Breakfast: 06:30. Second breakfast: 09:00. Transfer: before 2h00 after 1h30. Start time: 09:50. Distance: 101km. Terrain: mountains (2,200 metres climbing). Climbs: three Cat 1. Finish: 17:30. Time in saddle: 5h55.
Breakfasts: 2. Coach transfers: 2
Suffer scores: John 7/10. Alex 7/10.
Those who have brought their kayaks with them can have a go on the Coupe de France slalom course once we get to Foix. I’ve not spotted any of those on our vans though. First off, we start at Saint-Girons, the self-proclaimed “smiling capital” of the Couserans region. 18 valleys meet here, and there are two “tumultuous” waterfalls that converge here also. Sounds spectacular!
Tale from the Tour
The day started with a bowl of cereal in the car park outside the ski lodge we were in and a trip down the mountain to Saint-Girons where 115 of us crammed into a cafe that has room for 70 – that was something which amused the locals! Here croissants, coffee and orange juice were awaiting us which we consumed while we were briefed on the day’s stage.
No doubt the TV commentators will refer to this as being “explosive” at some point due it being a short stage by Tour standards and with three Cat 1 climbs which could lead to all sorts of attacks going off. Whether it’s explosive depends on whether the heat serves as a detonator or causes a complete melt down. Pushing 40 degrees at times today so any shade was actively sought out.
The initial kms and the first climb passed well enough. Following a short descent we then had a reasonably tough 10km climb to lunch, which also included ice creams! It was really hot again today. It was on that second climb that the attacks started. Not the testosterone-fuelled attacks to be first up the mountain (there may be some of that going on but I am too far back to either know or care), but attacks from horseflies that were desperate to take a bite out of me but I kept swatting them away! Eventually their attacks petered out – possibly because I was now higher and the temperature slightly cooler but maybe because I was now too salty for them!
The third climb of the day was another 10km ascent, but with a stiff kicker in the last 4km which some of us felt was as bad as the lower slope of the Grand Colombier from last week. Salty sweat was pouring off my face and into my mouth, which was in any case hanging open and drying out while trying to get oxygen into my body. Tough day in the office (furnace more like).
I lost track of how much I was drinking but it was a lot. I tipped another bottle over my head to cool down too.
All the way up that final climb I was desperate not to have to stop. I knew Alex was ahead of me and, as I had not passed or seen him then I knew he must still be going so that knowledge helped me push on too until we met at the top.
The thing about such a stupidly steep climb (average 12%, sections at 18% over 4km) is that you can easily think “should I stop and have a rest for a bit?” but you know that is a recipe for disaster and not an option since, once stopped, it can be difficult to get started again. Sure, some people stopped where the gradient was less steep and so facilitating a restart, but equally that slight easing gives the legs the briefest of moments to recover and you don’t lose momentum. Best to man up then and get on with it. Known as Rule 5 in cycling circles.
Then it was downhill all the way to the finish and we were just able to jump on the first of the coaches that are taking us to the hotel at the start of tomorrow’s ride. So, nothing to be gained from “winning” the stage then.
There, I don’t often give a blow by blow account of the whole day but I thought it merited it. And that was not all. Tonight we are staying in a Novotel and are being served dinner outside!
Alex and I seem to be agreeing on suffer scores more and more – a result of the amount of time we are spending together perhaps! 7 seems about right bearing in mind the shortness of the stage, the heat of the day and the good quality hotel which compares favourably to others we have been in!
This is where we have been:
And this is where we are tonight, having a lovely barbecue by the pool just outside Toulouse: