Saturday, 29 June 2019

Stage 1 (Saturday): Day One Done


Stage 1 of the Tour de France was advertised as a flat, 194.5 km course south of Brussels in the middle region of Belgium, featuring one notable climb: the iconic Mur de Grammont. Turns out, flat does not mean flat in the Tour. In total, I climbed almost 2,000 meters today, but that wasn’t the challenging part of the day.

Stage 1 Route Map

The cobblestone on the route was the challenging part – an unpleasant surprise and a significant hurdle that I didn’t see coming. My first exposure to cobblestone was shortly after we departed from our hotel. Riding cobblestone for five hundred meters may not seem like a long distance but when your entire body is bouncing – no, scratch that – your entire body is crashing up and down on your bike, you feel every centimeter. I was glad when it over but as it turns out, it was only a small taste of what lay ahead.
Me, at the top of 'The Wall'
The Mur de Grammont ('Mur' means 'Wall') was my second exposure to a cobblestone road and what crazy ride that was. Short and a little tricky, this famous climb almost had me popping unwanted wheelies at the 20% pitch point. I made it to the top in one piece and the view of the city was worth the effort. At this point into the ride I was really having a lot of fun.
Still early in the day, the weather was not yet a factor but, as it turns out, it soon would be. A heatwave has settled into Europe and the forecast for today was 37C (in the shade). Dehydration was a real issue for all riders, some even suffered dizziness and vomiting. Thankfully my coach and I discussed this the night before and the plan she laid out worked brilliantly. I took salt pills every hour and drank pretty much non-stop. Even then I believe I was borderline dehydrated.

How the pros climb 'The Wall'. The fans pull them :)
But the 9.5 hours of blazing heat was still not that hardest part. Nor was getting lost twice and adding 20 km to my already very long “flat” ride. The hardest part was a dreadfully lengthy, very steep descent on, you guessed it, cobblestone. This technically challenging slope is not on the tour. It was a detour due to road maintenance for the Tour. Argh! I was petrified the entire time, which felt like forever. The uneven narrow road, the descending grade, and my lack of experience on cobblestone had me freaking out. My wrists hurt like hell from leaning forward and carrying my entire weight, and my fingers were seizing up from hammering on my brakes the whole way down. This one bit of the ride would become the highlight or, I should say, the lowlight of every rider on this day.
You would think that was end of it, but unfortunately it wasn’t. There was still one more crazy, incredibly long flat stretch of that evil stone. Cobblestone should be banned from the earth. All in all, my takeaway from cobblestone riding is I would rather climb it or even ride it on the flats (as painful as that was), but descending cobblestone is strictly for crazy people.
With all that said, I had an absolute blast today. Yes, it was a hard day but I found a good group of guys to ride with. Five men from all over the world who let me tuck in behind their wheel and who were pleasantly surprised that I could pull my share too.
Day one done.


3 comments:

  1. Omg what a grueling adventure. And that you can still say you had a blast....now that's a testimony to your endurance, your strength and your belief in yourself...������

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