Subtitle: Marcus, Pierre and Agata and the 122Km Etape du Tour 2016
After the multiple challenges we had getting to the start of the race, things could only get better, right ? .....
Change of Route
Days before the event the climb up Col de la Ramaz was removed because of rockslides. This shortened the race to about 122Km. Marcus thought: now it is going to be too easy! We have even less to worry about.
Agata took her Smartphone. Marcus, of course took his Smartphone. Pierre said: I won't need it.
In retrospect and forever more whenever we meet Pierre in the future we reserve the right rib him with /Where is your Smartphone/.
It was a strategic error because later when we became separated there was just no way to contact each other, leading to some anxious moments.
In 2016: Carry the bloody Smartphone. Period!
Waiting in Line
We waited in line for almost an hour. This is typical of big events. Often you almost die of boredom waiting to pass the start line. Luckily we were all in good spirits and we had some nice pre race conversations amongst ourselves and others queuing around us.
Pierre was in Block 14 and Marcus and Agata in Block 11. So of course we decided to all start in Block 14. Our plan was
- Take it easy
- No really, take it easy
- We focus on having a good time, cycling with each other
- We're stopping at the stops to have a good eat, not dashing a food and fluid refill
- Marcus will be taking photographs!
- Be especially careful on steep descents
- Don't rush up the ascents, especially the last Col Joux Plane, it is a deceptively hard one.
Overtake on the Left
Marcus learnt the hard way suffering time penalties overtaking on the right in a Triathlon many years ago, (actually because riders were clustering left), it does not matter!, there is a strict race rule:
Overtake on the Left, Keep to the Right
Except when you are cutting a corner on the Racing Line you ride on the right. And when you overtake you pull left, and then return right afterwards.
Here is an extract from the rule book!
A Nasty Accident
Just as Marcus was shouting "overtake on the left, keep to the right" it seemed to yet another young wannabe steaming past me on a downhill, it happened:
On a steep descent when I was doing >> 40 Km/h a man shot down my inside right, as I was moving back to the right having overtaken a group of riders plodding around in the middle of the road.
I saw him flying past my right side and then his bicycle fell into the rock filled gutter and I saw a terribly violent crash and the sound of cracking carbon fibre. I think his was Carbon spoked and probably wheels breaking. Luckily for him the medical car was only about 500 metres behind and so I left them to pick him up.
We saw one other crash, when a group ahead, riding Pelaton style concertina crashed into each other. Marcus has developed a /train leading style/ whereby I offer to be a windbreak for the team behind. And it works best iff
- you promise to keep to a constant effort
- this means on ascents you keep the effort same and speed lower
- on the flat you keep the same, rock solid, speed
- you keep checking with the line behind, best being each person then checks the person behind them, that the speed is good, and not too fast
- if everybody says it's too slow then you speed up
- if an emergency stop is required you agree that you will move LEFT, leaving the team behind to see the problem
Pierre: As early as KM 60 I suffered from leg cramp. This meant that we stopped a few times until my recovered and continued on.
Okay, Marcus would biasedly say, it's not quite up-to Swiss standards, but still extremely beautiful
Nutrition and Liquids Stops
We agreed to stop at the major food and liquid stops and really take our time to eat the multiple nutrition options provided. There was nuts, bananas, energy bars, energy shot, and energy based powders for mixing with bottled water.
Col Joux Plane
A tough ascent
The last ascent at about Km 80 is called Joux Plane and it is over 11Km at an average of 8% gradient.
We started together but soon we split up, agreeing to regroup at the top:
With leg cramp the policy ended up being: Cycle the first Km, then keep cycling slowly until leg cramp shows up. Then walk, un-cramping and start cycling again when ready. Repeat until get to the top of the Col. And just hope that this combination is faster than the sweeper wagon/ time car, because if that passes me, my race is over
On the entire climb only 2 people got past me. I went past so many people! Hundreds even. I tried to stick to the 28 ratio at the back, but on the sections that went to 10% I found myself changing to the 32 gear at the back. So the 34 front, 32 back combination meant I could ascend this without difficulty.
