(The stage report first, followed by official stage info)
For my birthday, I got offered the hardest stage of the week (described more below to put it in perspective). Fittingly, my marathon stage 6’s theme-song was: “It’s my birthday. I can cry if I want to…” I saw it all today: cry from near-despair during the first climb to cry from exhilaration that I made the finish!
After descending from Pra Loup in neutral fashion, we took a right hand turn, went over the timing mat, and the race onto the first climb (The Col de la Cayolle) was on. I started with the guys I had been riding with before but fairly quickly found myself dropping to the end of the group (they set a very hard pace). My buddy Silvan GÄRTNER, who I had dinner with a few days before and who was just 20sec ahead of me in the GC, saw I was struggling and encouraged me: “Hold on, Jan, hold on!” But I had to let go. Sometimes the mind may want, but the legs refuse… This was an aweful climb for me: not only could I not hold on to the group I rode with in previous days, but other groups passed me while I could only hold on to those trains for a little and had to let go. I started worrying about cracking, even wondering whether I would be able to complete the stage (a thought I had never contemplated before that moment…)?
At those moments, the mindset is crucial: do I have the mental toughness or will I give up? Weird thoughts happen during very intense rides–and little images become very powerful. Two, emailed by two of my kids for my birthday, especially helped me on that first climb and made me toughen it out:
Eventually I found myself riding with Vicki Goodwin, our Sarrene team mate and such impressive rider, and am grateful for her pulling me through. Once at the summit, the clock stopped–the organizers decided to not time the two descents so nobody would take unnecessary risks (last year, a rider lost control in a turn, fell into a ravine and died!). So I took my time at the rest stop and then discovered that my saddle had sunk more than 5cm! That must have been at least one factor why I didn’t seem to have power in the legs… Sylvan’s roommate and also new buddy, Daniel Franke, lend me his wrench and I corrected my saddle. Thanks Daniel!
The descent was pure joy… until, however, I dropped my water bottle. I didn’t want to stop and carried on. Luckily, again I got helped out, this time by an Italian rider who was team supported and had a third bottle he was going to leave (just when we took a “natural stop” at the bottom of the descent before crossing the time mat for the second climb).
I caught a great group to get to the base of the next climb; we were flying (need to check the Garmin for the speed b/c I didn’t even show speed on my display but this was the only time I was happy with the 52/36: I was near spinning out on my 52/11… The next two climbs — the Valberg (1672m) and the Couillole (1678m) –went better, but on the fourth and last climb (long Ascent to Auron) I was back in suffer mode. I had to let go of Daniel’s train and had to drag myself solo through the false flat and then up the hard (after 140km and 3000+m) Ascent to Auron.
Exhilaration when I went over the finish: I was SO HAPPY I made it! I really enjoyed the two beautiful descents and I also discovered that I am a better descender than climber: typically I gain time during descents, but not today when descents don’t count… The climbs were hard and today I suffered but was happy I didn’t completely crack. During the last 30km solo, I was thinking of my family, all the encouragement I have received, and the pictures of Marcus (“he was watching over me”) and Kiki. Weird how psychological this Haute Route Alps has been–and my buddy Gerry agreed. He also said he could cry; today was the hardest day. My birthday present 🙂
The official stage info:
- Stage 6: Pra Loup – Auron
- Friday 23.08.2013
- Distance: 143 km
- Cols & Ascents: 4
- Total Ascent: 3777m; Total Descent: 3837m
- Stage Difficulty: 5/5
Official info from HR: Today’s route is yet again one to be treasured; an ‘out of this world’ cycling experience which passes right through the heart of the spectacular Mercantour National Park. However beauty alone is not enough to carry riders through this Category 5 day – the hardest on the Haute Route scale – and ranked the same difficulty level as the Marathon day. Why? Simply being the penultimate day is hard enough, but with 3800m of climbing over 133 timed kilometres, there isn’t a moment of respite to catch breath.
Passing through the Gorges du Bachelard, after the descent from Pra Loup, riders will approach the first col of the day – the Col de Cayolle (2326m). Then in quick succession come the next two climbs: the Valberg (1672m) and the Couillole (1678m) – which shouldn’t be confused with its namesake at the start of the stage. The peloton will then head North, where the road ascends back towards La Bonette … before a sharp left at St Etienne de Tinee to start the last leg up to the resort of Auron – welcoming the Haute Route for the 3rd year running. At 1600m, Auron is at a similar altitude to Pra Loup, but it’s a much steeper climb. “5 Stars” ? Yes, without a doubt!
• Col de la Cayolle: 2326 m altitude, 1143 metres altitude gain over 25,5km.
• Col de Valdberg: 1672 m altitude, 874 metres altitude gain over 12,5km.
• Col de la Couillole: 1678 m altitude, 239 metres altitude gain over 7,5km.
• Ascent to Auron: 1600 m altitude, 1103 metres altitude gain over 31,5km.