Stage 14: Tarbes to Tourmalet Barèges

Cycling summary

Breakfast: 06:30. Transfer: none. Start time: 08:05. Distance: 117km. Terrain: mountain (3,261 metres climbing). Climbs: one HC (Col du Tourmalet), one Cat 1, one Cat 4. Finish: 16:19. Time in saddle: 6h48. Temp: 30C. Drinks: 4.5 litres.

Suffer scores: John 6/10. Wim 6/10.

Local lowdown

Often on the route, but rarely being the site of the finish line, today’s stage ends on the top of the Tourmalet. I’ve been here twice before and have climbed it from both sides, but never really seen it on account of the weather! Will today be any different? It’s the first time this Tour that we will rise above 2,000 metres. Only another six to go then……

Yep, could see all the way up. This view is looking back down.

Tale from the Tour

Another memorable day, made all the better by great weather. I reckon I’m properly acclimatised now and so with a max temperature of 30C on the Tourmalet and 25C on the Soulor before that in the morning, this was not far from perfect. In fact it was a perfect day’s cycling. Quite short at 117km, which meant I was home and hosed shortly after 4pm.

Still a bit misty by the time we got to the first feedstop, but it soon burned off.

On the statistics front, I have now ridden 100,000 miles since I started cycling in 1995. I reached that point at the top of the Soulor (give or take a few miles maybe as I’m not claiming scientific rigour here, but who cares!). I’ve probably done about one third of those miles in my Bigfoot club jersey, so that’s what I chose to ride in today.

100,000 and counting
On the way up the Soulor

Lots of other stuff going on at the top of the Soulor too, as demonstrated by the photos below.

Don’t you just hate it when someone parks their sheep too close to your car?
Coffee Ian just hates it when someone leans their bike against his van. Whoever leant their donkey against it is in trouble!

Later, on the way to the Tourmalet:

Wallace et Grommet?

Then at the summit, the obligatory glory shot.

I am grateful to Steve back at Bigfoot for analysing such data as I provide for giving the sort of feedback that I really appreciate. Specifically, he has found that I get a better performance benefit from Tarte aux Myrtilles than I do from white Magnums. Sadly, while the latter are available everywhere, the former tends to be ubiquitous in the Vosges only. I’ll have to see if I fare better with almond Magnums!

By the way, if you saw the Tour de France ride into Chalon-sur-Saône yesterday, you may have noticed that in the kilometre or so before the end they were travelling at 68kph. That’s more than I can manage going downhill – top speed today for me was 65kph!

The relatively short course and decent climbing conditions meant that this stage was not as much of a sufferfest as it could have been. Tomorrow might be a different story.

Stage 13: Pau

Cycling summary

Breakfast: 07:30. Transfer: before 0h45, after 0h45. Start time: 10:25. Distance: 27km. Terrain: gentle hills, then flat (412 metres climbing). Climbs: none. Finish: 11:53. Time in saddle: 1h22. Temp: 25C. Drinks: 0.75 litres (a one bottle ride).

Suffer scores: John 0.5/10. Wim 0.5/10.

Local lowdown

The Tour comes to Pau so often! Indeed, this is the 71st time since 1930. However, we are staying in nearby Tarbes, so today we are doing a hit job on Pau for this short time-trial so that we can have two nights in the same hotel. Both of my two previous Tour de Force/Le Loop experiences have included an overnight stay in Pau and although the hotel itself was fine, as I recall the breakfast wasn’t up to much. This is a key concern for a hungry cyclist! Thank goodness for well-stocked feedstops!

Tale from the Tour

A perfectly pleasant recovery ride today, which the pros will ride at least twice as fast as me because it’s a time trial. I took 1h24 to ride the course (including the bit back from the finish to where our coaches were picking us up). What will the winning time be next week? 30 minutes?

A quick word on temperature. Every day starts off around 18-20C and hits the mid-30s somewhere each afternoon. I tend to record the highest temperature we typically have to ride in, rather than all the highest points necessarily because times of ridiculous heat (e.g. riding into Rodez) tend to be fleeting. The exception was yesterday where I spent a good bit of time cooking at 41C, so that’s the temperature I recorded. Today’s ride was completed in the morning, before it got too hot.

