T2MC – day 3

8 Sep

True to form, I had no appetite at breakfast.  Olli and Markus were tucking into a hearty breakfast and all I could manage was half a bowl of cereal and some apple juice.  I knew that wasn’t going to be enough so I went back upstairs and had a gel and recovery shake – goodness knows what it’s doing to my insides!

My left knee was sore, so Julian the tour Doc applied some Ralgex and magic cream (no idea what it was but worked a treat – I’m just left with a slight craving for it!).  The itinerary for the day was Col d’Agnel (the “pass of sheep”, 2700m), followed by Col de Sampayre (2300m) – thankfully, following the nasty post-lunch climb of the day before, we were starting at 1700m – so “only” a 1000m first climb.

Start for the slower riders was at 7.30am, so I adopted my winning strategy of going 15mins before that – with Tim Briggs, Julian the Doc and Mike Steel.  Tim was off like a shot and saw him again only as a disappearing shape on the horizon.  Julian took a leisurely pace and I rode with Mike for about 5k, until he had to stop for a rest and I rode the rest on my own until the faster riders started to pass me in succession (Hank Vivier, Kevin Topple, Rich O’Connell, Bruce Smith, Lionel Poggio – in that order, I think).

This climb was a first for me, as we had only ridden in the alpine sunshine before.  This time, as the clouds closed in at the top, the visibility was only around 10m – quite spooky – and cold.  There was time only for a brief stay at the top – I took photos for others but didn’t get one myself, but captured the top on the GoPro.  The name Col d’Agnel is misleading – I didn’t see any sheep on the way up – only cows and goats.

The descent was also a new experience – wet and liberal doses of er….what goats and cows do quite well, so took it quite ginger on the way down.  Very glad of the team issue jacket (thanks sponsors, Ruth and Tim!), plus full gloves, as it was very cold.

We formed a group including those that has passed me on the way up and some that arrived while I was at the top – except Lionel, who typically went back down the way we had come because doing a Col once in a day just isn’t enough!

The road condition was patchy so great care was needed.  Eventually, we descended into sunshine but by that stage, we were all so cold that at the first stop, near a man-made lake, everyone was shivering.  Gideon poured water on the steaming brakes and that prompted many to sit on the front of the car to get some heat from the engine into frozen backsides.

Frrrreeeeezzzzing after first descent off Col d'Agnel

A further descent to the village of Sampayre, thankfully through sunshine and then a quick stop to take off all the extra clothes, and the second and major climb of the day – Col de Sampayre.  It’s difficult not to get into superlatives on this event, however, each day has been more challenging than the last.  This climb was just about the hardest thing I have ever done – 1200m, never less than 9%, on rough road.  I climbed with Jason Piney and Mark Booth – until Jason tired of our lacklustre performance and went on ahead.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t quick enough with the camera to catch Jason’s backwards pratfall trying to get on his bike after a breather – apparently caused by a gear problem (yeah, that’s right Jason!).

Mark was my climbing companion for the rest of the climb – we set rest goals at 1400m, 1700m and 2100m – which allowed a 30 sec breather and refuel.  Chik Miyamoto and Mark Allitt were on a different rest strategy, so we passed each other a couple of times – and were prowled by Pete the Mechanic’s sweeper van, already with a couple of occupants.

Although winding beautifully up through the ski pistes and trees, I found the climb difficult to enjoy because it was such a challenge. On and on it went up, very steep, until the clouds wafted across the road ahead.  As the visibility closed in, the Col emerged, with Gideon’s now familiar table laid out with goodies – including a team favourite – bread and thick slabs of salami.  He handed Mark and I a very welcome fruit juice concoction as we arrived in the car park.  Chik, Mark and the van arrived in due course – and we all descended together.

The road down had some nasty culverts going across it, jarring the jaws, the bike and, it seems, by GoPro, as it sheared off and dropped off at high speed.  Thankfully, it didn’t go over the edge and apart from a small chip in the case is (I think) undamaged.

We descended through some amazing villages, though I think we were all so tired no one bothered to stop to take photos.  I took a shot near the bottom that had the Col in sight but it wasn’t entirely successful at showing the scale – I’ve attached it anyway:

We've come from up there We had just come from the Col – just visible right centre horizon, with cyclists below.

In the valley, we were treated to a further 13km uphill slog to the hotel – definitely need to plan that better next time.  I was absolutely spent, had lunch and then retired for a snooze (and emails).

The food at the hotel was one of the highlights of the trip – home made pasta and panna cotta for lunch, then huge selection of anti pasti, plus wild boar and polenta for dinner – bizarrely, with brussel sprouts.

Pastatastic View from hotel window - day 3 

Above – the view from my seat at lunch, and my room before dinner….

Carafes of red flowing at dinner (or, if you were close to Mark D, actual BOTTLES of wine) – we must be over half way! 

Sorry if the last bit above was a bit rushed – at 10.35pm its way past my bedtime for an early start tomorrow – a 120km beast of a ride.

CT

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