As days in the saddle go this was one of the best days ever! In cycling a combination of several factors can make a truly epic ride: distance, feet climbed, feet of elevation and / or weather, this had it all!
Before I go in to the day, I'd like to thank everyone who has donated to Team Type 1 Foundation who I has been raising money for. if you haven't yet has the chance but would like to donate please check out my page - https://secure.qgiv.com/event/account/849118/
Not a bad sleep but a really early start as the day a head was a long one, 120 miles split over 2 stages. The usual morning routine then out to join the start on an extra cold morning. We had a neutralized 7 mile descent which was freezing, I had an extra layer and warm gloves on and by the time we reached the bottom of the 14 mile climb up Cime De La Bonnette I was miserable with a motivation factor or about -10!
Still a mountain needed climbing, so climb we did. It started with the usual crazy of people shooting off at crazy efforts and as usual I settled in to my own routine. Within the first few miles I started to warm up and shook the funk and got down to business. Riding wise I felt great, I was happy sitting at 275 - 330 watts and steadily passing people along the way.
There were a number of strong riders in front of my so I put them in my sights one at a time and went passed them, I was having the time of my life :-) About 500 meters from the top I saw another Aussie from our group who I knew was in front of me in the GC so out of the saddle into a final sprint comfortably take him before the line.
At the top we were at 9,202 feet of altitude so pretty high and the air was thin, it was also cold. Quick stop for a photo and put warm gear on before the 16 mile non-timed descent in to Saint-Etienne De Tinee and the official end of stage 7a.
The descent was both amazing and miserable! The scenery was beautiful and the road was steep and technical but once we got towards the valley floor and in to the shade it was freezing! I was literally shacking on the bike I was so cold!!
Once in Saint-Etienne the suns rays warmed us up and we had about an hour to wait before the start of stage 7b so time for a coffee, toilet, fuel and shed the cold gear
Stage: 103 overall / 36 in age group
GC: 96 overall / 36 in age group
Statistics for whole stage, including non-timed sections:
Distance: 42 miles
Avg Speed: 14.6 mph
Elevation Gain: 5,404 ft
Stage 7b started with a 22 mile warmer but dangerous timed descent. Quite frankly it was a shit show: high speeds, big groups and idiots who can't ride at speed with others. Apart from a few hairy moments my group arrived at the bottom of Col de Saint-Martin in one piece. Unfortunately a group further back hadn't been so lucky and there as a huge crash. Two of our group ended up in hospital. One was back with us for dinner with a broken clavicle the other is waiting for hip surgery!
The 10 mile climb was a steady ascent and again I stuck with my plan. Got passed by a group early on and managed to claw them back further up the mountain. I knew the group of riders were all better climbers then me but I felt good so decided to bring the fight to them, I passed them by putting in a big effort and got away but I was fully expecting to be caught again and I was with about 1.5 miles to the summit. So close to the top I wasn't worried as I know I could stay close but catch back on, on the descent which I did.
The descent was about 18 miles in total with at least the top half being steep and technical. I had caught and passed all of the other riders and more within the first few miles but played it safe as I knew the bottom half of the descent was much more straight forward and I would need to be part of a group.
As predicted a group formed and as has been the case for much of the week nobody wanted to take a turn on the front. I tried to form a break but it didn't stick so I sat in with the group until the next climb. Here's where things got really interesting... as we started to climb it started to rain, light at first, developing in to a thunderstorm with torrential rain - see epic! A small group of us got way on the climb, with two guys making a nice break off the front.
As we crested the top the torrential rain picked up intensity making the road like a river and visibility came down to meters and just when we thought it couldn't get any worse the rain changed to pea sized hail stones - they really hurt the forearms and made an amazing sound when pinging off the helmet.
At this point visibility really was down to feet which made the steep descent we were on 'interesting'. As I came around a corner one of the riders was flagging other riders down to say it was too dangerous to ride (I think he was French), needless to say I continued on my merry way seeing the opportunity to make time on my GC competitors who couldn't descent in the appalling conditions.
I made good time on the descent, riding was tough and my rear wheel slide out a couple of times but nothing to serious. Towards the bottom the hail stopped and we were back to torrential rain. I had gaped everybody behind me and knew I had two riders up the road who I wanted to catch. The next 6 or 7 miles were quite rolling and I was able to put in good numbers to get me back on the the front group which was now 6 riders. As we descended again to the final climb the rain stopped and the sun came out, I was very comfortable sitting in the group and as I saw the end come into view I was able to put in a sprint finish to pass the group over the line!
It was a weird feeling as the actual end of the stage was at the top of a hill , where a lot of people were milling around, getting drinks and shouting encouragement to other riders, but the official finish line with medals etc. was in Nice 12 miles away.
Stood at the top I was chatting to one of the guys I finished with and it turns out he was also in the Royal Corps of Signals - small world! We rode back the Nice together chatting and rolled along the beach front to the official finish and our much vaunted medals - FINISHED!
Stage: 48 overall / 14 in age group
GC: 85 overall / 31 in age group
Statistics for whole stage, including non-timed sections:
Distance: 78 miles
Avg Speed: 20 mph
Elevation Gain: 5,791 ft
The whole experience has been amazing! By far the toughest yet most rewarding thing I have every done (outside of marriage and being a father).
I've met some amazing and inspiring people, pushed myself harder than I thought possible and appreciated how much you can achieve if you have the mental fortitude to break beyond your barriers!
It's late so I'm gonna hit the sack, I'll post more pictures and musings about the week tomorrow!