Thursday, 11 July 2019

Stage 12 (Thursday): Rookies


I’d like to grumble for a moment. Breakfast is a shit show. Picture it: close to 100 really hungry guys, heading for a really tiny restaurant. I thought it was bad when there were 70 of us. Now there are no available tables in sight, no plates, no cutlery, and no scrambled eggs – they're long gone.


But I’m getting good at this, so I grab what I can hold in one hand (cheese, meat slices, bread), skip the coffee because the lines are too slow, nab a clean coffee cup in the other hand as it comes out of the kitchen, dump two hard boiled eggs into it, and head out to the parking lot. Breakfast on the road. :)

Laundry, Le Loop Style
Today’s stage is a mountain stage. We have seven of these in total and this is number two: Toulouse to Bagnères-de-Bigorre. It’s the first high-altitude stage, right in the heart of the Pyrenees. It will be about 135 km before we reach the mountain climbs, which means late in the day when the sun is at it’s hottest. Pacing is our priority and it needs to be tight if we’re going make it over the mountains and to the end of our 216 km day (“bonus miles” always put us over the km’s that the Pros do).

There are a lot of “fresh legs” on this stage: new arrivals, full of energy ready to have fun. We try to hang on to their wheels but we know we’ll burn ourselves out if we do. Maybe we’ll catch up to them after the heat whacks ‘em. Heh heh.

The first mountain was Col De Peyresourde with its 13 km long climb at 7% average. It was hot, hot, hot. I stopped twice to dunk my cap and helmet in the running water that flows from small concrete “bowls” set by the roadside. I wonder if they’ve been built for riders or the goats that seem to be everywhere. In any case, it helped immensely.

A few riders succumbed to the crazy heat and needed vehicle assistance getting up the to top. The music from my phone and the gorgeous views kept me going. I have a playlist of songs with a great beat that match my cadence. The switchbacks were really cool too. I could see riders in the far distance climbing, which messed with my perspective. It looked like they where climbing a 50% grade!

Helping me get through the nights...
I got to the top of the first mountain and wondered if I could climb the next mountain. It was shorter, only 9 km long, but the grade was a bit higher. I figured I would try and let my legs rest on the decent. The second climb was much nicer. It was noticeably cooler and very shaded. There are already caravans starting to line the roads in anticipation of the Pros flying by them 7 days from now. Talk about dedication to the sport!

The day ended with a 30 km descent which blew my mind. The roads were virtually empty and I rode it alone, singing my tunes out-loud. Five kilometers from the end of my ride, a rider pulls along side of me. The descent was now almost flat and I was going about 40 km/hr. He yells out: “hold on,” with a smile. I settled in behind his wheel, and we flew. It was exhilarating, reaching speeds of almost 60 km/hr on the flats. I felt like a Pro. It was super cool. 
My day ended with a strong sense of accomplishment. I’m getting used to the climbs, the heat, and pacing myself to last throughout the day. I settled into dinner with the Loopers, and there was a sense of elation as we hoisted our beers and celebrated our day. 
Anyone see the new arrivals anywhere? :)

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