First excuse, my bicycle was totally unsuited to hills, only triathlons, but my other bike, with mountain ratios had been stolen recently. My lowest ratio was 44 front, 25 rear. Shockingly inadequate. The only way I could make it was to keep the cadence and hence speed high. This is going to be tricky ...
I started off well but my characteristic /don't need to drink anything much/ tactic on the race let me down here. I think, this one time, I was actually dehydrated. At about 6Km into the climb I felt sick. I stopped and was violently sick! Twice. So then I continued, found a water fountain and covered myself in water and drank too. This lost me a few minutes but turned out well.
On the last 2Km of ascent I had to stop saying /overtake on the left, keep to the right/. Prior to that I would never overtake anybody on the right, this meant I had to mostly come up to some guy cycling on the left edge, shout out hello (meaning hello, please get out of the way), wait for them to move, overtake left, move right. This is bloody time consuming, and energy wasting. By KM 9 of the KM 11 rise I was so exhausted that I overtook right if I had to. People were basically all over the road, many walking, I mean not just a few, we are talking hundreds walking in total. And spread out randomly like confetti.
Before I had to stop to be sick on Joux Plane Marcus was basically unstoppable. Not a single person overtook me. About half way up I came up on a guy with a Swiss website on his jersey. We got talking. He was from Switzerland and he had done a 50Km trail run yesterday. Today he had sneaked onto the course, to do a /cool down cycle ascent/ he claimed :-) , and was not part of the race.
I was pretty impressed. I managed to edge past him, but when I became nauseous, and stopped to be sick, he went past me. Other than that, nobody got past me on Joux Plane.
Where is Pierre?
Marcus reached the top of Joux Plane first and then was astonished that after only a few snacks Agata turned up. Looking as fresh as a daisy.
I thought the nice thing to do was to cycle back down to get Pierre. Agata would stay put in case I missed him and telephone me if he magically appeared. So, I dowsed myself with cold water and set back. But after 1KM security stopped me and told me I could not cycle back downhill, and I must turn back.
I came back, and Agata and I waited nervously for Pierre
Pierre is sighted?
During the hour or so I waited for Pierre, Agata and Marcus were worried
- Had he given up
- Was he behind the sweeper van, in which case he is DNF, and has to get on the bus and his bicycle will be taken separately. In this case it would add to logistics problems++
- Oh remind me, he did not take his bloody phone!!!
And then, after we had almost given up hope we saw Pierre cycling towards us. Marcus was so happy he ran out to hug Pierre as shown above.
The team is back together!
Agata to the finish
After the Col Joux Plane there is a pretty steep 20Km or so descent to the race finish. Agata was team lead. Marcus and Pierre say:
Agata descended like a woman possessed. We struggled hard to keep up with her. And all the more amazing as she was on a hire bicycle she rode once ever for 1 hour before today.
Marcus is worried that her new Ribble, Dura Ace bicycle that I have ordered to replace her stolen bicycle can only surely be faster than this rental. Yikes!
We all got down in record time therefore, with Marcus and Pierre trying to keep Agata in line of sight.
Back to the Car
Getting out of the finish area was easy. Ear splittingly loud music was playing. But we then had to cycle back uphill to Pierre's car. It seemed to take ages and was complicated by the fact that it was so hot the tar on the road back had melted. This coated our bicycle tyres which then attracted fine road stones to stick to the tyres. So when we finally got back to the car we had to cleanup first before dismantling bicycles.
Then drive the 60KM or so back to race start to pickup the Motorhome, which unfortunately ran into huge traffic. But we had no choice but to continue.
After post race drinking 1.5 litres of water and then driving home to Lausanne, which took over 4 hours including unloading the Motorhome, Marcus consulted his weight scales to find himself 3Kg under normal weight. I hope that not all of this was water loss and that a new lighter Marcus (and Agata) will go faster in future races.
Despite the considerable challenges that meant we were lucky to even start the race we did. We had a great time. The weather was 110% sunny, the race organisation for food and refreshment was first class. We cycled as a team and started and finished together. Many smiles and good memories. As it should be.