To begin with, we left the park where there are yellow monuments erected to celebrate each of the past winners of the yellow jersey. Quite a sight against an imposing backdrop. The course then snaked gently upwards and on the road were painted the names of all the winners of the previous Pau stages. I of course had my photo taken alongside Geraint Thomas’s monument.

A lovely wooded course followed, which had a number of ups and downs including at least a couple of sharp right turns where the pros will have to take care not to overcook the corners. Then there was a long straight road into Pau to finish.

Got lots of positive comments about the Bath Rugby cycling jersey that I wore today. My brother Gareth who got it for me warmed me that the jersey might not be popular in Pau because that’s one of the few European teams that Bath have defeated. I looked it up and that win was a few years ago now, so I felt pretty safe.

That’s it for the riding today, so it’s almost like a rest day. Just as well, because we now have two big stages to come. No suffering of any description today.

After a quick lunch back at the hotel, I decided to take a taxi into town and get my washing done. Only three days’ worth, but a master stroke (so I believe) because it means I can get to the end of the Tour without having to go to a launderette in Nîmes on our next rest day! Given that we will have to spend a few hours getting to Nîmes on the rest day (otherwise known as Monday in the world outside the cycling bubble – we inside it lose track!), it is likely that cyclists with sweaty kit will be putting high demand on available launderettes. With eight days left and six sets of kit, I can now get by with a minimal amount of hand washing. Actually, my action this afternoon could perhaps be said to benefit the others too, as I will be out of their way!

After getting that job done, I had a quick look around the town centre, a beer with a few fellow riders and a taxi back to the hotel.

We have a Moroccan “all you can eat buffet” tonight and I’m starving already with two hours to go!

Stage 12: Toulouse to Bagnères-de-Bigorre

Cycling summary

Breakfast: 06:30. Transfer: 0h40 (post ride and dinner). Start time: 08:01. Distance: 202km. Terrain: mountain (2,987 metres climbing). Climbs: two Cat 1, one Cat 4. Finish: 19:15. Time in saddle: 9h47. Temp 41C (max). Drinks: 5 litres.

Crepes (Sucre):0

Magnums (white): 1

Suffer scores: John 4/10. Wim 6/10.

Local lowdown

We could easily get swamped in Toulouse, being the fourth largest city in France. Can you guess the others? Probably, but which one is fifth largest? Would be nice to know the answer to that one! From Toulouse we head to the spa town of Bagnères-de-Bigorre for the start of our adventures in the Pyrenees. Although we are not climbing it, I love the idea that for a concert hosted on the nearby Pic du Midi (altitude 2,800 metres), someone once flew in a piano by helicopter! I imagine that students who now attend the academy there transport their instruments by more traditional means.

Tale from the Tour

What a super day today turned out to be again. First we had the drag of getting out of the Pink City, contending with busy traffic and roadworks. Toulouse’s nickname arises due to so many buildings made out of that colour of brick, which we saw not just in Toulouse but in the surrounding towns and villages.

The ride was pretty uneventful until about halfway, when we started to climb the Peyresourde. The climb was made tougher than it needed to be because the temperature hit 41C, with the heat radiating off the walls and us being in plain sun. We passed a number of water fountains but I kept going until I saw one where I could be sure the water was drinkable. Time to cool my head down, chug some cold water and make sure I had two full bottles for the rest of the climb. There was not much shade – when there was then the temperature dipped a little, but not much.

Peyresourde in the distance

Quick descent after that, which was followed by a much more pleasurable climb – shorter, but about the same average gradient. The Hourquette d’Ancizan climb was mostly in the shade, the maximum temperature being 30C and most of it being at a perfectly acceptable 25C. My secret weapon, though, was the white Magnum I had before the climb and the can of Orangina that I slipped into my pocket to drink further up the climb.

I nearly didn’t get a drink in that village, though, because the shopkeeper at the first place I tried seemed to have no change! He showed me an empty wallet and a handful of coins such that he could not change a €10 note. Apart from that, entering that shop seemed to set me back 50 years, not the 5 minutes I was expecting to lose!

