It’s August 22nd, and it’s finally here. It being the Haute Route Alps - the highest, hardest cyclosportive in the world.
Well…it’s kind of finally here. August 22nd is the day of my flight to Geneva. And, truthfully, I’m more intimidated by the travel day than I am by the race at this point. That’s because the travel day presents tons of variables – uncontrollable variables at that. Will my bike make it to the destination? Will I be able to sleep at all? Will I be able to overcome the jet lag in time? Will I make it through the flights without picking up a cold?
I don’t have to worry so much about the last question, because I’ve actually already picked up a cold. My girlfriend (soon to be fiancée; see Stages 7A & 7B post) has been battling a respiratory illness all week. I’ve tried everything to combat the inevitable onset of the illness – zinc, lime and honey, Emergen-C, a million oranges a day, a million Gatorades a day, sleeping in separate rooms, etc. And it’s not working. By mid-week, I’m feeling rough. Low energy, sore throat, fear of this thing that I’ve got getting worse. On the 22nd (the day of my flight), I wake up at about 3am with a painfully sore throat. Like a it-hurts-to-swallow sore throat. I fear that I’ve got strep throat. I lay awake for about an hour trying to come up with a plan for how I can get in to see a doctor before my 12:00 flight.
I wake up a few hours later and the throat hasn’t gotten better or worse. But after a quick diagnostic, I’ve at least convinced myself that I don’t have strep. Yasmin and I run to the nearest Walgreens to load up on zinc, cough drops, and Emergen-C before my flight. This sucks.
I’m so frustrated, distraught, and outright scared that I’m not in a positive space. This is the hardest event that I will ever be attempting, and I’m terrified that I’m going to be attempting it in a compromised state. Even more compromised after what will amount to a 30-hour travel day.
Control what you can control, Jason. Fight back against this illness as best you can and let the rest take care of itself.
I arrive at the airport and reach my gate with no difficulty. Well, aside from the TSA agent inspecting the Cliff Bar box where I was hiding Yasmin’s engagement ring. Whew. Good thing she’s not traveling with me. I position myself in clear view of the plane’s luggage stow and I watch like a hawk as my bike gets loaded gently into the airplane. Ok, all is going well!
After a quick skip from Tallahassee to Atlanta, I rush to my gate so as to watch the luggage get loaded onto this plane. This time though, the view is obscured. I remind myself that I’ve gotten myself all worked up about variables that I can’t control and convince myself that all will work out as it should. The gate next to us boards for their flight to Amsterdam, and we board for our flight to Paris shortly thereafter.
The flight from Atlanta to Paris is without incident. It’s also without sleep. Which is fine. I’m happy to stay awake in order to take my zinc in every two hours, to walk around and keep the legs stretched out, and to pound Pedialyte to keep ahead on my hydration. I’m controlling what I can control.
Next up is a flight from Paris to Geneva – my final destination. I’ve got a rental van booked for the transfer from Geneva to Megeve, where the race starts. I’ve booked a van so that the bag that I’m transporting my bike in will fit comfortably. Every little detail has been looked after. In Paris, I’m able to see the luggage being loaded, but they’re loading the luggage while we’re boarding. I keep myself at the absolute back of the boarding line in the hopes of seeing my bike bag go into the luggage stow, but no such luck. Again, I remind myself that everything will work out. Just get to Geneva as healthy as possible.
I land in Geneva and I make my way to the luggage carousel. I wait and I wait and I wait and my heart sinks as I watch bag after bag come out with no sign of my bike. This can’t be happening. No way, right? I go to the luggage service counter and they inform me that there’s a separate luggage carousel for bikes and other abnormal-sized items. My heart sings. I zip over to the luggage carousel only to find it full of bike bags and boxes that are not mine. One after one, eager cyclists grab their bikes off the carousel and exit the airport. That’s the way it’s supposed to work.
Not for me. Not today. I find my way to the lost luggage counter where they inform me that they’re already aware that I had two bags not make the flight. Two bags? I only checked one item – my bike. I can tell that this is going to be a complete s-show. The airline representative speaks vaguely and tells me that maybe my bike is coming on the next flight over from Paris to Geneva. Sweet. I’d love a little more specifics, but I’ll hang around another 40 minutes for the next flight to arrive. In fact, I’m not going to leave this airport until I have my damn bike.
