Friday, 2 September 2016

In the shadow of Mont Blanc

Topping the Roseland with Francisco
First, check out today's official Haute Route video

Day 6 should be a breeze compared to yesterday. Just 3,400 metres of climbing and three cols: the 1270m Col de Tra, 1,968 m Cormet de Rosland and 1,650m Col de Sasies. Rosland first appeared in the Tour in 1979 and has been in 9 times since. Sasies last featured in 2010, when Pineau won.

One unexpected challenge is sleep. I thought I’d be flat out for 10 hours a night but I’ve woken at 4.30 every day until now. This morning I slept through until woken at 5.25 to find all my roommates had already gone to breakfast. This for a start of 7.30, what is it it with these folk?

As we went up the penultimate climb yesterday I mentioned to Clayton that I was finding it tough. “I’m just out for a ride, following the instructions from my power meter”, was his response.

Now I do not own a power meter, a garmin or even a heart monitor. I had some vague idea about going with the body’s natural feelings and now realise how na├»ve I was. I long for the strange benefit of a machine that can tell me how fast I am able to cycle at the moment.

I did have what is known as a threshold test, at the Olympics velodrome on their Watt bikes. My average power output over 20 minutes was 295 watts. To get your power to weight ratio, the crucial measure, you multiply this by 0.91 (no, no idea why) and divide it by your weight. Mine was 3.6 watts per kilo.

Breakfasting with Miles, the 18 year old wunderkind we have befriended, I mention this. “Wow, that’s good. Why aren’t you higher up the field?”. He checks my latest Box Hill time on Strava and confirms I really ought to be doing better here.

Maybe I am not pushing myself enough. Perhaps this is the day I will make a break and ride up the rankings. Perhaps even top 300? (I was 375 yesterday out of 386, with a further 29 who didn’t make the cut off time.)

Though there are people here who have hired their own “domestique”, or assistant. Not only do they lead them up mountains, they carry their food and – as we pass them – we hear them giving instructions. “Now 85 rpm, go for zone 3 for the next 10 minutes”. Maybe I am doing rather well compared to all these people with mechanic and human support.

Though yesterday I did have the cryotherapy treatment, of which we all get one free session during the week. You go in a chamber, almost naked, with your head above and they reduce the temperature to minus 141 degrees. Yes, 141 degrees below freezing. As I start to shiver and shudder I realise I have no idea why this this is meant to do any good.

“Do you work with people like Froome and Quintana”, I ask. “No, I do not work with Sky and Movistar (their teams)”, he says with disdain, “I only work with French teams”. It is a very French response. I am very relieved when the 3 minutes is up and he opens the door. Has it had any effect? We may see today.

The first climb is similar to yesterday but I am struggling. I try to hold Mia’s wheel again but she makes a break at 6km to go, and I start slipping. I hold Jason’s for a while but fall off and eventually get through to the top with Toby. This is not feeling good, I leave the feed station just 2 minutes ahead of the cut-off and wondering if I can keep up. My legs don’t seem to have it today.

Beginning the descent from Col de Tra
Another glorious descent through wooded valleys and we are soon on to the base of Roselend. I am no longer looking for a faster time, just to get through. And stuff the solitude of the mountains, I need to talk to someone.

I have already had a fascinating conversation with Nathan, our resident Vicar. He is a Unitarian and explains how it has no creed, includes people of all faiths and is based on commitments. Behaviour not beliefs. Fascinating stuff.

Francisco from Sao Paulo comes by and he is a joy. We discuss the Presidential impeachment and Brazilian politics. I try to explain Brexit and he explains how their corruption is being finally dealt with by Judge Moro. The miles fly by as we ascend into classic alpine villages, with the snow covered peaks of Mont Blanc appearing in the background. We both agree it was so much easier to talk our way to the top, and the day is feeling easier.

The 22km descent includes the most beautiful ice-blue reservoir, and more glorious woodland scenes. As we ascend Saisies I find myself with James, Scott from Vancouver and we are joined by Richard from Woking. James feels he has the legs today and cycles ahead.
The view to Mont Blanc
We have the most glorious one hour cycle up the mountain. None of us are looking for special times. We ascend steadily, enjoying the amazing scenery and generally shooting the breeze. It is an absolute joy. The 905 metre climb feels almost effortless.

However we may have relaxed too much. Time is tight and we leave the feed station with 1 minute to cut off. A speedy descent and we have 10km to go on a “false flat”, a 2% ascent. It is crucial to work as a team and we have been joined by David from the UK and Davida from Denver. We get a very effective chain gang together, sharing timer at the front, and speed up the valley. We end up 15 minutes ahead of cut-off. I feel exhausted but very satisfied.
A happy chain gang: me, Scott, David, Richard
I had also laid off the chocolate bars today, switching to bananas, dried apricots and fruit. Maybe eating healthy does actually help.

Just one day to go. One rider comments that he is looking forward to arriving at Lake Geneva and jumping naked into the lake. But he is German. I think most of us will keep our cycling shorts on. 

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