Ice cream stop
Looking up at the Hourquette d’Ancizan

I enjoyed seeing the rivers that ran along side the roads we descended. And coming off the Ancizan it was fun to see the donkeys, cows and horses that I had been expecting in the national park that I have ridden through before, but from the other side.

In fact “fun” is the operative word for today. Not so much at the beginning but the fun factor definitely increased as the day went on, culminating in seeing the preparations for the Fete des Mariolles (life-size figures) in Campan. They were everywhere, seemingly cheering us on!

Because of messing around taking photos I missed the first sitting for dinner and the bus to Tarbes by a few minutes. Never mind, I was happy to have taken my photos and it also meant that I had a massage while waiting for the second sitting. This is more likely to be tricky to get now that our numbers have swollen from 55 or so to 90 with an influx of people looking to do the four Pyrenees stages or the second half of the Tour.

While the heat did make the Peyresourde harder than it would have been, I am really happy with my hydration such that I again rode within my abilities. Indeed, the Hourquette d’Ancizan climb went so well that after a short while I found that I was powering up at a strong, consistent tempo which has given me a lot of encouragement.

Stage 11: Albi to Toulouse

Cycling summary

Breakfast: 06:30. Transfer: none. Start time: 08:03. Distance: 167km. Terrain: flat (2,050 metres climbing). Climbs: one Cat 3, one Cat 4. Finish: 16:22. Time in saddle: 7h29. Temp: 30C. Drinks: 4 litres.

Suffer scores: John 1/10. Wim 1/10.

Local lowdown

Toulouse is the home of the cassoulet and the Toulouse sausage, which some may have enjoyed. We are also now firmly in rugby country. But especially today, there has been an abundance of sunflowers.

Tale from the Tour

Post script to yesterday’s rest day – Albi is also home to a museum dedicated to Toulouse-Lautrec which I would also like to visit one day. One of his quotes is on the wall of the hotel where we were staying.

“I will drink milk when cows start grazing on grapes.” Until then, Deano is sticking to wine!

As mentioned, today was really all about sunflowers all the way. It was an easy ride, flat by Tour standards and not as tough as some training rides I have done, so all in all a good day. Temperature was fine, especially with a breeze, though Toulouse was hot at the end.

I was really pleased with a video I was able to make of the peloton whizzing past a field of sunflowers – a classic Tour shot. In doing so, this left me towards the back of the pack but I knew I would catch people up by the first feedstop. I was wrong! I had offered to ride with a backmarker but she was happy to wait for others so I continued. Unfortunately, I failed to spot an arrow straight after speaking to her so ended up doing an extra 6km before retracing my steps and getting going on the right course again. Oh well, nice day for it.

In among the sunflowers

One of the fields of sunflowers I passed while catching up to the group was wonderful, though sadly I could not take a photo to do it justice. A large semi-circle of sunflowers all looking towards a green “stage” in the middle. Glastonbury for sunflowers! It will just have to live on in my memory.

On other occasions I deliberately stopped to take the opportunity to take certain photos. It’s so easy to let opportunity pass and maybe that’s a general truism, not just related to photography. Where there is opportunity, it can be so fleeting that I think we either need to take it there and then or be prepared to accept that the moment has passed, but without regretting it. It’s a choice we make. This ride supports the William Wates Memorial Trust which gives opportunities to young people. Hopefully they will make the most of them and reap the benefits.

Several times I chose to stop when I could have sailed on, and I’m glad I did. Some shots without sunflowers:

Below looks like a green sprinter’s jersey from the Tour de France. It’s actually another field of sunflowers shaped like a jersey. Next week I am sure there will be a helicopter shot showing this as more of a yellow jersey – it is the 100th year of the yellow jersey after all, so something that is being celebrated.

That’s the end of today’s “sunflower special”. I am sure we will see more next week, but for now we have four stages in the Pyrenees to look forward to.

A really easy ride today, as reflected in the suffer scores.

