L'Etape du Tour - the Terrible Mountain

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L'Etape du Tour - the Terrible Mountain

Postby bobhill » Tue Aug 12, 2014 10:56 am

The Col du Tourmalet lived up to its name of 'the Terrible Mountain' for this edition of the Etape!

There were three of us who went to Pau on a three night package with Sports Tours for the Etape - Mike Harper, Iain Masson and myself. It started in Pau heading south east to climb the Tourmalet before the final climb of the Hautacam - total of 148km. Weather forecast was bad with 100% chance of thunderstorms, but it started dry, bright and 20C, and that held for the first 70km to Campan. The rain then started so waterproof and cap on. It started heavy and did not stop. I stopped at the Sports Tours feed station just after Campan and sheltered there for quite a while. Eating a lot but just really hoping that the rain would ease. Of course it turned cold and there was a small group of Brits who stopped at the feed and asked for the Sports Tours people to give them their anorak. Really quite insistent! One of the guys eventually gave up his anorak and was left with shorts and tee shirt. The guy who put the anorak on looked in a bad way.
I set off in the rain on got on to the ascent of the Tourmalet - the road was running like a river and there were riders coming back down who were obviously packing it in.
I stopped at the sports tours feed at La Mongie, got something to eat and put on one of their 'white bin bag' type of waterproofs. I intended to stop at the top of the climb to compose myself but just went over the top and started the descent.
It was a lot worse than the climb, still chucking it down, road flooded, poor visibility as in the cloud, temp down to 4c, with some cyclists actually walking down at the side of the road. It was scary going round the hairpins, full on the brakes as everyone seemed to be. There was a big group of cyclists in a shelter about 3km down trying to warm up. A lot of riders stopped at Bareges, 10km down in a cafe trying to warm up (Mike Harper included) and ambulances outside collecting riders suffering from Hyperthermia. I intended to stop at the bottom in Saveur for a coffee but just rode through. My hands and arms were frozen. Tried to warm up on the valley ride to the bottom of Hautacam but I was still chittering when I got to the feed there. The ground was bone dry and all the servers were in tee shirts, my hands were shaking. I really did not intend to go on. The coaches were just a mile from there.

I just kept eating and drinking and did some warmup exercises. I thought 'how bad can it be?'. I was about to find out. I had been up the Hautacam previously and did not remember it as a very difficult climb but it was extremely difficult at the end of that Etape. It is 17km with many kms at an average of 10% with ramps at 13 and 14%. I struggled up the climb with a brief stop to take waterproofs off and finished in 8:45 sporting my Ythan jersey. Mike was in 7:58 and Iain in 7:39. My cycling time was 7:40 so i stopped for more than an hour. It was certainly my worst experience on a bike. Met Andy Brailsford at the Sports Tours coaches at the bottom of Hautacam, he finished in 8:21.

There were 10,000 starters and 8,450 finishers. I was in position 6,400 for the ride and position 5,200 for the climbs of Tourmalet and Hautacam. I really did not expect to finish this ride so I was very happy with that. The descent off Tourmalet was way beyond dangerous. The mountain was deserted apart from the descending cyclists.

We transferred to Argeles on the monday and stayed 5 nights in a really good cyclists hotel. Out cycling every day and went up Soulour, Aubisque, Luz Ardiden, Cautert and Pont de Espange, all good climbs. We saw the Tour going up Hautacam on the Thursday and then climbed it on the friday, and it was a very hard climb.

Weather was really good for the remainder of the week but very changeable, rapidly. A great week apart from that ride on The Terrible Mountain!
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Re: L'Etape du Tour - the Terrible Mountain

Postby Colin A » Tue Aug 12, 2014 7:36 pm

Sounds horrific, well done to the four Ythanites who completed it.
May I remind you of that scene
with your arms aloft in Aberdeen
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Colin A
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Re: L'Etape du Tour - the Terrible Mountain

Postby Chris C » Tue Aug 12, 2014 8:10 pm

Well done Bob, RTN will be a doodle after this experience.
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