The next flight arrives, and with it comes 5-10 more bikes. None of them mine. I go back to the lost luggage counter again and this time, I’m a little more persistent. I’m respectful, of course, but look – this is an expensive item to be lost, this is a critical item for a bike race that I’m participating in 30 hours from now, and it’s utterly incomprehensible that you can’t tell me definitively where this item is. It has a barcode. After an hour of getting nothing more than “We just don’t have any info at this time” and “There’s nothing we can do”, I’m resigned to leaving the airport without my bike.
Battling a cold. No bike. Absolute nightmare scenario.
It’s now 1pm local time on Friday. I’ve been awake for 31 straight hours. I sheepishly drive my mostly empty rental van to the Air BnB, which is located about 15 minutes from the race start, and is situated with an absolutely stunning view of Mont Blanc. I’ve only left the airport after the airline has assured me that, despite having no idea where the bike is, that they’ll get it delivered to the Air BnB no later than Saturday morning. I call the airline on my drive and I’m presented with a new theory – the bike is not in Paris as originally thought; it’s in Amsterdam. Ok. That would make sense. The flight next to me [in Atlanta] was going to Amsterdam. Cool. Bike is in Amsterdam, you know when the flights from Amsterdam to Geneva are scheduled…soooo when’s my bike coming over? “We can’t provide that info for you at this time”.
Despite the distressing conversation, I am able to enjoy the sights and sounds on my drive. And boy, are there some sights and sounds. I’m absolutely in awe of the endless mountain-scape. It’s a sea of mountains. Vast and breathtaking. Majestic mountains as far as the eye can see. This is my playground for the next week…assuming my bike arrives.
The process of calling and trying to determine when my bike will make the trip form Amsterdam to Geneva repeats about 6 times until finally I give up. I’m spending so much time and energy on this that I’m not focusing on the race. Maybe the best thing at this point is to just relax and trust that the airline will get their crap together.
I do. I relax in the hot tub. I do some stretching in Mont Blanc’s shadow. I enjoy the beauty and vastness of my setting.
And as I’m doing that, I miss a phone call at 6:00pm from a Geneva number. I listen to my voicemail and I’m beyond relieved to hear that my bike has arrived in Geneva and will be delivered at some point this evening. I’m exhausted though and I had no plans on staying up much later than 7 or 8. I’ve now been up for 36 straight hours, while battling a cold. I need some sleep.
I nap for about 30 minutes as I await my bike delivery. I’m in a deep, deep sleep. So much so that my Air BnB host has to actually come in to my bedroom to shake me awake. My bike has arrived. Yes! I quickly open the bike bag to verify that it is my bike (which it is), and I head back to the bedroom to resume my slumber. I glance at the window and see a majestic sunset that I otherwise would’ve missed if I hadn’t been awoken at that exact time. You tell me that wasn’t fate.
I sleep really, really well. I wake up after about 9 ½ hours of sleep and the first thing on my agenda is to get my bike assembled and in working order. I’m pleasantly surprised to find that I actually feel better than I did the previous days. Maybe I am beating this cold! My bike is here and I’m feeling better. Things are really coming around!
I open my bike bag and I find a bike that’s damaged beyond repair – well, beyond my capability to repair at least. The shifter on the right handlebars has been bent at almost a 45-degree angle. It’s severely damaged and I wonder if it could even shift the gears properly in the current condition. I’ll never know, because the rear derauilier is also severely damaged. For those that don’t know – the rear deraulier is the mechanism that moves the chain from gear to gear. So when I flip the little switch on my shifters to change gears, the rear derauilier actually completes the shifting of the gears. Both pieces that are required to shift gears are broken. I’m about to compete in a race in which shifting gears is required, critical, crucial, [insert synonym conveying extreme importance here].
Absolute nightmare CTD.