Rest Day 1: Albi

I’ve been trying not to focus too much on the rest day while cycling as I find it best to remain in the groove rather than having the mind starting to wander and potentially tricking the legs into thinking that they can start to wind down! However, we are in Albi now and I slept deeply last night knowing that there was no riding to do.

I still got up quite early as there is a lot to do on rest day morning. Got up at 7am, got the laundry done, had a massage, then breakfast followed by bike cleaning. All done by 10:25, so time to rest up again before heading off for a most enjoyable lunch – goats cheese salad followed by a tournedos (accompanied by a glass of Bordeaux because the local red was not deemed suitable by the chef for the meal I had ordered!)

An opportunity to reflect on the first half of the Tour. For a start, it’s been the toughest route of the three “first halves” that I have done. That’s because it has been 10 days rather than 9 and there has been a lot more climbing (or it feels like it anyway). To counter that, we have had the best weather even though it has been extremely hot at times. Better that than very cold – in 2017 I had needed my winter jacket for a bit but it is so far untouched.

I don’t seem to have suffered so much (yet!) this time, which has allowed me to have more fun on the bike rather than feel it’s a total slog. Although previous trips have been fun too, the key differences are: better weather: a better bike setup (a 50-34 compact with 11-34 on the back for those who know/care); and the knowledge that I have already completed the route of the Tour de France once before. The knowledge that this trip is within my capabilities is of greater value than simply a belief that it was, which was my starting point in 2017.

Thought I would share some quirky photos:

Baboon tree – making sure the bibshorts are properly aired off.
Often seen on the side of the road at a zebra crossing
It’s been Charles’s birthday this week. Eat your heart out Moonpig!
Tan lines are coming along well

This afternoon I played the tourist a bit to take my mind off bikes and visited the Cathedral. What an absolutely stunning place that is, both outside and inside. Will have to come back and pay it a proper visit one day.

Mappa Mundi

That’s it, time for a nap now, to be followed by early dinner and an early night. Must make sure my head is back in the cycling groove tomorrow, but the respite has been welcome.

Stage 10: Saint-Flour to Albi

Cycling summary

Breakfast: 06:30. Transfer: none. Start time: 07:57. Distance: 218km. Terrain: flat (3,094 metres climbing). Climbs: three Cat 3, one Cat 4. Finish: 18:51. Time in saddle: 9h29. Temp: 28C. Drinks: 5 litres.

Suffer scores: John 4/10. Ceri 7/10.

Local lowdown

Saint-Flour was the finish town of my first ever Étape du Tour back in 2011. Nowadays just doing one stage of the Tour seems so tame! That had been a cold, wet and miserable day and I was glad to get on the bus at the end of it. As I recall, 7,000 signed up, 4,000 started and only 2,000 finished, so it was a great achievement to complete it. Today, though, we finish in the beautiful town of Albi, another UNESCO World Heritage site by virtue of its Cathedral, apparently the largest brick building in the world.

Saint Flour this morning

Tale from the Tour

The last stage of the first “week” – 10 days of back-to-back cycling. OK, so Stage 2 was a time trial but we still rode nearly 60km that day and it all counts.

In terms of distance we must be over halfway, but most of the climbing is still to come with the Pyrenees and then the Alps looming.

With that in mind, I determined that I would not ride on such a way that my “suffer score” would exceed 4. Some use power meters to gauge their effort but I’m not that sophisticated!

The rolling nature of the terrain meant that I was likely to drop behind my group constantly and I did not want to spend the day chasing back on each time I got dropped. However, I still ended up catching them and we rode together on the flatter sections this afternoon. The stage is laughingly termed a flag stage – with over 3,000 metres climbing! Not one for the pure sprinters next week perhaps.

I enjoyed the solitude of this morning and maybe it even helped to recharge my mental batteries. Riding well together also means the concentration levels are high, particularly when on busy roads. This all takes its toll and a morning by myself seems to have started the rejuvenation process that is required both physically and mentally.

I also enjoyed stopping and taking more photos than usual, shown below.

“King of the Mountain” socks, reminding me to take it easy.
Another reminder!

At one point we descended 500 metres very quickly and I just love the graphic that was used in the warming sign!

