- Stage 4: Serre Chevalier – Pra Loup
- Wednesday 21.08.2013
- Distance: 118 km
- Cols & Ascents: 3
- Total Ascent: 3000m; Total Descent: 2800m
While I took the news that our bikes were stolen in stride, as the day wore on yesterday my emotions followed a profile like a typical Haute Route stage: up, down, up, down… The combination of being pushed both physically and emotionally to my limit was a new (unpleasant) experience. But the day ended with good news: the organizers were able to get us each a replacement bike.
A good Specialized frame but heavy wheels so good for descending but the reverse for climbing; in addition the 52/36 is too big for me; I miss my compact 50/34 and powermeter. Oh well, beggars can’t be choosers…
We are back in the race and keep our GC rank of the day before. This isn’t fair to the others, yet I wonder what’s better: ride stage 3 on your bike, or don’t ride stage 3, have your bike stolen, go through a rollercoaster, and always wonder: how would I have done if I had done all stages? I will never know. The bike can be replaced, but not the experience. That s***s because, after all, that’s why I (and the top riders) are here–If I just wanted to “enjoy the rides” I wouldn’t have signed up for this, nor trained like I did, nor cared much about my times… It is a (personal) competition and challenge. Today’s my wife’s birthday so I rode for her, carrying the wristband she gave me “Harden the F**k Up!”
Today’s stage started at 8am with a neutral 10km-ish start from Serre Chevalier to Briancon. It was so cold I wasn’t the only one shivering and teeth clattering… The climb to Col d’Izoard couldn’t start quickly enough! That is one gorgeous but long climb (see official info below). With my powermeter gone, I resorted to a heart-rate (HR) based strategy: During the first stage, my best day so far, I climbed based on power and had a HR above 160; on day two, I didn’t feel like pushing too much and kept lower watts (with HR below 145). Today I went for a compromise: push enough to stay above 150 but not too hard (below 160).
Izoard went fine – I had to let go of my fairly large group (in retrospect, I probably should have pushed harder and held on) with a few hundred meters altitude to go (can’t remember exactly). At the top I came through as rider 102, a little disappointing—I had hoped to keep my position in the 80s. After a very short refueling stop I enjoyed the long and beautiful descent and caught a good group as the grade started flattening out.
I rode with that group through the false flats to Col de Vars, another very long climb. As we started the climb, the group started to splinter and I kept my own pace. Once over the summit I did not stop and enjoyed another great descent. Here it was important to catch a good group, which kind of happened naturally: we grew to a group of 12. In contrast to Stage 1, all 11 knew how to paceline and all of us contributed. That was a sweet 20-30km averaging 42-44kph – would have been miserable, and a big time loss, to ride that solo.
Our group reached the last water supply station (just before the timed start of the third climb) together, but everyone pushed through. I was running on empty but luckily the volunteers saw our little peleton coming and came from behind their tables and handed out a few 1L bottles. Luckily I got to grab one (a first doing that at high speed); filled up one bottle just before we hit the timing mat. The guys really started accelerating—I was impressed—I kept my pace and climbed the last of the 12. Our top guy must have gone really strong—he gained 6 or 7 minutes on me during this last climb (which wasn’t too long, but the last climb is always harder than it looks on paper after 110km and 2500m+ in the legs) and finished around 88 vs me 108! It is now clear why I got 72nd on day one, and 108 today: that last little extra power makes a big difference.
But I am happy with the day and curious about tomorrow: the individual time trial up the Cime de la Bonnette: a 25km-ish straight climb of 1600m+. I have never been in a cycling start haus (have done ski start haus) so this will be interesting. Higher classified riders start later. As 92nd, my starting time is 11:49:00.
So glad we can sleep in and have a leisurely breakfast: I will leave Pra Loup at 10:30 to arrive at the start near Barcelonette about 1/2hr early. Hoping for good legs and mental toughness tomorrow so I can take the TT at threshold the last day being 46.
Official stage info from HR: Here come the big names! Col d’Izoard, Col de Vars, and the final ascent to Pra Loup – where Eddy Merckx famously passed out for the first time, and where he was defeated in 1975 by the French champion, Bernard Thevenet. Haute Route riders will cover these big 3 ascents in a total of 109km. Top tip: book a long massage the night before to help get over yesterday’s marathon stage and prepare for this mountainous one.
As with the marathon stage, the main enemy on day 4 is cumulative fatigue, which gets harder with each day in the saddle. A fit cyclist with fresh legs has nothing to fear in the beautiful Col d’Izoard, which meanders up through pine forests from Cervieres – nowhere near as tough as climbing from the other side via the legendary ‘Casse Deserte’. The same can be said about the Col de Vars. From Guillestre, riders climb 1100 vertical metres to the summit over 20 km. The 400m final climb up to Pra Loup should also present no great problems, with less than 8 kilometres of true climbing from Barcelonnette up to the main resort.
So there it is – there’s still 3000m of elevation gain in this 4th stage, which never descends below 1300m of altitude and goes over 2000m twice. It’s not meant to be easy! It’s the Haute Route.
• Col d’Izoard, 2360m altitude, 1156 metres altitude gain over 19km.
• Col de Vars, 2109m altitude, 1109 metres altitude gain over 20,5km.
• Ascent to Pra Loup, 1598m altitude, 378 metres altitude gain over 7,5km