Thursday, July 28, 2011

France Cycling Trip 2011, Part Seven

When I left off, on my second day of cycling I had engaged in an eight mile sprint of over thirty miles per hour and climbed the Pas du Solombrie in quick fashion. I was first up that climb and was feeling great. I knew that we had more to come, but I had already tackled a category one the day before - how much harder could it be, right?

After climbing the Pas du Solombrie, we trekked around some of the hilltop towns in that area, then needed to descend to Les Cabannes for our last climb of the day, the infamous Plateau de Beille. The descent to Les Cabannes was probably the trickiest of my whole trip. The guy you see WAY down there is only two switchbacks down. You let off the brakes and you are instantly up to thirty mph. And as you can see, no guard railings. As always, my strategy of "not dying" on the descents paid dividends.

This brings me to another interesting subject, the one of equipment. I had a discussion with the tour guides about the bikes everyone had. They were all high end road bikes with quality hardware. The guides said that they typically make sure that anyone going on this trip is in shape and ready for the stress that this type of riding brings and has a GOOD bike. Crap bikes like the Schwinn you see at Target would simply fall apart on a descent in these mountains - everyone also was required to have a compact crank. I rode a 50/34 in the front with a 32 pie plate in the back. I ride a compact here in Southern Wisco since I typically hit the hills anyway but I was glad I invested in the 32 rear cassette. Most had 29s and they suffered quite a bit more than me on the huge climbs. It really made things easier as I could keep my cadence up even on the steeper grades. I prefer to ride in a higher cadence - it makes the cycling more of a cardio contest than a leg muscle contest.

You may remember that I said in the last piece that I wouldn't have gone out as hard as I did if I knew what was ahead in this second day. Well, we had a quick break at Les Cabannes for some food, then it was on to our big challenge, the Plateau de Beille.

This climb is an HC and is completely insane. It took me an hour and forty five minutes to get to the top - as a reference, the Tour guys do this climb typically in around 45 - 50 minutes (!). It didn't help that it was partially under construction in preparation for the Tour this year, and that it was something like 95 degrees. This climb was easily the hardest I did on the whole trip. It hits you right at the beginning and simply never stops. This is the only climb that I took a rest on to get my sh1t together. Several times.

I really had to get inside of my head to finish it. My head is an interesting place at times. When stressed heavily on the bike, part of my brain bitches and moans and wonders what the hell I am doing and another part of my brain just says shut up and do it and it will all be over soon. I always know toward the end of a century or other difficult ride or run exactly when it will happen and am used to it now. It must be an automatic defense or preservation thing in the brain trying not to let the body die. Anyways, stopping really helped me get to the top, as I would take a few moments to cool off in the shade, get my crap together and soldier on. Here is the profile of the PTB. Yep, 16 kilometers of hate. But it did offer some nice views at the top.

As always, I did get to the end and got a photo next to the sign declaring that the Tour would be here in July.

It was really awful. I forgot to mention the biting flies and other nasties that harassed us on the way up. But everyone eventually made it. I was the second or third last to the top.

The descent was fantastic as you could imagine - much faster than going up. We rode ten miles or so back to the cabins and the riding day was done. This days numbers:

6200 feet of rise
11.3 mph average
34.8 mph max
4 hours 21 minutes 24 seconds length of ride
49.44 miles total

It is one of my major goals for the next time (and there will be a next time) I climb the PTB to do much better - it had its way with me this time, but it wouldn't have been as rough if I wouldn't have been in a sprint earlier in the day and blasted up our first major climb. No regrets though, and no excuses. I will do better on the PTB next time. I guarantee it.


Terry from Crown Point said...

Wow! You were rewarded with some great vistas.

Dan from Madison said...

You ain't seen nothin' yet.

Anonymous said...

I am sweating just reading about your ride!

Dan from Madison said...

I left about 8% of my body weight over there and have finally recovered it back after several weeks. You will see why as this series goes on.

Gerry from Valpo said...

You have yet to mention if the oxygen was thin. I know the peaks were high but compared to sea level was altitude a problem as it would be in a place like Colorado?

Dan from Madison said...

Good question and one I get asked a lot. It was not an issue at all. I don't know the point where oxygen deprivation becomes a concern, but we were routinely over a mile high and it was not a problem in France. I think the highest point we hit was 2115 meters (top of the Tourmalet). Still wasn't an issue up there.

Gerry from Valpo said...

On my trips to Colorado we see many cyclists in the mountain canyon roads. Denver (being a mile high at over 5000 ft.) is considered in the flatlands. I cannot imagine cycling at 8-9000 ft where we've seen these cyclists. And, I could never do what you did. Congrats.

Dan from Madison said...

Thanks Gerry - that must be a different world cycling up there, I need to give it a try someday that is for sure.