The stage report first, followed by official stage info:
(It actually was quite a ways from the hotel to get there; close to 20km, more than expected.) We entered a gated area, depending on what group of 75 you are in in the general classification, with the lowest ranked riders starting earliest (at 9:00). A few minutes before your start time, you were called and sequenced in front of the start house. Then with about 40sec to go your bike was moved up on the start blocks, you mount into your pedals while two men hold your bike, you see the big digital timer and the three fingers count down (“3, 2, 1, go”). That was a quite fun experience and actually less stressful than I anticipated.
The timing mat was actually 50m farther, perhaps to relieve some stress, and there we went, about 20s apart. Based on my Ventoux experience (similar altitude, but 2km shorter – hence steeper), I had estimated split times for a 90min ascent, which was aggressive for me. I made the first split after 5km at 18min, but missed the second one (at 9km) by 3min out of 30. So I adjusted my target to 100min from there on and this pretty much played out so I was quite happy seeing the big display at the finish flashing 01:40:26.
My heart rate was mostly in the 150s, barely touching 161 a few times. I kept it there because I couldn’t/wouldn’t push much more and because I had just learned from my Vicious Cycle friends Gerry, Rob and Mark–who all three did great–that your HR falls over the week as the body adjust. (Mark has a power meter and dials it at 250W and his corresponding HR has fallen by 5 to 10bpm from Sunday.) So I figured I should be careful and perhaps 161 is now close to my typical 169… At the end of the day, you listen to your body.
Cime de la Bonnette, summitting at 2802m, is the highest paved road in Europe and it is a spectacular ride with a tough finish in the last km. (Admonitioned by my friend Robert, I even managed to appreciate the beauty of the surroundings!) That being said, any such effort cannot be called fun. You pretty much ride “on the rivet” at your limit and during the excellent descent I appreciated how long of a climb this is (23.5km)! The entire TT is well caught on the 2min video of Haute Route of Stage 5: http://www.youtube.com/hauteroutetv
I must admit that, while I was happy at the summit with my performance, that feeling changed when I heard my rank. I knew that about 10 riders passed me, while this is not too motivating I wasn’t too worried because those were better and faster riders. (And most riders here are just great and encouraging: at least 4 of the guys who passed me encouraged me. One, Cyrille from Marseille (50-59 age and finished in an impressive 01:30:09!): “Allez Jan, courage! Nous sommes a la moitié.” Wonderful!) But I also knew that I only passed one rider, and thus was not making better time or, more likely, was losing time relative to those ahead of me (and lower ranked on the GC). (But I kept up with most of the guys who passed me for a while, so I knew I wasn’t losing massive time.)
A few relevant points to put this in perspective: rather than the rank, it is really the time differences that matter and the distribution is tight: there were 54 riders that finished between 1:35 and 1:40. So my actual drop in the GC was only 5 positions.
That being said, the TT is
1) the race of truth: I can pretty much tell each rider’s Watts/kg at his threshold from these results and there’s not much to change about. (Based on this performance, my best time would be at best a few minutes below 100min.) For example, my times for Ventoux and other climbs typically are 3/2 as long as top pro times—indeed my Watts/kg are only 2/3 of theirs. Case in point: Peter Poully, with 6W/kg, finished in 1:05 (unbelievably fast and simply a different league).
2) A specialty discipline: suddenly there are 100 riders ahead of me that I otherwise didn’t see on the road…
Today also shows how this race is as much about psychology as physical performance. While there is camaraderie on the road (I’m happy riding with the bunch of guys I’ve gotten to know as my “natural group”), it can be a lonely experience off the bike. It also re-taught me a lesson in expectation setting and relativism. I was happy with my own performance and but less so (to put it mildly) with my relative performance. I’m not the only one thinking about GC but I had some good discussions with an older rider who’s big goal (and stress) is to make the time cut each day…
Shannon gave me some good tough love to put it in perspective:
I also can only imagine that this has got to be as much a psychological experience as physical–everyone wrapped into their own thoughts and emotions. And even though some are with team mates, I’m sure everyone is feeling a sense of isolation because at the end of the day it IS rider against the mountain. But you have only two more tough tough days and then you will roll into sunny Nice and see your mom and tante Magda… It will be great and you will be so happy.
That is RIGHT! So, I will take it one day at a time: For my birthday I am presented with “the toughest stage of the event” according to the briefing tonight… It will be interesting…
The official stage info:
- Stage 5: Jausiers – Cime de la Bonette (Individual Time Trial)
- Thursday 22.08.2013
- Distance: 23 km
- Cols & Ascents: 1
- Total Ascent: 1582m; Total Descent: 0m
Official info from HR: This is what it’s all about! Stunning panoramic views of the Bonette-Restefond, breathtaking landscapes right in the heart of the Mercantour National Park, 2802m above sea level, 23.5km of physical exertion from the start line in Jausiers. A dream for any serious climber … a painful nightmare for any cyclist who over-does it.
The road up to the Bonette is difficult, with an irregular gradient. Steep sections are interspersed with easier hairpins, on rough tarmac – a trick of the eye and a tough mental game. Even the most talented climbers have paid the price on this road; in July 1993 Indurain and Rominger fought it out, a battle that’s still talked about with fear 20 years later!
Should riders really push it to the max on the ‘Individual Time Trial’ on day 5 of the Haute Route Alps ? Probably not. So, ride wisely and remember that the road is long! Be particularly careful in the middle section, close to the Cabane Noire: 3km of 8-10% awaits – with no respite – just at the most exposed, rocky and barren part of the climb…
The top of the ascent is slightly less steep, but beware of the altitude; at over 2500m, oxygen here is in short supply. Simply reaching top of the Cime de la Bonette is an amazing achievement – and one that all riders should be justifiably proud of, whatever their time.
• The highest paved road in Europe
• 2802m altitude at the top
• 1582 metres altitude gain over 23.5km
• Average gradient : 6.6 %
• Maximum gradient : 9 %