Good thing that the Haute Route is a top-notch event. They actually have the same Mavic bike mechanics that worked the Tour de France a few weeks earlier. If they can’t fix the bike, they have spare Mavic bikes that I could ride. Obviously, I want to ride the same bike that I rode in all of my training (that’s why I paid an arm and a leg to fly it over), but I’ll at least have a bike to ride no matter what happens. I head over to the race check-in and I drop my bike off right away with Mavic. The mechanic takes one look at it and says “Ay yi yi”. Awesome. He needs a part to fix the bike; a part that is specific to each make and model of bike. Good thing that a training partner of mine who also happens to be an Haute Route ambassador told me to bring this exact part. I leave the bike, and the spare part with Mavic and I head over to the check-in tent.
I try not to be neurotic about the bike repair, and I give the Mavic mechanics time and space. They’re dealing with enough neurotic cyclists at this point, I’m sure.
I come back about 90 minutes later and the bike is sitting in the bike rack, looking as beautiful as ever. I take a quick peak, and ya it looks like it’s ready for the mountains. But I can’t take it for a test drive yet because I haven’t checked into my hotel yet; so I’ve got all my luggage and everything with me.
It’s noon and I’ve been dealing with this bike situation for long enough that I’m now starting to run behind on my fuel. I skipped breakfast in order to get the bike serviced as quickly as possible, which is obviously not a good idea when fuel is one of the most essential aspects of this race. I figure that I’ll find a pasta place nearby, check in to the hotel, and then take the bike for a test run.
The pasta place ends up being a pizza place – that’s all that I can find. The walk to the hotel ends up taking 30 minutes in the blazing hot sun, with all my luggage in tow. And the check-in time ends up being totally inflexible. I wait until 2:00, anxious as hell to get on my bike to ensure that it’s working. In my mind, at 2:00 the day before the race, I’d be laying in my bed, watching a movie, with the bike and all clothing ready for tomorrow’s adventure.
I finally get to my bike and I take it for a test spin. The legs feel good. The bike feels incredible. Finally…things are starting to work out. It’s only 16 hours or so before the starters gun goes off, but I now know that I’ve got a functioning bike and a functioning [mostly not sick] body.
I find a panini and pasta place to get some carbs in and I get back to the hotel room around 8:00. Between the cold, the bike issues, the sub-optimal fueling, the jetlag, and the overall lack of rest, my typical pre-race process has been totally smashed to pieces. But I’m sure that this week is going to require much adapting, and I’m sure that this is just a small preview of the challenges to come.
I sleep terribly. Maybe six hours, with two hours being the longest consecutive sleep that I get. Ugh.
But the excitement is high. I’m about to embark on a once in a lifetime adventure. A bucket list item. The race that I’ve spent 14 months training for. The training that sent me to the hospital, and sent me into surgery. The recovery. The massive miles post-recovery. The awful interval workouts. The agony of waiting. The stress of the last few days. It’s all behind me now.
Everything is laid out in front of me – 7 days, 8 stages, 475 miles, 70,000 feet of climbing, the most agonizing and most amazing climbs in all of cycling.
Here. We. Go.
My goal for the race is to ride each day better than the previous one. I’m not so concerned about the overall rankings, as I want to ride my own race from start to finish. I trust that if I listen to my body and that if I execute an intelligent plan from day one that I’ll perform well. Smashing myself to pieces to place in the top 100 or top 200 or whatever it is would jeopardize my commitment to riding my own race and to executing an intelligent strategy. So I plan on carefully controlling my effort on day one. If I place highly, cool. If not, no worries.
Stage one consists of 60 miles of riding and over 8,500 feet of climbing. We depart from Megeve and we finish in Megeve. The climbs du jour are Le Bettex (4.5 miles), Plateau d’Assy (3.9 miles), Cote de la Provence (maybe 3.5 miles), La Cry (6.3 miles), and Cote 2000 (4.9 miles). The way the stage is set up is quite daunting – you basically have 20 minutes to warm up the legs and then it’s climbing time. Up and over Le Bettex, you get a sketchy descent that can reach high speeds on bad roads, and by the time the descent is completed, only a few miles separate you from the base of the next climb. After Plateau d’Assy there are some flat miles, but the final three climbs are stacked so closely together that it’s virtually one big, long climb to finish out the stage. It’s essentially 15 miles of climbing broken up with small, short descents.
And I’ve convinced myself that Stage 1 is going to be a “control your effort”/”warm up day”. Really, really poor mental preparation.
