In a strange reversal of fortune I finally achieved one of the things I wanted to do in 2013.
My back and other hassles have stopped play on every other challenge I’d set myself this year but not this one – oh no!
So how was it I hear you ask?
Hot and hard!
But…..bloody good fun at the same time.
Whilst in Annecy on Friday I drove the final climb just to get a taste of what was in store for me on Sunday and I almost didn’t turn up to start the race as I was rattled by just how EVIL the climb is (it comes in at about 15km long and, with an average gradient of 8.6%, it is a proper bastard) and worried that I wouldn’t be able to make it.
Below you can see the profile of the route (note the angle of that last climb):
Let’s begin……on Saturday evening I set-off for the race much later than was sensible and drove over to Chambery (it was Amelie’s 2nd birthday on the 6th and I didn’t want to miss it) where I stayed the night in a cheap little motel before arriving in Annecy on Sunday morning feeling rested and ready for a big day on the bike.
I got there nice and early and enjoyed the morning sunshine and the views out over the lake and up towards the mountains.
Here you see the view of/from my starting pen:
We lined up at the start and were on our way by 08:30 (a full hour and a half after the first riders had begun).
The first 10km or so was a nice and gentle introduction to the day as we followed the lakeside road out of Annecy which was pleasant.
Before long the the road took a turn skywards and the first two climbs of the day were quickly dispatched without incident (categories 2 and 3 respectively) – so far so good.
Things undulated for a while after that with nice views and many kilometers being ticked off and best of all me, my legs and (most importantly) my back were all feeling happy!
I rode straight through all of the feed and water stations as I had enough goodies with me and planned to only stop once for water.
Two more category 3 climbs were soon under my belt and I was at the half way point and still going strong.
Then came the first of the two BIG climbs of the day. The category 1 ‘Mont Revard’ climb which tops out at 1463m alt but surprisingly wasn’t too difficult at all. Don’t get me wrong it was a long and mean-ass climb but I was expecting worse and so was pleasantly surprised.
Just over the top I punctured which wouldn’t ordinarily have been a problem or caused more than a few minutes delay but much to my annoyance my pump decided to stop working – bugger!
As everyone was descending at high speed there was no-one to ask to borrow theirs and so I had to sit tight until one of the Mavic assistance bikes passed by and let me use their pump.
All-in-all I estimate that I lost a good 45 minutes due to a simple puncture which was mighty annoying I tell thee!
But it was sorted and I was on my way again…..
Once down the other side of the mountain (on one hell of a fast and sometimes dangerous descent) I found that I’d made up at least some of the places I’d lost during my forced wait and I began to push the pace a little more than I should (easy to say with the benefit of hindsight) in order to make up for lost time and before I knew it I was at the bottom of the final climb of the day and only 15km from the finish line.
I’d been feeling much better than I’d expected all day but as I hit that last climb (the HC rated ‘Semnoz’ climb up to 1655m) everything started to catch up with me.
My back muscles finally gave up the ghost and I had to repeatedly stop and stretch as well as walk for short sections so that my back could recover.
I also had neglected to fill up my water when planned as I was too busy trying to make up for lost time and so had to wait until the water station on the last climb to refill and so was starting to dehydrate a little (not badly but still…).
Finally, despite putting in a sterling performance above and beyond anything I should reasonably have expected from them, my legs had had enough and went to shit!
And so it was that I found myself knackered, aching, sunburnt but oddly still smiling as I fought my way up towards and summit and finish.
I dragged my sorry ass over the line at 16:45 giving me a total time 8 hours and 18 minutes which, considering that even a week ago I wasn’t sure I’d be able to start the damn race, I was reasonably happy with.
As my first ever road event (and only 3rd ever time I’d ridden with other people on a road ride – nevermind 13,500 other people!) I can’t complain.
With more chance to train I could have been a lot faster, without my puncture and pump problem I could have saved 45 minutes and with more intelligent management of my pace and water I could have avoided feeling like crap on the last climb but those are lessons now learned and mistakes I won’t make again!
It’s now two days later and I’m already looking forward to finding another road bike challenge to set my sights on (the 2014 Etape???) and so far it seems that my back has emerged problem free (it’s still aching but so is the rest of me).
A great ride and a nice introduction into the weird and whacky world of road bike racing – I think I’ll be back for more…..