Today was our last mountain stage, it would be wrong of me to say that when we finished that’s it, the next stages are straight forward and we’ll easily do them. However, we have already lost 4 of our team, so nothing is certain. Niall was due to meet us back at the hotel at the end if today’s ride, whilst suffering a broken shoulder, he is otherwise OK, which is great news and he will stay with us to Paris travelling on the bus.

Today was Bastille day in France, the Tour de France where we were 7 days ago , finishing at Alp D’Heuz on the 69th anniversary of its fist inclusion in the Tour. Bastille day is a public holiday in France so as we rode out through Lourdes everything was quiet, we were headed out up a climb that would normally be a Category 4, but as it was before 10K the race organisers do not put a categorisation to the climb, so an unexpected early workload for us today. Soon after a large loop of the city we dropped back into the valley, with railway line and the river next to us, 50k done and a short climb and then it was time for a break before the first climb of the day the Col D’Aubisque. The descent was straight forward but with a couple of damp tunnels, which were actually a welcome break from the heat. Then lunch, a surprise for us today, the support team had set up a barbeque and it was hotdogs for everyone.

After lunch we were in to the second climb and despite what was to come, I and everyone thought it was the hardest of the day. An average of 8.3% over 13 kilometres was not too bad, but most of it was covered in trees, the hot humid air made the climb worse, there was no air, no breeze and it was 40 degrees. After yesterday, my tired legs were under constant strain, changes in gradient making it difficult to get in to a rhythm. The road twisted and turned from one side of the valley to the other, a never ending road in a cauldron of heat. 

Finally the top and a chance to refill the water bottles, after yesterday favourite climb, this had been the worst, too hot and covered in trees with no view of where we were going or where we had been, the only welcome sight was a herd of cattle, like yesterdays mules, standing in the middle of the road. The descent was tricky, after Nails’ crash we were taking it easy, a good job too, narrow, twisty, freshly laid gravel and so hot the tar was melting. Even when we were off the mountain it was difficult through the narrow streets of Angeles Gazost the town seated at the bottom of the mountain, if anyone lost concentration for a second it wouldn’t have ended well, but thankfully everyone descended without incident.

No sooner were we out of the town, there was a big yellow sign announcing the Hautacam. At first it was steady 2 or 3%, a right turn and an increase in gradient to 4 or 5%, with 3 of the team up the road I was in a group of 4. After about 5km the road ramped up, a sign saying 11% average until the end of the climb and still 9 km to go. We started in the flat lands of Denmark but now The Tour was taking its revenge, with the heat and lack of wind we were facing a climb just like the last, hot humid, no air and no view. Suddenly the trees cleared, a little fresh air, but still no wind. The gradient increases and didn’t give up. Thankfully the higher we got a breeze came in cooling us down.

The difference between this climb and the last was the trees. Up above I could see camper vans on the corners, a target to aim for, below an out of this world view of the town we had just come through way down below us like a model village. The mountains will end today, I will not miss the pain, but I will miss the views, in front of me the sharp point of a mountain top surrounded by hazy grey peaks, behind me a miniature town, to the left trees and fields, to the right, mules, cows and horses.

Then the top, the gradient eased, Andy shouting ‘Sprint to the line’, it was the last 200 meters, round the last corner and there was the finish, I’d done it, the last mountain, The massive Hautacam, conquered. But the day was not over, a quick refuel, a glance over the mountain range in front of me and it was back on the bike for a 30 kilometre descent into Lourdes and to our hotel. This one was a little easier, but we were all taking it within our abilities, this was the last long, difficult and dangerous descent we would have to make, but there were still 3 days to go, none of us wanted an accident now. The Tour 21 ride has been full of moments to celebrate, but when we returned to the hotel, the best moment so fart, Niall, arm in a sling, a graze on his forehead, but otherwise fit and well was sat in the bar greeting us all back ready to continue the journey with us, but sadly not on the bike, he would have ride in the coach to Paris.

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