I’m from Tallahassee, Florida. I don’t routinely climb for multiple miles, uninterrupted. I’ve spent some time in the [small, Alabama] mountains in preparation, and I’ve simulated this level of effort as best I can with plenty of interval sessions, but I realize quite quickly that the training I’ve done isn’t going to result in my breezing through stage one with little effort. And that hurts my psyche right away. From the very first climb, where I’m winded and feeling like I’ve used more power than expected to get over Le Bettex.
Le Bettex was the first time in which I experience this weird blend of thoughts – a blend that I haven’t experienced in other races. It’s a mixture of “holy crap this is awesome!”, “this is going to be way hard”, “am I properly trained?”, and “am I burning too many matches too early?”. The thoughts revolving around whether or not I can sustain this level of effort for 7 days are particularly damning. Not only am I not focusing properly on Stage 1 (because I’m worrying about Stages 2-8), I’m also creating this circle of doubt that is really shattering my confidence.
Overwhelmingly though, I’m enjoying the experience. The views are amazing and I try to allow my enjoyment to bring me back to center.
Le Bettex boasts incredible views of Mount Blanc. I snap a handful of photos and videos as I make my way up its slopes. I’m climbing well, and I’m passing many cyclists, but again, I’m nervous about how hard I’m working currently.
I approach the descent with extreme caution. My Air BnB was on the slopes of Le Bettex, so I knew just how sketchy the descent was. I also know that you’ve got a bunch of alphas, full of adrenaline ready to bomb the first descent of the race. I hug my brakes and descend in the manner that feels comfortable to me. Every single place that I picked up by climbing better than my fellow cyclist is lost on the descent. Plus some. It’s a good reminder to not worry about my placement. Ride my race.
After Le Bettex we have a handful of miles in the valley, where we’re treated to amazing views of the surrounding mountains – many of which we’ll climb either on today’s stage or on tomorrow’s stage. Then it’s on to Plateau d’Assy.
Plateau d’Assy turns out to be an incredibly frustrating climb. On paper, the distance and the gradient look really, really manageable. In reality, it ends up being 0.75 – 1-mile steep sections followed by plateaus, followed by another steep section, followed by a plateau, etc. With a climb like this it becomes nearly impossible to get into a rhythm. My psyche is already at a weird place and I’m now struggling with the second climb of the entire race – and a climb that, on paper, should be a really simple one. By comparison to some of the monsters awaiting us, this climb is a mere molehill. Confidence shrinking.
I hit the summit of the Plateau d’Assy and I’m not exactly feeling how I’m used to feeling, but I’m going to keep plugging along and hope that I get into the swing of things soon. Following Plateau d’Assy, we have about 35 minutes in the valley. I’m thinking that this is where the legs are going to come around and I’m going to settle into a rhythm. Everything is going to click.
It doesn’t. But that’s ok. Just make it to the next climb. I’m a good climber. I’ll find my mojo on the slopes of the 3.5ish mile Cote de la Provence. We hit the climb and I get into a great rhythm almost immediately. I’m climbing well compared to the fellow cyclists around me. I think I’ve got my mojo back. Yet, something still feels a little bit off. My stamina, my breathing – it’s just not where it usually is. Whatever. Keep riding as best you can.
Part of the funk could be attributed to what has become a very warm day. I haven’t necessarily recognized it because there’s no humidity; so compared to what I’m used to, it doesn’t feel hot, but it surely is. I probably haven’t taken in enough fluids given the heat and the amount of climbing that we’ve done, but I don’t think that this is the issue. Something else is going on and I just can’t shake it.
We hit La Cry, and somehow, despite studying the stage map and despite even having a miniature version of the stage map stuck to my bike, I mistakenly think that we’re on the last climb of the day. Usually, I’m very sharp and mentally strong. Today, I’m just off.
La Cry is where this stage gets really serious. It’s a 6+ mile climb that leads into our final climb of the day. La Cry is another climb that looks much easier on paper than it is in actuality. On paper, it’s just a 6+ mile climb at an average gradient of 5.8%. Not bad. In reality, the first 2 miles or so are spent at a nearly 10% gradient, which gives way to a mile of 6% gradient, which gives way to a mile of flat, followed by two miles at nearly an 8.5% gradient. It’s not an easy climb. And it’s fully exposed to the sun. I’m struggling but I’m pleased to be ticking off the miles one-by-one on our last climb of the day.
