With nearly 190 miles and over 21,000 feet of climbing still left, it feels weird to say it, but this thing is almost in the books. At this point in the race, I’m beyond fatigued, but I now know that I can complete the race. I’m riding very well and very confidently, and I trust that I can continue to use this positive energy to hammer through the fatigue.
As with previous stages though, I try to focus only on the day’s task. If I spend any time thinking about the fact that we “only” have two days left, then I’m overlooking two hard days of cycling, four major climbs, and 190 miles of punishment for an already tired body. I can’t afford to get complacent at this point.
In fact, I don’t want to celebrate how close we are to the finish line. I’ve thrived on the idea of making this race as hard as possible. On pushing myself to the absolute limit every day. I want more opportunities to do so. I want more opportunities to make memories. I don’t want this thing to come to an end.
And with the thoughts of this race nearing an end, comes a little bit of a funk. I’m kind of melancholy today. I suspect that it’s a combo of fatigue, the fact that I’m an introvert that has been extroverted for 5 days in a row, and the blueness about the race concluding.
It’s all good though. I just want to get on the bike and hammer.
Today, we have just under 65 miles. We have a short, steep 2km climb called the Pallon, we have a long, difficult climb called Col du Vars, and then we have a moderately long, averagely steep climb called Pra Loup.
I’m not too terribly intimidated by today’s stage profile. Col du Vars is the only thing that scares me. Nearly 12-miles. A 7.9% average gradient, despite 3.5km’s of flat section in the middle of the climb. That means that everything else is really steep.
But I’m confident that I can ride Vars well. Col du Vars was on Le Tour this year. I recorded the stage and studied the climb. It’s really the tale of two climbs. The first 6 miles or so are really steep. Then a flat section. The remaining 4 miles are well within my sweetspot.
Further resolving my confidence is the fact that I’ve climbed Vars before. Well…kind of. Two weeks before the race, I had a close friend of mine, and a complete freak beast in his own right, over to my house. We set up our trainers (stationary bikes essentially), replayed the stage of The Tour where they climbed Vars, and we went to work. With the climb profile right in front of me, we changed gears to simulate the different gradients. We kicked our asses for an hour. And it hurt. But it prepared me well.
I message him the day before Vars and express how excited I am to climb it for us this time. His encouragement is perfect fuel for the mind. As is the fact that Yasmin’s flight arrives in France tonight. I’m so excited to see her, and I can’t wait for a huge hug at the finish line.
A reminder of the love that I have back home is much needed at this moment. I have the best support system in the world. I’m so lucky in that regard. And it’s nice to feel like I’m not alone in this. It’s especially nice to know that I’m not alone when I’m in a bit of a melancholy mood.
I’m kind of in a weird spot. Where I’m a bit blue, but I’m still really confident and really ready to hop on my bike.
It’s a relief to get to the start line and to lock in. To only have to worry about the stage ahead of me. I’m focused and I’m ready to have my fourth good stage in a row.
We have about 15 miles of mostly flat terrain before we hit Pallon. The legs seem to feel like they have some juice still left in them. I doubt that I have any top-end power left, but I feel like I can ride really hard again today.
We hit the Pallon, which is a really short climb at 2km, but it’s quite steep. The average gradient on the climb is over 10%. I’m crushing the Pallon. Well…there goes my theory about not having any top-end power left.
Pallon comes and goes quickly. And after five or so minutes of descending, we’ll be on the slopes of the Col du Vars. Despite Vars not being the final climb of the day, it’s my main event.
Vars is going to be a 15-round heavyweight title fight.
As we start off on the climb and get hit in the face with 9 and 10% gradients within the first couple miles, it’s even more apparent that Vars is going to be hard as hell.
I’m hitting Vars as hard as it’s hitting me though. I’m pushing early. Determined to smash this climb as my buddy and I smashed it in training.
I remember from that training ride that I was totally gassed out within the first 10km. Hell, I even told my buddy to gas himself out the first 10km. There’s a downhill coming. That’s the recovery spot.
