Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Last Big Climb: TOURMALET

Another fantastic ride yesterday in the Pyrenees.  Climbed the Col du Tourmalet and totaled 100km at the finish of our ride.

[This was the last big climb in a series of big climbs across France.  Rode up Alpe d'Huez, Mont Ventoux, Col d'Izoard, Col d'Aubisque]

Unfortunately, the ride didn't start out so great...

The morning started out normally enough.  Ate breakfast, dressed in my kit and filled up the water bottles.

But it seemed as though as soon as I sat in the saddle, I knew I didn't want to be on the bike.  I had a bad attitude that provoked toxic thoughts:  I didn't care about cycling, had no desire to ride and wanted to be as far away as possible from that col.  I'd have much rather gone back to the campground, laid by the pool and read my book.

I dawdled along the flat bike path as Ged gained more and more distance until he was so small I couldn't make out the giant Florida Gator mascot on the back of his jersey anymore.

I had completely the wrong mindset for a hard bike ride.

When we reached the main road I told Ged I didn't feel good.  I said "nevermind" and wanted to go but he insisted we talk about what might've been the problem.

I told him I didn't want to climb this crazy mountain and that I've had enough of the intense cycling.  He understood but said that since this was the finale of our big climb series, I almost had to do it.  He said he wasn't sure of when we'd be back here again and that it would be the perfect 'big bang' ending to an amazing couple of weeks of good riding.

We rode on.

The road to Luz-Saint-Sauveur (where the climb starts) is quite busy.  You sometimes don't get a lot of respect or room, and that hostile road environment mixed with my bad attitude only spurred more problems.

Ged and I stopped on the side of this road a few times along the way.  I wasn't even at the base of the climb yet and I really wanted to turn back.  I just didn't have it in me.  The second time he stopped he said I shouldn't go because it wouldn't be worth it if I have this awful attitude the whole way through.

I pedaled past him in my stubbornness, cried a little and in my obstinacy decided that I was climbing this mother.

We arrived at the base and Ged gave me 30 minutes head start while he looked around the town.


The climb started easy enough.  Stayed in second cog until the gradient reached 9% then dropped down to the smaller cog.

Farms and chalets and green everywhere.  Gradient stayed at 5% for a little while.  Very pleasant.  Was even able to get a good pace.  Cycling shorts were starting to get a bit uncomfortable though.

The road had signs posted every kilometer telling what altitude you were at, the altitude of the summit, how many km you had left and the average gradient of where you were at that point.

Even though I like that sort of thing so I can count down, the climb felt sooo LONG!

And aside from my uncomfortable cycling shorts, my knees started to feel a bit sore, however, my attitude was slowly improving.  I would see a sign and think to myself See, that's another km you've just completed. You're once step closer to getting there.

Encouragement instead of continual negative thoughts.

Besides being the toughest ride mentally I've been on, this ride was also different in that I couldn't see the top until much later on.  Usually, the summit has been visible much earlier on (like Ventoux or d'Huez) even if it's still really friggin' far away.

One really tough point was coming out of the town of Bareges.  You could see the road shift from horizontal to vertical once you left the town center.  Kind of a dreadful feeling.

Once the remaining distance dropped to 9km, I felt a little better but it still felt like it took forever just to get to this halfway point (total climb is 18km).

Kept pushing onward and Ged caught up with me with 5km left to go.  Could see the top now.

The roads leading up there didn't seem to make visual sense to me.  Looked like a jumble of crisscrossing paths leading up there.

With 3km to go, I ran out of water and gas.  My knees ached and my lungs tightened with each stroke.

A guy in a Cervelo kit came storming down and slowed as he approached me so he could yell, "C'est le dernier.  Tres bien!"  Very nice of him.  

I kept my head down as the bike inched forward.  I swear a diead person couldn've ridden faster that I was at that very moment.

I turned a corner and there was the last sign indicating I'd reached the final km and that the gradient was now 10%.  I could see Ged waiting at the top taking pics of me over the edge of the mountainside.

When I turned the final hairpin, I was spent.  My body was shaking, I couldn't breathe and I wanted to cry.  I came up to Ged and started bawling, which didn't help my breathing.  I pushed all the way to the top with Ged jogging behind me.

My legs were trembling as I dismounted, I was crying and I needed a hug.  I buried my face in Ged's chest and had a good sob.

Seemed as though everyone was struggling though.  Even fit men with big calf muscles and large mustaches were gasping for breath.

The downhill was BEAUTIFUL!  I could see exactly where the road was leading and could gain a lot of speed and let my bike go instead of worrying what may be lurking behind the corner and constantly breaking.  I guess I still haven't quite gotten over my CRASH.

A bit of rolling hills and then a stop in Bagneres for an apple tart.

More awesome flat.  I can shut off my brain and go forever on the flat.

Rode on for a bit more through the French countryside and before I knew it we were back at the bike path in Lourdes.

This rode was like so many other things in life:  homework before playing outside, veggies before dessert.

We got the hard part done with first then we enjoyed the fruits of our labor.  And the ride didn't drag on until I had absolutely zero energy left like the previous ride to the Aubisque did.

Left the Pyrenees this morning and now we're on the Atlantic coast on the island of Noirmoutier.


  1. You did it. Be very proud of your Bianchi and yourself...

  2. Good job Amanda, so proud of you ;)