It’s only when I finish the descent of La Cry and see a sign pointing us away from the finish area that I realize that I’ve still got Cote 2000 ahead of me. With already fatigued legs, a mind that’s not my ally on today’s stage, and a discouraging performance thus far, I’m not excited by the prospect of climbing for another 45 minutes or so. But it doesn’t really matter whether I’m excited or not. That’s the task at hand.
As I’m starting Cote 2000, there are cyclists on the descent. Holy crap. That means that these guys have finished the stage an hour or so ahead of me. An hour?!? Another dose of discouragement. Not at all how I expected day one to go.
Cote 2000 isn’t the prettiest climb to start off. And there’s actually a significant amount of vehicle traffic. It’s hot and I’m hurting. I just want to get this damn climb over with as quickly as possible. Cote 2000 isn’t a particularly challenging climb, but my general funk has made it a challenging climb. I struggle to find a good rhythm and the times that I do find a good rhythm, I sabotage it by getting out of the saddle and climbing even though it’s entirely unnecessary.
I even start to feel signs of cramping coming on. What the heck is going on?
The climb opens up with about 3k to go, and we’re treated to an absolutely stunning view. Ok, I’m fine with suffering if this is my view. At one point, we climb past a small airport amounting to nothing more than a landing strip and maybe one hangar. It’s nestled in between this vast horseshoe shaped mountain, and as a small plane approaches for landing with the mountain backdrop, I can’t help but feel like I’m on set at a James Bond movie.
It really is breathtaking. It’s also fully exposed to the sun.
I ride the last mile or so of the climb rather poorly. I’m sapped. And I’m super concerned about making it through the week. I may have bit off more than I can chew.
At the finish line, I hear fellow cyclists chattering. One of them remarks about today’s stage being the easiest of all stages that we have. He’s probably right, but after really struggling on the day, it’s not at all what I want to hear.
I wish I would have been able to find the clarity that evening, and to remind myself “Damn it, you’re awesome. Just be awesome, and just ride your own race.” But the doubts are really building up.
In retrospect, I realize just how hard of a stage it really was. I was battling very low rest, jetlag, and the heat. The course gave us some steep, punchy climbs – which is not my specialty; I’m much better suited for long, consistent climbs. Yes, on paper Stage 1 should have been the easiest day. In reality, given the circumstances, Stage 1 was always going to be one of the hardest days. I wish I had come into the stage with that mentality instead of with the mentality that it was going to be a nice, easy warmup stage.
If Stage 1 was a reality check, Stage 2 may well end up being a real-life disaster. That’s essentially what I took away from the pre-race briefing that was held at the conclusion of Stage 1. The MC has taken a significant amount of time to detail just how brutally hard the last climb of the day is going to be. To paraphrase “Tomorrow is going to suck.” Awesome. Just what I want to hear after struggling on Stage 1.
My pre-race strategy was to “take it easy” on days one and two, as day three is an incredibly challenging day. My whole goal was to make it through day three and to reassess everything from there. If all was going well, I planned on letting it loose on days 4 – 7.
However, after Stage 1, I now know that there’s really no such thing as taking it easy. Stage 2 is going to require everything that I have. I just have to hope that I can recover and regroup for Stage 3.
Stage 2 presents us with just shy of 76 miles, and 11,600 feet of elevation gain. That’s a challenging day by anyone’s standards. We’ve got three major climbs on the day – Col des Saisies, Col du Montagny, and Col de Loze. Saisies is long and gradual. Montagny is not quite as long, but is a little punchier. Loze is both really long, and really punchy at parts. It’s the dreaded long climb that also requires you to power through some really steep crap.
It’s going to be a tough day.
And it’s going to get right down to business right away. We have about 10-15 minutes to warm up the legs and then we’re on the slopes of Col des Saisies. 8.5 miles with nothing going above 10% gradient. This is my type of climb.
But I’m still feeling just a bit off.
On or off, I remind myself that I cannot afford to smash the first climb of the day. Ride in rhythm and let it all work out. I shift into an easy gear, whip up the cadence and get to work.
