Sunday, 28 August 2016

Haute Route Day 1: The view from the back

Wow, what a day. Incredible scenery, amazing climbs and a great spirit of shared purpose among the more than 400 cyclists who took on the challenge of the Haute Route Alps.

I met Sinya from Japan, the well named Steep and his four colleagues from Costa Rica, Olga and her team of ten from Russia and a group of 15 from Brazil. There were cyclists from just about every country in the developed world, the most international group I’ve probably ever been with.

We started with the Col de Nice. At 414 m it was described at the briefing as a mere “pimple”, not worth worrying about. This pimple is a fair bit higher than any hill in Southern England, but it did serve as a very nice appetiser.

Next came the beginning of the Col de Turini. As we rode up its initial 8% and 9% inclines, mainly in the shade and with little traffic, I discussed the consciousness of the brain, new atheism and the politics of health with cyclists of many nations. While taking in amazing views of the beginnings of the Alps. A joyous experience.

By comparison with the steep initial climb, the top is fairly flat. As a group of Canadian doctors sped past, I joined on the end. It seemed a good group to be with in case of difficulty. There were anaesthetists, heart surgeons. One of them is even able to do a little light brain surgery if needed. And Terry is the oldest person on the Haute Route at 65.

This felt fabulous. By the time I reached the 1,607 m peak I had hardly been out of breath. Could this epic challenge really be achievable and even rather fun?

But then I failed to keep up with my colleagues in Team Happy on the descent and found myself alone and in a fair bit of traffic. And, as we started up the Col de St Martin I started to bonk. (I should mention that “bonking” is the cycling term for running out of energy. So if I ever say I bonked at the top of the mountain, please don’t get the wrong impression.)

I waited, drank, ate my energy bars and willed myself to get back on. I pass through a charming village (St Martin-something), with a market and open air cafes. It is a tempting sight, but it is clear I am close to the cut-off time and need to keep going.

On to the top of the 1,500 metre Col de St Martin. About the most discussion I had on that one was “muy alto, muy caliente” with Street. That was a tough climb.

After a stunning descent through a beautiful alpine valley my colleague Toby, who had waited for me at the top, gathered together a group of stragglers into an effective peloton and took us up the valley towards Auron.

But I had to drop out, after 68 miles, two huge mountains and over 10,000 ft of climbing. I had not taken enough account of the heat, which was now at 35 degrees, and really should have got through more liquid. Suffering from dehydration, with a bloated stomach and mild delirium I sat by the roadside to rest. Nope, not so easy after all.

This is a well organised event. Within 10 minutes I had a mechanic, a doctor and a passing motorist helping me out. The doctor gave me a pill and advised to wait for the Haute Route bus to take me to the finish, to rest and try again tomorrow. It means my chance of a podium place is gone but I can live with that. I still get to ride the next six days, and to realise what a challenge this is. And I still got the free (and much needed) massage.

Tomorrow we start with the Col de Bonette, the second highest road in Europe at 2,715 metres (8,959 ft). That’s quite a climb, and its only the first of three. It should be fun. As long as I drink a lot more water.

Am hoping for cooler weather and even a bit of rain!

See also: Day 1Day 2Day 3Day 4Day 5Day 6Day 7Reflections

1 comment:

Mike Barron said...

Well done!! especially for recognising that you needed to stop.
I can speak from experience on the heat and the need to take plenty of fluids on board.

Keep it up.