The biggest and maybe the toughest ride of the year. Well on paper anyway. It was my only road bike "race" of the year. 330km and 8000 climbing metres
I only really had two goals this year. Trans-Portugal and Swiss Epic, both multi day stage races. I'd thrown in a number of other event to try and get a bit more speed and use them as experience for another year. Not quite sure why this one made the list although it was on the short list for 2013 as well and I never entered due to my broken ankle.
Nigel was also coming so at least I'd know someone. Early start at 5am with lights on the bike. A lot would need lights much later in the day (night) as well. And of course the weather was not forecast to be the best. You had the opportunity to have bags at 2 places around the course so at least you could get some dry warm clothes. I put my stuff at the top of the Grand Saint Bernard pass and the Petite Saint Bernard. Basically the two highest points but more importantly well spaced. At the start line Nigel turned up with Arm warmers on his legs. Last minute I decided to take both a Gillet and a rain jacket with the arm warmers.
We started behind the motorbikes just after 5am for the "Neutral" descent. The road was rough and the field spread out massively. First small hill post the official race start and 20 riders went away. I decided just to let them do it. There would be a time and place for bridging gaps but now 20 km into a massive day was not one of them. They were 200-300 metres in front and no one was helping me so I just cruised with maybe 20-25 other riders.
We hit the first real hill at 40k's and boys will be boys. For some reason several riders decided it was time to put the hammer down. By the time we hit the Col Des Montets we were basically individual riders and several had gone off up the road. More had also gone off the back. I hit the top of Col De La Forclaz for the hammer down into Switzerland. In fact I think i set a top ten in Strava down the Forclaz. Pity I sat up halfway down as it was just so long.
First real feed stop before the biggest climb of the day, the imposing Grand Saint Bernard. Grabbed drink and a bit of food and back on my way. A small group of 4-5 of us were together before it was all gone again within a few km's as we rode at our own pace. There were lots of Galleries and the weather had finally started to close in with light rain. I slowly worked my way up to a rider over the first 20km and then we promptly exited the Gallery into the pouring rain. Took me about 30 metres to promptly turn around and ride straight back to the Gallery and put the rain coat on over the Gillet. The next 12km up over the top was a real grind. Headwind and very cold rain. I'm sure it's a nice climb on a nice day but 40km drag with 1800 metres of climbing in horrible weather was not so pleasant.
Got to the feed stop at the top and tried to decide what clothing to change. Grabbed my bag and a few Gels and then decided that warmer gloves was what I needed. However I couldn't get them on my cold hands. Decided bugger it they would just get wet and make me colder and just get going and try to warm up. The decent was long/lonely and very cold. I couldn't decide if I was on the right road and was all by myself. We;d crossed into Italy here somewhere as well. I'd see a rider in the distance every so often and decided since he was doing similar pace it must be right. Fortunately it the right way and it stopped raining here somewhere, it took me at least another hour to warm up. It was finally 22 degrees before I stripped off the Gillet, raincoat and arm warmers.
The race organisers had tacked in a new climb called the Col de San Carlo. Forever more known as the Col of Bastards. Damn this thing was steep. I'd bridged to a group in the valley below and one of them was a fairly good climber. I had front row seats to his self destruction on this hill. I watched as he ran out of gears in the first 2-3 km and imploded. There was just no way he could ride out of the seat for the whole hill. I was very thank full for my triple at this point. His 39x25 was no match for this hill. Ramps at 12% but mainly a fairly constant 10% the whole way. Not a nice hill when you have done close on 4000 metres of climbing and 200km just to get there.
The next biggie hill after this was the Petite Saint Bernard. Awesome climb for me. Just loved it. Sunshine all the way with views. Just seemed like I could climb it forever at a fast pace and I wouldn't implode. I did get passed by another rider though. The last rider I think that passed me all day. Couldn't work out why he was going do fast but I think he was one of the few that only did half the course with another rider.
Started the Cormet de Roseland and the weather took a downhill turn. Stopped to put the rain jacket on only to take it off later and then put it back on again after that. Passed a few more riders but towards the top that was it. None seen in front and none behind. Long lonely climb in the weather before finely right at the top some beautiful warm rays of sunshine and a nice descent with only one climb to go.
Col de Saisies was the last climb. Only 20 km to go and knew I could make it. I hadn't quite counted on what was to come. I rung the wife to tell here I was 20 mins away but was actually 20km away with a huge hill to climb. I wasn't riding this for here not to be there at the finish !!!
About 5 mins later it started. It was about 5:30pm and the wind started, a few minutes later it was pitch black and the worlds biggest thunderstorm had come out of no where. Torrential rain, lightening, thunder all around and me trying to ride a bike up the last hill. Turned back on my bike lights and put my head down. The water was at least 1cm deep on the roads and gravel was being washed onto it in huge chunks. Trees bending over backward and pitch black. The lightening all around with massive thunder. The temperature had dripped form about 14 to 6 as well.
I made it about 45 mins later in the worlds smallest gear up not such a steep hill. Wife was the only person there to greet me. The finish line had been blown away including the barriers at the side of the road. I didn't know but the finish line was just some timing matt's on the road. I was shattered but had to ride the 1km up hill to the hotel. Not so bad but boy did the body ache.
A very long hot shower and pizza was the order of the day.
Found out I was 16th, Gobsmacked really. 13 hours 33 mins in total with only 20 mins of stoppage time. The winner did it in just over 11hours 18 mins whilst the longest took 18 hours and thirty mins. I think nearly 70 never made it. Nigel managed just on 17 hours and you read about his ride here...