Saisies doesn’t have the same take-your-breath-away type of beauty as some of the climbs yesterday, but I’m really enjoying it. It’s tranquil and it treats us to the natural beauty that can occur as the first rays of sun touch the mountain pastures.
Through 3 miles, I’m happy with my cadence and I’m happy with how I’m riding. Keep executing this gameplan and everything is going to work out.
By mile 6, I’m starting to feel a little fatigued. This is a long climb. It’s not long compared to what we’ve got in the coming days, or even at the end of the stage, but geez, climbing for 6 straight miles ain’t easy. Whatever. 2.5 to go.
I look ahead and I see two large cows crossing the road. The oncoming traffic is stopped, and the cows are taking up about half of our side of the road. I pull my phone out to take a picture of the large bovines with bells around their necks. How fun.
I’ve watched four or five other cyclists ride right by the cows with no incident. But as I’m approaching the cow suddenly turns around and starts to move in my direction. I swerve to avoid any potential cow on cyclist violence, and I laugh about the whole experience. That’s one way to break up a climb.
I hit the summit of the Saisies feeling better than I felt yesterday. This is the longest climb that we’ve had in the race, and I rode it well. I can do this.
The descent off the Saisies is quite nice, but as with most descents, I don’t take any risks. It’s too early in the day, and too early in the week to be risky.
After the descent we’ve got a long stretch of about 35 miles in the valley. I need to find a group to work with in the valley. Break the miles up, share the work, and don’t waste any energy. That’s the plan. So when we’re approaching the end of the descent, and I’m able to latch on with a good sized group, and a group that’s riding really well together, I’m over the moon. Things are going to work out today.
I’m riding with the group, making friends, and not doing a whole lot of work. Life is good. Then, I go to reach in my pocket for a Cliff bar. I’ve done this literally no less than 500 times in training. However, this time, as I’m reaching for my middle pocket, I manage to hit the bottom side of my right pocket – where I keep my phone. The phone goes flying out of my pocket, onto the pavement, and I have to stop to retrieve it.
Bye bye group. Damn it!
As I’m cursing myself, the Mavic support vehicle comes screaming up. They assume that I’ve got a mechanical issue. In the process, they actually run over my phone. So much for things working out today.
I’m now riding solo, eating a headwind and generally being upset. I’m not being aggressive with my pace, and I’m kind of waiting for another group to come along.
After what feels like an eternity, but only ends up being 10 miles in actuality, another group comes plugging along. I happily hop on and work with them for the next 15 miles or so. I’m not riding particularly well though and I’m really, really hating my bike seat. I just can’t get comfortable.
The group has broken apart at a feed station. It’s now the 45-mile mark of the stage. We’ve got maybe 5 more miles before we take on the Montagny and then the Loze. Much like yesterday’s stage, the climbs are stacked so closely together that you can basically consider them one, major climb separated only by a short 10-15 minute descent.
The valley has been almost entirely exposed, and I don’t realize it but the sun is sapping up my energy and leaving me with a decent sunburn. No wonder I feel a little drained, and a little discouraged. Not this again.
Montagny is another one of those deceptive climbs. At 6.15 miles and an average gradient of 5.8% it shouldn’t be too bad. However, when you remove the 1.5ish miles of mostly flat at the top of the climb, it really ends up being a 4.5-mile climb at about 8.5% gradient. It’s not overly steep, but it’s just steep enough that I can’t quite get into my ideal rhythm.
Montagny is also fully exposed. It’s a fun climb though that reveals the same valley that we traversed just moments ago in its full beauty. It also wraps around in a way that we can look down and see the winding roads that we slogged through just to get to where we were at that given point. It’s fun to peer over the edge and see the suck that we’ve just come from.
I make it over Montagny feeling ok. Much like yesterday, I don’t feel like I’ve ridden poorly but I also don’t feel like I’ve crushed it. But I’ve ticked off another climb, and I only have one more standing between me and another stage being completed.
Too bad the one remaining climb is a complete savage.
14.5 miles. Climbing to 1.5 miles in altitude. Multiple sections at the top of the climb with 16% and 18% ramps. Absolute savage.