I’ve just got to have the confidence that I can let it rip on the steep sections, after 5 days of cycling in the French Alps. Trust that I can do so, and trust that I can still recover enough to finish the climb off.
I call back to this quite frequently, as I’m hurting early. I’m huffing and puffing and my legs are barking at me. It’s hard to be hurting so early and to be seeing a marker every few minutes reminding you that you’ve still got a bunch of kilometers to go. Mostly though, I’m appreciating the challenge and having fun with it despite the suffering.
Gas out now. Recover on the downhill. Trust it.
I hit the 10km to go marker and I feel like I’m really in trouble. Both my mind and my body are telling me “You can’t do this for 6.2 more miles”.
It’s hot and I’m gassed. As a former football coach of mine said “Fatigue makes cowards of us all”.
I’m feeling like I could be ok with being a coward.
Nope. That’s not good enough, Jason. Keep pushing. Trust the strategy. The downhill is coming soon.
After a few more painful minutes, the downhill section is upon us. Thank God.
I switch over to the big ring and the legs respond quite nicely. I was attacking the climb with quite a bit of power and cadence. It feels nice to at least back off the cadence a little. It feels nice to not have to be going uphill for a little.
But I don’t let myself relax too much. This is the recovery portion of the climb, not the relaxation portion. There’s still 7km to go after this downhill section. There’s still 25ish minutes of the pain cave ahead. Don’t trick yourself. Just because this section is easy, it doesn’t mean that the rest of the climb will also be easy.
The kilometers tick off quickly on the downhill/flat section. Just moments ago I couldn’t wrap my head around sustaining this effort for 10 more kilometers. All of the sudden, we’re passing the 8km to go marker and I’m still in my big ring, going slightly downhill.
With 7km to go, the road has tilted up once again. Here comes the second half of the climb. The first kilometer eases back into the climbing, and unlike yesterday’s stage where I struggled going from flat/downhill to climbing again, I’m able to find my rhythm immediately.
The legs and the body are tired, but I’ve got enough left in the tank.
I remind myself that I’ve prepared specifically for this climb. I’ve crushed the last four stages. I’m battle tested and able to suffer. I need to call back to these moments to keep myself going up the climb at an aggressive pace.
I’ve been motoring by cyclists since the start of the climb, and now that we’ve hit the more gradual, sustained portion of the climb, I’m really moving past people. As I ride by, I can almost see and feel the effect that 5 days of brutal cycling, combined with a nasty climb on day six can have.
I know that I’m probably going to end up getting passed at some point. I’m determined to not give any passing cyclist that same feel. You’re not going to ride by me and say “Man, that kid is really hurting. He looks like he’s on his last legs”. No matter how true it might be.
I pride myself on my ability to suffer and to ride the strongest when I’m suffering the most. I hide my fatigue from others. I hide it from myself. I’m fighting that internal battle as I pass the 4km to go marker.
Keep taking in fluids. Keep taking in fuel. Keep pushing. Hide the fatigue.
3km to go. The idea of 3 more kilometers seems too much. 1.85 miles. That sounds better. Pedal through the pain. Suffer better.
Hey, at least my suffering comes with some incredible scenery. Other-worldly views. This is amazing. Transcendent beauty.
Past the 2km to go sign and the top of the climb is now in sight. I’ve got this.
I push all the way to the summit and go straight over the top without stopping. I’ve got the right amount of clothing on, and I’ve got the right amount of fuel to get me through this stage. I think.
The descent down Col du Vars is breathtakingly beautiful. There are some sharp turns – usually in the form of switchbacks – that require my full attention though. I take the descent a little more aggressively than some of my descents from earlier in the week, but I’m only average at best on the descent. I lose maybe 10 or so places. No big deal.
Towards the bottom of the descent, many of the cyclists that went by me have formed a bit of a group. The descent is much more gradual now, and it makes sense to try to work as a team to knock out the miles in between Vars and the final climb of the day. I dip into the power reserves to surge forward and latch on with the group. I’m glad that I have.
After 4 or 5 miles, our group swells to about 20 people. One of them being my roommate, who is placed in the top 75 overall. Wow. I must be riding really well today.
