The good news is I had a great nights sleep so woke feeling pretty refreshed. Unfortunately the good news for the day ends there.
On paper this was a pretty easy day, the reality on the road was another story for me today, this was my toughest day by far!
I soon as I got out of bed I realized the impact yesterdays efforts had taken on my legs, my quads were really sore, a ominous sign for the day ahead. At breakfast I struggled again to get too much down, but enough to fuel the start of the ride.
The day started with a 13 mile neutralized section up and over a small, but steep, Col on a very thin, badly maintained 'road'. The climb was followed by a pretty dodgy descent on the same road, it soon became obvious why it was neutralized.
Once safely down the descent it was a quick left to the start of the ride and the first HC climb of the day up Col de Lautaret. Not a particularly step climb but another 15 mile slog, much of it in to strong head winds.
After about 0.5 mile we came to the first of a series of tunnels and it seemed to unleash some crazy in the group I was with, before I knew it I was pushing 385 watts up a shallow incline, not something I was going to be able to maintain. I backed off and let that group go, sticking to my tried and tested plan.
I soon set into a nice steady pace keeping the power ~260 - 275 watts and making good progress, then about half way up the climb, out of nowhere my power started to fade. It was as if the fuel line had been blocked, I'd been eating and drinking well, it was just a really weird feeling. Before I knew it I was going backwards, being passed by a lot of riders! I also found myself exposed on a really windy section, I was in the 'pain locker' at this stage and all I could do was keep spinning the pedals.
I finally made the summit, stopped to refuel and set out on the 15 mile descent. After the short stop I started to feel better so set about chasing down other riders. It was a nice sweeping descent averaging -5% no brakes needed. Unfortunately not being very steep or technical it made it very hard to catch other riders, despite pushing >300 watts through some sections I only passed a handful.
I joined a small group towards the bottom, where it flattened out, and after a few choice words for a French rider who refused to take a turn on the front we settled in to a good pace line and caught a larger group in front.
Another sharp left up us at the base of the 2nd, and final, HC climb of the day up Col de Granon. Only 7 miles long but after the halfway point it averages ~12%. My legs came good and I was easily able to sit at a good steady pace. But again my tired body started to scream at me, this time with about 3 miles to go the unrelenting gradient was taking it's toll on my lower back, the pain steadily grew and I had to constantly alternate between standing and sitting to try and get some relief.
The good news was that the back pain totally eclipsed any pain in my legs :-) I again found myself in the 'hurt locker' and despite my back screaming at me I tried not to succumb to the over whelming urge to stop.
Fortunately a brief 7% section gave me the relief I needed and then a pediatric doctor from Ohio called Patrick came to my rescue! We'd' ridden the top of Col de Clandon together yesterday and as we hit the tough top section I was able to encourage Patrick and bring him over the top. Today he returned the favor, he saw I was struggling and gave me the encouragement I needed to lift my head and finish strong.
He set a good steady pace and insisted I stick with him, before I new it we were riding side by side at a consistent 275 watts, even passing a few riders on the way. We crossed the line together and both nearly collapsed :-)
It's amazing that despite being in a lot of pain, head down and power waning, the encouragement of a fellow rider can give you the extra boost you need to dig even deeper and push through, it was actually a truly inspiring moment!
It was chilly on the top and started to spit, quick bite to eat, rain jacket on then descend back down the mountain for 8 miles back to the ride village and our hotel. This descent was steep and technical but I couldn't really enjoy it because of my back pain, I couldn't stay in the drops for any period of time so just took it easy and enjoyed the view. I was pretty cold on the way down so a few of us went to the hotel for a warm shower before heading to the village for a much needed lunch of rice and chicken.
Stage: 147 overall / 58 in age group
GC: 101 overall / 38 in age group
Statistics for full ride, inc. non-timed sections:
Distance: 50 miles
Avg Speed: 12.9 mph
Elevation Gain: 7,753 ft
All in all a tough day but inspiring day. Another stage down with the Individual Time Trial (ITT) on the cards for Stage 5 tomorrow.