A great example of the hay bale sculptures that we see
Although this one was facing the wrong way

The temperature was mostly a very bearable 28C, though when we arrived at Rodez it was like someone opened an oven door! The wave of heat that hit me registered 38.5C, though thankfully not for very long.

Rodez in the distance
Charles enjoying the fountain on arrival in Albi!

A number of people have commented on how mentally fatigued they are, and that was true of Ceri also, my roommate for two nights.

Stage 9: Saint-Étienne to Brioude

Cycling summary

Breakfast: 06:30. Transfer: 0h35 (post ride). Start time: 07:57. Distance: 170km. Terrain: hilly (2,808 metres climbing). Climbs: one Cat 1, two Cat 3. Finish: 17:01. Time in saddle: 7h40. Temp: 28C. Drinks: 4 litres.

Thunderstorms: 0

Feedstops next to water: 4

Suffer score: John 5/10. Wim 7/10. James 6/10.

Local lowdown

Le Beaujolais nouveaux est arrivé! That’s one of the famous wines from around these parts anyway, and at the end of today we will be one step closer to arriving at a well-earned rest day! Meanwhile, Brioude is the home town of French favourite Romain Bardet and apparently a number of his training routes have been marked on the road with a distinctive “RB” logo. I didn’t spot any on our travels today, possibly because they have been covered by new tarmac or the numerous stretches of gravel that I expect will be swept or compacted before next week.

The Magnificent Seven

Tale from the Tour

Just to pick up on where I left off yesterday with the hail. On the news this morning they were reporting from other areas in the region where hailstones the size of onions were coming down – 9cm in diameter! I think we were lucky in comparison! Despite the odd shower yesterday, this is still very much the “Sunshine Tour de France”.

Preparing to set off. You might need both legs Roly!

Started off feeling strong this morning, which is odd given the distances we have covered so far. This is possibly because I rode within myself more yesterday, or was just generally having a good day today. The temperature was lower after the storms of yesterday, but still managed to rise to 36C again just as we were on the final climb of the day. Still, we were in time for the first bus to our hotel at tomorrow’s stage start so that we can begin our recovery straight away rather than hanging around at the finish for a bit.

Regrouping at the top

The main climb of the day was the Mur d’Aurec sur Loire, a Cat 1 that we climbed just after the first feedstop. Only about 3km but very steep, as the name suggests. The roadside marker claimed the average gradient for the last 200 metres was 12%, but I never saw less than 15%, so that was a lie! We regrouped at the top before continuing together, as much of the rest of the day was more rolling and it’s great to ride as a group.

Feedstop 1

Indeed, this evening our group riding was recognised by Emily, our lead rider, who awarded the day’s “arrow” (aka rider of the day) to Rob and Jenny, who instantly said they were receiving this on behalf of the group of course, which they didn’t have to. Well done both.

Another good day, one of the main features of which was that each feedstop was in a picturesque location near water. A swim would have been nice, but there will be time for that soon enough.

Feedstop 2
Feedstop 3
Feedstop 4

This has been a really tough first week, designed I am sure to soften up the pros who will be coming through. And it hasn’t ended! Normally the first rest day would be tomorrow, but it’s not a rule and this time we have a tenth straight day to ride before resting up in Albi.

Finishing straight in Brioude

Feeling good for most of the day and just a little tired at the end with the return of the heat so a slightly higher suffer score, but still pleased with how my tour has been going so far. Wim found it tough today and James said that he probably pushed too hard, but then tomorrow is his last day so he might as well go for it!

Stage 8: Mâcon to Saint-Étienne

Cycling summary

Breakfast: 05:45. Transfer: 1h00. Start time: 08:07. Distance: 199km. Terrain: hilly (3,800 metres climbing). Climbs: five Cat 2, two Cat 3. Finish: 20:29. Time in saddle: 10h28. Temp: 34C. Drinks: 6 litres.

Thunderstorms: 3.

Suffer scores: John 4/10. James 4/10.

