When I was looking at riding with The Tour 21 my friend Mike warned me the there were ‘No Flat Stages on the Tour De France’ what he didn’t tell me was that some of the ‘Hilly’ stages are as bad as the mountain stages – if not worse! Mountain stages are typically 150 Kilometres (100 miles) and 11,000+ feet of climbing, today was 125 miles and still over 11,000 feet of climbing. There were four Category 3 climbs and a Category 2, and any number of climbs that were worse than the Category 4 climbs back in Denmark, especially the ride up to Le Bouchet Saint Nicholas from Le Puy-En-Valey which climbed 1500 metres in 25 Kilometres (6%), it must have been just outside the official categorisation calculations.
The day didn’t start very well, the Tour 21 team have organised all our hotels and ensure they have all the facilities we need, and importantly they are near the start of the next stage. Unfortunately, this wasn’t helpful last night, no one had expected the heat we have had in the last few days especially at night. It has been over 30 degrees in the day and over 20 degrees sometimes at night, and last night it was so hot I had to sleep with the window open. Being near the stage start the hotel was in the middle of the city with a lot of noise. So whilst the hotel was perfectly good I didn’t get much sleep and finally woke up in the morning with a sore throat from the dry air. This was not the perfect start to the day and if I have learn anything over the last few days about the professional riders is that there is a lot more to this race that riding the bike. There is the psychological side with the deflation coming off the adrenaline mountains, then there is the rest that you can (or cannot) get, they all affect your ability to ride so I was not looking forward to the day after my disrupted night.
We ride our bikes on our own, there is no one to turn the pedals for us or lean just the right amount round the corners, but cycling is very much a team sport and today our team were amazing. Despite being tired, I rode with the fast group and was looked after all the way. I took my share on the front but being with a group who ride well together gives you an extra 4 or 5 kph and makes 200 kilometres feel like 175. The day started lumpy and got worse, but in a rhythm with good support everything was OK. I even managed a couple of Crowns on Strava (or fastest of any rider – ever) On a downhill section between Laubert and Badaroux we were in a long line descending round wide corners at speed for 5 kilometres, we averaged 60 kph (38mph) and maxed out at 73kph (45 mph), at the end I was the fastest woman ever down the hill and 39th of all the men, I somehow think that will be different when the Tour de France comes through next week.
The last section was a challenge, 3km at 10% from the town of Mende up to the Airport 300 meters above. At the end of a week riding in the Alps in the heat, this last climb was not what any of us needed but when you know the end is at the top of that hill you concentrate on you rhythm and making sure your efforts don’t take you in to the red zone, and 20 minutes later you are at the top. After the ride back down to the bus it was a two hour transfer to Rodez for tomorrows start, a late dinner meant I was not in bed until 10:30pm but after last night was looking forward to a good nights sleep. Tomorrow is the last day before our rest day in Carcassonne, I’ve already got a massage booked and am looking forward to the break, just the 200 kilometres of Stage 15 in the way.