Stage 13 was a strange day, after the adrenaline filled climbs and descents of the last two days, the apprehension we felt before we started each of those mountain stages was gone, todays flat stage was a bit of an anti-climax to events. It was not that we thought this next stage would be easy because it wasn’t, we just knew that we wouldn’t have that feeling of elation of conquering the gradients. That said, it turned in to an interesting day for some good and bad reasons.
With a 7:30am start, we were again up early, the life of a cyclist is one that is on the go all the time. Even though this was a flat stage, it would still be a long day. Our hotel last night was the best so far, gifts on arrival, the hotel staff had put my bag was in the room for when I arrived, and the room and shower were amazing, I would have loved to stay longer but we had to go so it was down to the carpark to get ready but well rested from our night in the Chamois D’or. Andy and Loz had come across from their hotel to say goodbye, not only were we leaving, they were on their way back to the UK also, so it was the last I will see of Loz on the trip, but Andy will be back for the Pyrenees.
To some the start may have seemed easy, a descent down the 14km Alpe D’ Heuz climb which we came up last night, but it was early morning, the sun had not warmed up the air yet and there was a lot on dew and moisture on the cars. We were warned by our ride leaders to take it in case the corners were greasy, and there were 21 hairpins to negotiate so it would be a nervous start. The cold was the worst bit, the chill of the air is 10 times worse when going at speed down hill, so we had to wear our gillets, some had full gloves and buffs on, and a good job too, after temperatures of the last few days over 30 degrees it was a shock to the system. Going down we had the chance to view some of the sights we missed yesterday as we were concentrating on the climb. On some of the corners were massive jerseys of the race winners – easily 40 feet tall – Yellow, Green, White, I didn’t spot the Polka dot but it must have been there somewhere. Campervans were dotted all the way down as people were grabbing their space to watch the race next week, faint outlines of words written on the road from the supporters of previous visitors. But by far the best was the view, at the top you got the perspective of the size of the climb, the village we climbed up from was so tiny and across the valley mountain easily the same height as us. It is a wonderous sight, in the early morning sun the shadows covered some areas, but others were brightly light, on the top of the mountains there were patches of snow, and in the valley the green of the trees and grass made it an out of this world sight.
As we got to the bottom, we got rid of our layers, but there was soon some bad news, Luke who had already been suffering with a bad knee and made a mammoth effort yesterday to complete the climbs, had taken a fall, a mechanical issue had jammed his back wheel and gears. Worse still it happened right in front of Rhett and he crashed in to him. Fortunately neither were seriously injured. Luke would have to go on to the spare bike, although it would have to be set up for him first. I feel for Luke, he has put so much effort in to his training and fundraising, throughout the ride he has been suffering with an injured knee and yesterday when I looked at his knee, I thought there was no way he would climb three HC climbs, but as with all of us he is driven by the desire to reach that £1,000,000 target, he rode the full stage in agony. Now this – Luke is not having the best of times, but I am sure he will force himself onwards to Paris.
After taking off the layers we were off toward Grenoble, down through the valley it was either flat or down hill so it was fast and easy going, a bit slow and congested through Grenoble though. All of a sudden the mountains were gone and we were on the flat plains below heading towards Lyon. In front it was perfectly flat, behind the mountains rose out of nowhere, not a gradually building up in height, just sharp rocky masses rising up from nowhere like a great wall.
Heading North-West to Lyon, soon the route changed to the South-West and we stopped by the river at Vienne for lunch, before the Category 3 Climb of Cote De Saint Romain En-Gal. We had already had another Category 3 and a Category 2 climb, but compared to the last 2 days, these were straightforward. The Cote De Saint Romain En-Gal was 4.4% for 6.6 kilometres, as we came round the last bend there was a car on the crest of the hill, a Tour 21 flag hanging from the boot and two people relaxed on deck chairs having a drink, Who would come to the remote place to watch us go by – It was Andy and Loz, to the surprise of everyone not just me, just sat there where no one was expecting them to be, I’d have to explain to everyone that this was the sort of thing these two get up to all the time and we should expect it again sometime, joking with us all as we went by, it was a welcome boost on a day where we felt a little deflated from leaving the Alps. They joined us at the rest stop just a few kilometres down the road, explaining that they had noticed we were only 20 kilometres away from us when travelling home, so decided to take a small detour.
Where we had stopped we could see the faint outline of the Alps behind us and a couple of horses were getting fed some apples others from the team, I took the chance to sit on one of the wooden deck chairs. Soon the rest was over and we were off on our way, with Loz and Andy heading in the other direction towards the UK with a planned stop for the night around Dijon. For us it was Saint-Étienne, but not before a final climb of over 20 Kilometres, not categorised but after the days in the Alps and a long day today it was a hard slog to the finish.
When we got to Saint-Étienne I opened a present that Andy had given me in the morning to celebrate completing the Alps and heading off on our transition stages to the Pyrenees. It was a little miniature cyclist, the bike painted like mine, and the rider in the Cure Leukaemia Kit. How fantastic, the detail was amazing, a pink cap, a cobbled road, even my green gloves – I just hope I don’t damage it on the way home in my case.