riding with were rolling out and I hadn’t even started eating or filled my bottles. I waved them on and started to get going myself. Eat, eat, eat. Fortunately my stomach had turned around after I felt like I’d shut down my digestive system on the slope of the Couret. Maybe all of the blood I swallowed was acting like gravol. Probably not. In any case, Tom’s buffet of treats went down well, followed by a cup of coke. My bottles filled and my pockets re-stocked with bars and a few bags of candy from my day bag I was ready to roll out by the time that Phil Deeker was on his way. The crew knew I was in rough shape but they weren’t going to pull the plug on me, but they made the option pretty clear that the climb up to Hautacam was optional. We’d ride past tonight’s hotel prior to the ascent. In return I made it pretty clear that I wanted to at least try and tackle the Hautacam. It was one of the climbs I’d most looked forward to. I’d watched the youtube footage of Bjarne ‘the eagle’ Rijs winning here and securing his Tour de France yellow jersey while doped to the gils on EPO more than any other video in the past year. I’d watched Lance Armstrong (also doped to the gils) ride away from Pantani in 2000 only a week earlier sitting at the kitchen table with Keegan one night at around 11:30 pm when I should have been going to bed. I was going to try, maybe I would be defeated, but I needed to be defeated to a further extent than I had been defeated so far before I gave up. Maybe I was going into the fourth quarter of the game down by a dozen baskets, but that’s when the game really gets going I’d just have to start shooting three-pointers. I wasn’t going to quit because maybe I would be able to do it, and I was dead set on finding out. We transferred up the valley on a rails-to-trails bike path which was nice, the grade stayed low and the surface was good. I got my legs going again and my body still seemed to know how to pedal. I tried to think of very short questions that would require very long answers and by so-doing I managed to get Phil to talk to me all the way into Argel├Ęs-Gazost. My stomach managed to digest the food I’d added to it but the taste of blood unfortunately wasn’t going anywhere.

I had rolled out on the bikepath wearing a huge bundle of clothes including a full-on spring cycling jacket and so as soon as the road really started to pitch up I needed to stop and undress before I had sweat through everything. That split me off from Phil, and after I’d re-layered my outfit and stashed the jacket inside the back of my jersey (Quasimodo style) I got on with the climb. There’s not a lot of mystery where the road is going with this one. The Tour de France always ends in the parking lot at the ski resort near the top of the mountain and it’s possible to see some of the ski lifts now and again along the way. They make it possible to figure out generally where you’re headed even from quite a distance. In addition, the kilometer markers are laid out as a big long countdown to the parking-lot indicating the average gradient for the next kilometer, giving just often-enough information about what’s ahead to keep you focused at just infrequent enough to make each one a meaningful milestone. In true Cent-Cols fashion our destination wasn’t the ski-hill parking lot, it was the actual peak of the ridge, the ‘proper Col’ another kilometer or so beyond the parking lot.

The climb to Hautacam starts out passing through a bunch of little villages. The villages become smaller the further up the road you get and eventually it’s just a few farm-houses here and there. Some very expensive looking ski-chalet style mansions and some pretty run-down farmyards. Interesting scenery for the occasional distraction if the road is on a flat-ish section. Around the next curve though we’d be up to 10+% grade and I’d be standing again in my easiest gear. The early kilometers ticked by slowly by steadily. I was fueled all right from whatever I’d been able to digest on the transfer up the valley but after that had been burned I started to notably slow down. It wasn’t until I was trying to down my bottle of perpetuem and choked on it between panting for breath that I realized how hard my body was working. My power output was nothing impressive, I was averaging around 800m per hour for climbing speed, about 70% of threshold wattage, but I was breathing like crazy, sweating and muscles burning like I was in the middle of a TT. My heart was pounding out of my chest but only at a rate of 130 bpm, severely suppressed by the fatigue. I stopped at the side of the road rather than choking myself to death trying to drink and caught my breath. It took 3 minutes for my heart-rate to calm down while standing still before I could contemplate eating anything. I shovelled food in, 600 calories of straight sugar, leaned on my handlebars for a while and contemplated whether or not this was where I needed to turn around. No, probably not, I thought to myself. I can probably handle another couple kilometers if I let my digestive system get some of this sugar in. As I stood at the side of the road trying to prevent my body from having to multi-task digestion and bicycle riding I started to get pretty cold. Deciding that trying to multi-task thermo-regulation and digestion was probably also going to be bad news I set off to try pedaling again. Immediately I was back standing in my easiest gear, but within a kilometer I broke treeline. Not bad I thought to myself, treeline is probably the edge of the ski resort so it can’t be too far. I don’t remember much of anything for the next three kilometers until I crested the hill into the vast parking lot of the ski-hill. Hautacam done!

