Today we’re all joining the Tour de Alpes, a week-long sportive with different rides every day up different Alps. It started Sunday, so we’re just doing a couple of days of it. Unfortunately, I’m discovering that the twisty roads here make me sick as a dog, so by the time we get to Beaufort, the town where today’s ride starts, I have to dash to the bathroom to puke my guts out. An excellent way to start today’s climb!
The plan is that because I’m still suffering from PCDD, I’m going to ride up the mountains as much as I feel like riding, then head back down and meet Chris and Amy in Beaufort, while the others will try to make it to the end of the day’s route, in Courchevel. As with all these rides, they start out either straight up or straight down – today we’re straight up the Col du Pre, described as “mythical” by the Beaufort Tourism Board. To the uninitiated, “mythical” is the French way of saying “brutally steep and harsh and pukingly long” - just an FYI.
Off I go, from this beautiful little town, to conquer my first real Alp, whee! I set off earlier than the rest of the group, as they’re still getting ready and I’m going up a slightly different road, which has less traffic. Soon enough, the climb is at 8%, typical around here, and the French are lovely enough to put markers at each km telling you just how steep the next km is, and how far you have to go. I have myself psyched up for a tough 5 mile climb, as I’m pretty sure that’s what Chris said, 8km or so before the reservoir, that you bike around before going up to Roseland. 5 miles, piece of cake.
Thoughts that randomly pop into my head over the next 15km:
· Shit, this is hard. Why did I ever think this was a good idea?
· Damn those French bastards! Here they are claiming this is 7%, and my Garmin is holding steady at 12%. Oh, I get it, you average in that one section at 4%, and somehow you get 7%. Right.
· What the hell, a whole MILE at 12%? You’re joking, right? Then 14%? Shit.
· Need water, can’t stop. Shit. Oh wait, is this a town up ahead? It is, it is! Little town of Le Tetaz, you are the BEST town in the whole world! Even though you consist of just one B&B, it doesn’t matter. The road here is kind of flat, that’s all I need.
· Another cyclist just passed by and gave me an “Allez!” as he did so – I wonder if that’s a form of encouragement, or more of a “kind of moving at glacial speed there, eh?” comment. Hmm.
· 4 miles down, just 1 more to go. I can do this.
· Hmm, just passed 5 miles. Maybe it’s closer to 6?
· Hate those French….fuck, fuck fuck…..…
And so on. At one point I stop because I think it’s a flattish section – but no, it’s the optical illusion you get after you’ve been climbing at 14%, and then it turns to 8% and you think it’s flat. But it’s not, so you can’t clip in, so you stand there with camera in hand so that you look like a dumbass taking pictures rather than a dumbass who can’t clip back in taking pictures.
I do manage to get going again, then stop once again at a mere 5% grade to see what kind of sustenance I have, since I’m over an hour in at this point. When I realize I made a tactical error in bringing just one bottle of Infinit, and no plain water. Because that means I can’t use my GU, not without water. Shit. I rummage around in my pockets to see what else I have. Nothing, nothing…..aha, here we are! A Slim Jim!! Food of the gods, kids, food of the gods…..
At mile 8, I start to wonder if I somehow missed the reservoir that Chris was talking about. Was there a turnoff I didn’t see because I was concentrating on the road and on trying to not have a heart attack? At mile 9, I decide that maybe Chris was speaking figuratively, talking about the “reservoir” of good feeling that the French people have towards cyclists in general. At mile 10, where I’ve passed yet another switchback and am starting to worry about getting down and have been out of water for a while, I stop and decide to turn around and head back down. I take some pictures, fill up my water bottle from one of the places where it’s trickling down the side of the mountain, and start heading down, only to discover a few things:
· You pick up a hell of a lot of speed on 14% grades
· The ground is wet, which makes it hard to slow down or stop
· I’m still a chickenshit
· And oh yeah, today’s problem – the cleat on my left shoe is coming off. So I can’t even clip in properly anymore.
I try coasting down a bit with only one foot clipped in, but that’s a little scary while going around curves. Finally, I just resign myself to walking down, the whole 10 or so miles. I’m not even upset about it at this point. I mean, what can you do? I’m clearly an Alpinian failure when it comes to descending, and such is life.
I’m clumping my way down the hill, trying to not totally dislodge my cleat which is just dangling from my shoe at this point, when lo, who should come rumbling up the road? Yes, it’s Chris and the red van! Sweet! At this point we have things down like clockwork, as we load up the van with my bike and I hop in.
Chris: We were having coffee and wondering what happened to you.
Me, glumly: I lost a cleat.
Chris: How far did you get?
Me: Well, I kept going and going, and didn’t see the reservoir, so eventually I decided to turn around, about 10 or 11 miles in.
Chris: You didn’t see the reservoir?
Me: No, I started to think you didn’t mean reservoir in a literal sense….
Chris: Oh, you can’t miss it – let’s go up so you can see it.
We drive up, and Chris notes that I did get to the top of the Alp when I point out where I turned around – and there, about ¼ mile past that, is this vast reservoir, beautiful and impossible to miss. That evening, I discover that I’m not the only one who thought Col du Pre was unusually hard – even Stacey keeps referring to it as “that horrendous climb”, which sums it up nicely. Still, an Alp is an Alp, and Miss Tasha – yours truly – made it up an Alp. Not bad for a kid from the sticks, living a hardscrabble existence until……ech, you get the point. I’ll chalk today up as a victory in the grand scheme of things, thank you very much….