I hit the bottom of the climb, and I try to wrap my head around what’s going to be 2 hours of straight climbing. Each climb in the Alps has little markers at each kilometer. They tell you how many kilometers to the summit and what the average gradient of the next kilometer will be.
I come to love and despise these markers.
It’s not particularly fun to have a marker pop up reminding you that you have 20km to go, and that the next km is going to be steeper than you’d like. But it also becomes a fun game. My first game is to whittle the climb down to under 20km to go. Then 11km to go, because that marker represents more than halfway. Then 5k to go. Then 1k.
It’s not a fun game though. Because it feels like I’m stuck in purgatory between the 20 to go and 11 to go markers. This section of the climb feels like it takes forever.
Overall though, I’m in a good rhythm. There are some sections that I feel like I should be killing with cadence, but I just can’t, and I end up grinding through them as a result. But overall, I’m riding well. Riding smart.
No matter how smart I’m riding, this climb is a brute. And it’s hard to not start thinking about the queen stage – Stage 3 with its 15,000+ feet of climbing on the most iconic climbs in all of cycling. Man, if this is tough, what the hell is tomorrow going to be like?
The first 10 miles of the Loze climb have not been particularly stunning. After nearly 90 minutes of work, we’re rewarded with the most awe-inspiring scenes imaginable. The road opens up and there are mountains everywhere, with the sun perfectly illuminating the slopes. The occasional cloud compliments the white, snow-spotted mountains. Greens. Blues. Grays. Whites. No words. Absolutely stunning.
It’s a weird, almost poetic dichotomy. Here I am dying. Smashing myself to pieces. Breath heavy. Legs heavy. Thoughts all over the place. Utter chaos. And here the mountains are. Pristine. Beautiful. Unchanging.
I’m in awe and I’m in agony at the same time.
By the time the climb opens up, we’re at over 5,500 feet. I don’t spend any time thinking about this, but for a guy that lives near sea level, altitude is not my friend. Every foot that we climb makes it harder to get oxygen in. Which in turn makes it harder to feed the muscles and to clear lactic acid. This is a critical process, especially for a guy that needs to keep the legs going for 7 straight days.
The climb has also become completely exposed to the sun. It’s a tradeoff that I’d happily make though, given the views that we’re being treated to. But it’s one that I think I’ll come to regret. I’ve underestimated the affect of the sun and the heat (even though I’m not necessarily feeling the heat).
By the time we reach the 4km to go marker, I’m hurting. This is what I signed up for though. To test my meddle on the most legendary climbs in the world. And right now, I’m being tested.
My legs are starting to cramp up. Any little uptick in effort is difficult to recover from. My mind is starting to play tricks on me, likely a result of the 100 minutes of consecutive climbing.
The best part? We haven’t even made it to the tough stuff yet.
With about 3km to go, we hit the first of the punchy section. It’s about a quarter of a mile of 15%+ sections. Full power. Full effort.
Desperately searching for a third or a fourth wind. Desperately searching for oxygen. For the legs to come back. For the tinges of cramping to disappear.
After the kickers, we get our first little bit of downhill on this climb. I’m actually kind of ruing the downhill. I’m already smashed. A little downhill isn’t going to help. Plus, every foot that we go down, we’re going to have to climb again. Give me all the uphill right now. Let’s get this thing done.
After the downhill, we’ve now got just over a mile to go. The gradient pitches back up again to about 9%. On tired legs, it’s steep enough that I can’t get into my light and quick cadence. I’m stuck between cadence and grinding. But I’m getting it done.
The summit comes into view. Holy crap, we’re going to have to work for this. The summit gets as steep as I’ve seen. And I’ve seen some steep stuff.
I’m so shattered at this point that I question if I can actually get up the climb.
Just shut up and pedal.
The last quarter mile is a bloodbath. 18% ramps at 7,500 feet of altitude. After climbing for two hours. F my Loze.
Just shut up and pedal.
This is the hardest thing I’ve done on a bike. And I’ve done lots of things on a bike. I power through the first steep section and have only one more to go. Finish line in sight. More climbing. More gassed.
I get up and over the last brutally steep section of the climb. I hit the finish line and I collapse onto my handle bars. Gasping for breath. Hoping for a miracle recovery before tomorrow.
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.