Local lowdown

Not really a “local lowdown” today, but this is noteworthy for being the stage I nearly didn’t do. Today is graduation day for Babs, who has been studying for a diploma in Counselling for three years. Given how close we were to Lyon, I saw that it would be possible to take the first flight out to Heathrow and then the last flight back to Lyon. More important to celebrate success I thought. However, although it was feasible in theory, the cost of taxis was just prohibitive in the end, never mind the carbon footprint.

One small item of local news – we passed through the Capital of the Saucisson!

Tale from the Tour

Clearly the main story of the day is that it rained! Or rather, we had three lots of thunder, lightening and hailstones.

We had awoken to stormy clouds overhead and a warning that rain was forecast for later on in the day. Not a surprise really, as the weather had to break sometime, even if only for a short moment.

At feedstop 2 I thought that the rain would be a way off yet so didn’t bother taking a rain jacket. A matter of minutes after leaving I felt the first spot of rain this trip and then there was a massive crack of thunder. The roads were awash, making descending difficult and the hailstones were stinging my arms. Fortunately that didn’t last very long. For a while I was then a little chilly, but not cold, and by the time I was climbing again I had dried out.

I was not with my usual group today – the weather conditions saw to that. So I spent the day either on my own or in the company of others that I had not previously ridden with.

Temperature had dipped to below 20C, but on the two Cat 2 climbs after lunch I was in full sun and 34C again. So instead of my jersey being soaked with rain it was now once again soaked with sweat.

I could see storm clouds building once again as I approached the final feedstop. The first drop fell on me just as I was turning into it, and then it all clattered down. We took shelter in the van where there was a real cacophony of noise from the hail hitting the roof.

Before taking refuge in the van

We waited a long time for the storm to pass before we could see the skies clearing over the area we were headed. All thoughts of arriving at dinner for 8pm were abandoned, though we knew that a late arrival would not be a problem as the buffet would still be open.

Skies beginning to clear

Final stretch down into Saint Etienne to arrive at the hotel just as the first drop of rain from the third storm of the day hit me. Thank you Lord for your protection.

This was a thoroughly enjoyable day even if I was out for longer than anticipated. It was less fun for those unfortunate enough to receive the full brunt of the storms and ending up with bruised forearms as a result! For that reason, both me and tonight’s roommate James have given this a low suffer score. This is despite there being many more climbs than the seven categorised ones – maybe the route setters didn’t want to disclose their full hand concerning the challenges posed by this stage of the Tour.

Before I forget, in between all the thunder business, I did get to enjoy views of the Brouilly vineyards and passing through St Symphorien sur Coise.

As you can see, we had some decent weather too.

Stage 7: Belfort to Chalon-sur-Saône

Cycling summary

Breakfast: 06:30. Transfer: none. Start time: 08:05. Distance: 230km. Terrain: flat (2,600 metres climbing). Climbs: one Cat 3, two Cat 4. Finish: 19:29. Time in saddle: 9h16.

Suffer scores: John 6/10. Sharing with Daniel tonight. I know he’s back, but I’ve not seen him yet.

Local lowdown

A classic “transition” stage today, linking two bustling cities. We will pass through Ornans, which is the birthplace of Gustave Courbet in 1819 (happy 200th birthday Gustave!), a primary figure in the Realism movement. Babs and I are going on a painting weekend in August. She will be fine, being very artistic. I can barely do matchstick men! Temp: 36C. Drinks: 7.5 litres.

Tale from the Tour

Long, hot and uninteresting route today, but at least that’s the longest stage of the Tour out of the way. The best thing about today was the group riding between the seven of us that got us through.

So without much in the way of scenery or incident, this was a case of: Rotate rotate rotate. Feedstop 1. Rotate rotate rotate. Feedstop 2. Rotate rotate rotate. Feedstop 3. Rotate rotate rotate. Feedstop 4. Rotate rotate rotate. Beer!

Yes, it was as dull as that but there’s always one like this and now it’s done.

There were two highlights – two of the feedstops had fountains and water troughs where we could dunk our heads in to cool down!

Otherwise, the Coca Cola stop at some point in the afternoon really helped too.