We’ve got a bunch of alpha males in the group. Guys determined to set the pace. Cool. Have fun with that.
I sit on the very back of the group, chat with my roommate, stretch, and get some fuel down. I’ve still got to work hard at times to stay in the draft, but for the most part, I’m sitting back and watching as guys needlessly smash themselves to pieces just to go maybe 0.5 miles per hour faster.
I sit in the draft, conserve energy, and lick my chops. Let’s see these alphas keep up with me on the last climb of the day. Bet they’ll wish they had some of that energy back.
With about a mile to go before the climb, the pace picks up sharply. These guys are absolutely smashing it. I stick with the group even though it’s more work than I’d like to be putting in before a 4.85-mile climb.
We hit the Pra Loup climb. This is one that should be right in my wheelhouse. 4.85 miles, not overly steep, (6.3%) and super consistent.
Within 35 seconds of climbing, I’ve left the alphas that were so hard-pressed to push the pace on the flat lands in my dust. I’ve also opened up about a 200-meter gap on my roommate.
He’s a monster. He rode the Pyrenees the week before, and he’s riding really well this week. He’s smoked me on every stage. He just spins up the climbs like it’s nothing.
So despite the power reserves feeling a little low, I’ve got all the motivation I need. I want to test myself against this climb. I want to test myself against this stage. And, now, I want to test myself against my roommate.
After 1km, I’ve moved the gap from approximately 200 meters to approximately 300 meters. I’m riding really, really well.
But I’m also running really low on fuel. I haven’t taken any additional fuel on board at any of the feed stations. I’m running on something like a sleeve of energy chews, a Cliff Bar, a bottle of water, and a bottle of Precision Hydration. I’m feeling depleted. Especially in regards to my fluids.
After 2km of the climb, the gap has closed from 300 meters back to 200 meters. I doubt that he’s picked up his pace at all, because he’s the picture of consistency on a climb. I suspect that I’ve just come back to earth a little. But hey, through two kilometers of the climb, I’ve held the gap right at 200 meters. Maybe I can ride this thing out all the way to the finish.
We pass the 5km to go sign. We’ve now been on the climb for just under 3km. The gap is probably hovering right around 150 meters. It feels inevitable that he’s going to catch me. But I’m going to make him work for it.
I seem to have been putting distance into him when the gradients were in the 6.5 – 7% range. On the 5-6% gradients, he seems to be making up time in bunches. We’ve got mostly 5-6% gradients left, with one kilometer at 7.9%. Let’s see how this shakes out.
With 4km to go, I’m absolutely red-lining. I’m breathing as hard as I was at the top of the Izoard – the full gas, individual time trial. My legs are hurting as bad as they did on the Granon – the 7-mile, relentlessly steep climb from Stage 4. My body is feeling as depleted as it did on the Loze – the brute that finished off Stage 2.
This is one of the easier climbs, and I’m pushing so hard that it feels as painful as any other moment of the race. That’s the power of pride, I suppose.
With 3km to go, he’s right around the bend from me. Maybe 50 meters. I don’t even bother looking back anymore, because the pass is going to happen. And at this point I can’t worry about it, or focus on it, because I’m just that smashed. I need all my energy focused on continuing to crush this climb.
Right around the 2km to go marker, he pulls up beside me. He’s super nice, and I’ve enjoyed rooming with him. I’m glad to see that he’s performing well, and I’m honestly glad to have a little company. Beating him up this climb was never anything personal. It was simply a nice, little distraction. A motivational tool to keep the pedals spinning.
It’s also about the camaraderie and about making memories. As roommates, we’ve shared so much of this experience. I’ve shared some of my vulnerabilities throughout the stages. We’ve battled through the experience together in many regards. It’s cool to be smashing one of the last climbs of the week with him.
He opens up a gap of about 4 or 5 bike lengths just in the time that it takes for us to exchange pleasantries. Let him go. Don’t be stupid. You’re already red-lining, Jason.
I do. He’s now 10 bike lengths in front of me.