I decided I was going to roll over to the other end of the parking lot and see the ski resort before heading back down. I didn’t need to or want to go up to the Col de Tramassel. Lance didn’t do it, Bjarne didn’t do it. I’m almost dead. There’s no way I was going to do it.

Maybe the flat bit of parking lot helped flush out the legs from the ache of monotonous climbing and I felt 1% better. Considering that I was feeling like I was functioning at about 1%, an improvement of 1% would have doubled how well I felt. By the time I made it to the other end of the parking lot my instinct had switched. Retrospectively I cannot fathom at all how I motivated myself to climb the last piece of that road. There is no part of my body that wanted to do it. There was not another human being within probably 5 kilometers of me on the side of that mountain. The tourists were all gone because the sunlight was starting to wane. All of the cyclists ahead of me had been there, turned around and had already gone down and all the cyclists behind would be kilometers back unless they’d all been intelligent and gone straight for the hotel. I had no certainty that anyone at all was behind me. I could have just waited another 10 minutes, about the time it would take me to ride up that kilometer at 6kph, and then turned around. No-one would have known. Clearly it wasn’t for anyone else. For myself, I didn’t need to do it either. I had brought myself to my absolute limit today, my conscious mind had pushed my body as hard as was possible to push my body. I had given 100% by the time I arrived at Bjarne’s finishline. Some instinct had me turn the corner though and stand up again in that easiest gear. My unconscious mind took over at that point and it figured out how to summon even more effort from my physical body. Another 1300m passed by. I recall none of it.

The sign on the side of a little emergency shelter came in to view and like a robot I stopped and pulled out a bunch of sugar and debated whether or not I was going to make it back down the hill in one piece. I ate the last few granola bars I had in my pockets, finished off the last half bottle of water and pulled on all of the clothes I had stashed in various pockets. As I turned around, I realized that what I had just done was completely unbelievable and pulled my camera out, took a picture of the sign as proof to myself that it had indeed happened and then set off down the hill.

Photo from gallery: CCC 2012 - Stage3

It’s scary to admit, but I don’t remember much of the descent either. At least not until I had started to pass by the farms and villages on the bottom half. There are huge portions of that mountain that are completely blank in my mind and I’m not convinced that I could remember the second half of the descent aside from the fact that I remember seeing those villages and farms on the way up. By the time I was back at the bottom I had caught Ben in his pink Rapha jacket and we rode together back across town following the arrows to the hotel.

It was sickening to learn at dinner that Antony had crashed on the descent of Hautacam and wouldn’t be riding any more of the challenge. He’d been following Brian on the descent and had lost control in a corner and separated his shoulder. That easily could have been me. If I had a wheel to follow down that hill I would have been even less alert than I was and a crash could have been a very real possibility. I was grateful to be intact after putting myself through that.

Yesterday: CCC – Day 2 – Ax-les-Thermes to Bagneres-de-Luchon

Tomorrow: CCC – Day 4 – Argeles-Gazost to Larrau

Photos are mine and Phil Deeker’s. Refining of my lousy shots was done by Reuben Krabbe. Please do not re-publish in whole or in part without prior consent.

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