On a more general point I have previously commented on negative reactions to us from some motorists. This is more than outweighed by positive reactions from many others. For example, the people waving to us and cheering us on from their doorsteps, the young boys holding their hands out for us to high-five them on our way past and the crocodile of primary school children in their high-viz vests (“gilets jaune”, but not the protester variety) all with big smiles on their faces and cheering us on.

Bill and Mrs Bill say “hi” too!

I think that mentally I am in a good place so although it was a hard day, it was one I was expecting. Had the weather been as poor as 2017, then no doubt my suffer score would have been higher. Wim said his score for yesterday was 9 to my 7. I still think there are harder days to come!

Stage 6: Mulhouse to La Planche des Belles Filles

Cycling summary

Breakfast: 06:00. Transfer: before stage 0h45, after stage 0h45. Start time: 07:38. Distance: 157km. Terrain: mountain (3,740 metres climbing). Climbs: four Cat 1, one Cat 2, two Cat 3. Finish: 18:16. Time in saddle: 8h57. Temp: 30C (25C in the forests). Drinks: 6 litres.

Dinners: 2. Tarte aux myrtilles: 2.

Suffer scores: John 7/10. Roomie – see below.

Local lowdown

We are very close to Germany (and indeed to Switzerland also) when we are in Mulhouse and the whole area has a very Germanic feel because, well, it was once German. Today we end up at the very top of La Planche des Belles Filles, with the final few hundred metres now having been gravelled. If you check back to my post from May this year, you will see that I did not like this final climb very much so it’s anyone’s guess as to what will happen today.

Are we nearly there yet?

Tale from the Tour

Well what a superb day today was! Some early group riding again and we don’t seem to have annoyed people. After the first feedstop I mostly rode on my own as I gradually slipped off the back of my group, which was fine and to be expected. I can only climb and descend at my own speed and on this kind of terrain there’s not much drafting benefit to be had anyway.

Grand Ballon refers to the mountain, not the sphere

We approached the Grand Ballon via Markstein which I have only descended before. Decided to go into the cafe at the top where I had taken refuge from a thunderstorm two years ago. The tarte aux myrtilles was just as delicious as before.

The Vosges never fails to disappoint. I have previously referred to it as the cyclists’ playground and it’s just got even better with so much new tarmac. Sometimes it’s so fresh that stones stick to the tyres, which ultimately could cause a problem. The trick while still riding is to put your hand on the tyre lightly and knock the stones off without slicing your fingers open!

The next major climb was the Ballon d’Alsace, which again I have ridden but from the opposite direction – today I think we did the steeper side. Hard work, but enjoyable.

Celebrating the first winner of the climb to Ballon d’Alsace in 1904. The organiser thought the climb would be impossible

Lunch, and time to eat again. Delicious as usual and I was ready for it – unlike this morning at breakfast when I knew I had to eat but had to force it down as my body just wasn’t ready for it. First time that has happened this tour.

Before we hit our final climb of the Planche des Belles Filles, there was the small matter of Col des Chevreres which I had overlooked. Only 3.5km (short for a Cat 1) but horribly steep and with lots of loose gravel which seems like it has only recently been put down. A real challenge, especially with the lack of shade and temperatures hitting 34C at times though mostly it was less than that today.

My time was nearly double that!

Then finally finally, the Planche. I was not quick up that climb, determined to keep something in reserve to at least have a crack at doing the top section. In the event, it turned out that the surface was now a smaller grade of gravel and closely packed. Wheel still slipped at times, but I was delighted with the condition of the road because I now thought that completing it was achievable – and I did it!

Thoroughly chuffed with my achievement

Only had 20 minutes to consume my dinner (which I wasn’t ready for), but on the plus side it meant that I was on the first bus down to our hotel in Belfort, from where we start our ride tomorrow, meaning that we get a bit of a lie in. Oh, and when we got to the hotel it was time for beer, burger and massage. Probably only one of those was absolutely necessary. I will leave you to work out which one!

I’m scoring this as 7 because of the unexpected toughness of the penultimate climb. Wim has left me for James to share with him for a few nights (they rode and roomed together last year, so fair enough). Richard, my roommate tonight arrived back more than two hours after me, so now is not the time to ask him foolish questions about suffer scores!