I start looking at his cadence. I look at how quickly he’s going up the mountain. What is he doing that I couldn’t be doing?
I put in a huge effort to reel him back in. Huffing and puffing, I pull up onto his wheel. He’s impressed to see me again, and makes a comment about how I’m riding really well.
Me? This dude is barely even breathing. I’m dying.
For the next kilometer, I yo-yo back and forth. I stick with him for maybe 30 seconds, and then he opens up a small gap. I put in a big effort to get back on his wheel, and I stay there for maybe 30 seconds. The process repeats a few times. I don’t have any more big efforts to give. I didn’t think I had any to give to begin with.
We hit the 1km to go mark. When I reeled him back in a few minutes ago, I thought maybe I could surge in the last 1km and get past him again. At this point though, I’m totally done. It’s only my pride and my stubbornness that’s even allowing me to maintain the current level of effort.
And as we hit the 1km mark, I start to lose distance on him. Every 45 seconds or so, he calls back to me. “Only 800 meters to go”. “Come on. 600 meters left”. Etc.
He means well, and I love the encouragement. But I can’t even fathom hanging on to this level of effort longer than 5 more seconds, much less 500 meters.
He’s probably got a 10-second gap as we approach a quarter of a mile to go. Every bit of my pride wants to smash it and catch up to him. But I can’t. I physically can’t at this point.
I’m still climbing well, just not quite as well as he is. And I’ve completely red-lined at this point. It’s only a couple minutes to the finish line though. I just need to find a way to keep the body going a little longer.
We round a bend and the finish line comes into sight. Thank God.
I stand and put what little energy I have left into the pedals. Even though I’m beyond smashed, I’m going to finish this stage on my terms. I’m going to finish this race on my terms.
I cross the line. Head fuzzy. Every part of my body feeling the effort. Soaked in sweat. Proud of my effort. And excited for the next day.
I haven't really posted at all about the post-stage process, and I think this blog might be a good opportunity to do so. One of the things that I overlooked was the number of time-sucks on a multi-stage, multi-city race. I'm sharing some of these to continue to give you a behind the scenes look at my experience, and to also provide some indication of what to expect for anyone that might be considering a multi-stage event.
The caveat though, is that Stage 6 was the worst post-stage experience that I had. Keep that in mind.
I've finished the stage in exactly 4 hours. So it's 11:30ish when I hit the line. The first thing that I do is rack my bike in the designated bike park area. Next, I find the nearest hydration station, and I pound some fluids. More so than normal, because I feel like I've gone under on my fluids today.
Next, I head over to the Services tent where I can book a massage. I'm in line for maybe five minutes, and I'm able to book a massage 20 minutes in advance. Awesome. I find a bathroom to change clothes in. Wait in line again, and by the time that I'm done changing, it's time for my 12:20 massage. I head over to the massage area, wait in a queue again, and hit the massage table at 12:25.
Oh and the massage is delightful. For the first time, I've got a masseuse who doesn't try to carry on a conversation. This is perfect, because again, I'm feeling a little melancholy today. I had even considered putting headphones on before the massage but I thought it to be in bad taste. After 20 minutes of working exclusively on my legs, I unfortunately have to stand and resume my life as a functioning human being. Dang.
I've checked one thing off the "recovery" list. Now, it's time to refuel. I head over to the lunch area and I again wait in line. Twenty minutes of standing around. I'm served a rather small lunch, but it is a nice, healthy blend of carbs and proteins. I find a place by myself to eat my lunch. In past stages, I've been sociable and I've made friends. Today, I just want to be alone.
It's now 1:30 - roughly 2 hours since the stage concluded. The next thing on the checklist would be to find my hotel, to get my bike back to the hotel, to find the bike park at the hotel, to find my luggage and drag it up to my room, to unpack my luggage, to clean my bottles, and to lay out my clothes for tomorrow's stage. That process tends to take 60-90 minutes.
We don't get to check into our hotel until 5:00pm tonight. And then we need to find food and make it to the safety briefing. I'm actually going to tonight's safety briefing, since tomorrow's stage is a little bit different (two stages in one day), and because I need to figure out some of the post-race logistics. I've blown off all other safety meetings after the "It's going to really suck" briefing that we got before Stage 2. I'd rather get extra rest than get psyched out about the next stage.
I find a place in the race village to just relax. My relaxation station is an inflatable lounge chair. I spread out in the lounge chair and feign sleeping so as to not be bothered by anyone. After about 15 minutes, I'm in such a deep state of relaxation that I don't need to fake it. I'm in that state between sleep and awake and it feels great right now. But I'd much rather be back in my hotel and not having to deal with all the little time-sucks that I listed above.
After maybe an hour of laying around, I need to find a little more food. I was already under-fueled on today's stage, I don't feel like the lunch was hearty enough, and we've got 125 miles of riding tomorrow. I find a little grab-and-go place, and snack on a Nutella crepe with an Orangina. Delish.
It's now 2:45 and I figure that I might as well find the hotel. Maybe we'll get lucky and they'll start allowing people to check in early. I grab my bike and all my other stuff and I make the 0.6-mile walk to the hotel. I show up and there are about 200 cyclists milling around outside. I find a chair next to my roommate, and wait around for 15 to 20 minutes. Word has started to circulate that one section of the hotel is ready for check-in, while the other isn't quite ready yet.
This is a complete poop-show.
We make our way to the lobby and wait in another line. 15-minutes later, we have the keys to our room. It's now 3:30. By the time we get our luggage up to the room, and the bikes down to the bike park area, it's 3:45. The safety meeting is at 6:30.
I unpack my suitcase, get my bottles all cleaned out, get my clothes laid out for tomorrow, and make sure that I've got enough food for tomorrow's stage. I exhale and I excitedly hop on the bed. Finally time to prop the legs up and get some rest. It's 5:00 now.
We need to get food before the safety briefing because we're in a ski village in the summer - there are only like 3 restaurants open. So we figure we'll beat the rush, and get dinner in before the meeting. This means, we've got to leave the hotel in 15 minutes. Yikes. 15 minutes of laying down in the bed and then we're back on our feet again.
Finding food is difficult in Pra Loup. We settle on a bar that happens to be serving bruschetta and then a crepe place. Both places are not adequately prepared to handle this type of event - both in scale and scope. I'm glad we got in before the real rush hits.
Dinner took longer than expected, so we're now late to the safety meeting. We make it there at 6:40 and it's so packed that there's nowhere to stand. 40 minutes of standing and then it's back to the hotel.
It's 7:40 by the time I get back to the hotel. I get ready for bed, and I'm in bed and resting by 8:00. Yasmin's flight arrives in Nice at 8:40ish, and then she'll be catching a cab to our Air BnB in Eze (about 30 minutes from Nice). I'm super nervous about this cab ride, and I know that I'm not going to get any sleep until she's at the Air BnB safe and sound. We're in pretty constant communication from the time her flight lands until her cab arrives at the Air BnB in Eze at 10:30pm.
Tomorrow's stage starts at 6:30. I need to be up at 5:00, and that's even cutting it close. I've had about 3 hours of time off my feet at this point in the day, I'm not optimally fueled, and I know have a maximum of 6:30 hours of sleep.
So you want to do a multi-stage bike race?
Please note that I'm not complaining at all about the circumstances. This is what we signed up for. And there's no way that I could complain about circumstances that involve free massage and my soon-to-be-fiancee arriving in France. But these are the time-sucks that make rest and recovery even more challenging. These are the factors that make getting into your routine impossible. These are challenges.
But this week is about overcoming all obstacles. Smashing through any challenge. And low rest or not, I'm going to crush tomorrow. Both stages. All 125 miles of cycling.
I'm a proud Big Brother, and despite my Little wishing that I wouldn't run so much, a proud endurance athlete. I started my endurance career by signing up for a marathon when I couldn't even complete a 10k, and I started my Big Brother career by volunteering when I wasn't sure I even could offer a youth much. Both processes have showed me that stepping outside of your comfort zone serves as the best method of improving yourself.