It was now Saturday, race day. We all competed in the Cyclesport L'Ariegoise. The Ariegoise is what is commonly called a "Grand Fondo" style race. In English, that means a sh1tload of people starting all at once.
There were three options. 180k (the one I did), 113k and 77k. About half of our group did the 180k and the other half did the 113k.
Before the race, we did a warmup ride from Vicdessos to the starting town of Tarascon. I described this short eight mile ride in a previous part. It is mostly downhill, but knowing what was ahead of me, I wasn't exactly thrilled about having more milage piled on top of what I had to do. But I did it.
In France, everyone pisses everywhere. You can see the starting area in this photo. Of course I did the same, why not. Piss on France in public? Works for me.
The longest race started first, and I am guessing that there were maybe a thousand or so riders in this one. I was nervous but ready. I literally couldn't have trained more for this day. Twelve thousand feet of climbing waited for me. Four cat two climbs and a cat one.
The start was pretty intense. This was a semi-pro/pro/amateur race and there was money to be won and points to score. The race is used by lower ranking pros to gain the attention of pro teams so a lot of these people were very serious. It was my job to stay to the right and let the speedy guys go by, never to be seen by me again until the finish. On top of this, they had scooters and motos riding right alongside of us. It was pretty wild. I felt like I was in the tour de France.
There were very few non French people in the race. I did talk to a lot of guys along the way and everyone was extremely friendly. With their broken English most of the French could understand that I was from Chicago. Chicago is always easier for people to understand than Wisco so that is what I was running with. I talked to one guy for about 20 minutes and we got along pretty well. Good company while being tortured on a hill. Eventually I pulled away from my froggie friend and said so long to him with an "Allez la France" to which he responded "Allez L'Amerique!". Pretty cool.
I have done lots of century rides before, but this was a murderous 112 miles. I was trying my best to drink as much water and eat as much food as I could, but I knew when I approached the last mountain (the side of the Port de Lers that I had not climbed yet) I was in trouble. That climb is 16k and a real beast. It was getting hot. Real hot.
I had a minor mechanical halfway up that last climb. My front wheel started making a grinding sound. I stopped to check it out and couldn't figure out what was wrong. I finally popped the wheel off and there was a rock between the fork and the wheel itself. I cleared that out and went on my way. In the meantime I realized that I was completely soaked with sweat with no end in sight. I was dumping water on my head to keep my internal temp down along with trying to drink as much as I could without getting water logged.
Eventually, finally, I got over the Port de Lers and was rewarded with a super fast descent to the end town, Auzat. I finished the race. One of the guides met me at the finish and asked me something, I don't remember what. All I wanted to do was to get off the bike and into the shade. I was one hurting, hurting unit. Including the warmup I had biked over a hundred twenty miles over mountains.
I got back to the cabin in Vicdessos and just sat down in a chair. And cried.
That sounds weird, but here is a story. Back about six or seven years ago I finished the Wright Stuff Century here in Wisconsin. Before that I was a total lardass. I had never accomplished anything of athletic significance before that moment. I trained (what I thought was) hard for that ride and it was my first century. I sobbed at the end. I think I cried from exhaustion, and a sense of accomplishment - pride, I guess. It was pretty emotional to think of how far I had come and what I did.
The same sort of feeling came over me at the end of the Ariegoise. I was completely and totally exhausted like I had never been, and I had trained over six months for that race and completed it. After I got my sh1t together I had a glass of wine and toasted myself for a job well done.
I then had to take a leak and thought about something. I hadn't taken a leak all day. That is weird for the amount of water I had been drinking, and not a good thing. So I pissed and it was about like pissing butterscotch. For those not in the know, I was severely dehydrated. I decided that it was in my best interest to skip the wine and start pounding water, immediately. Within a few hours things returned to a relatively normal state.
The Ariegoise was intensely difficult and I will probably never do it again - I will most likely opt for the middle length option. The others on my tour who came the previous year all said that it was much more difficult this year.
But I thank all the French who came out and cheered everyone. People were spending their whole days sitting in front of their houses cheering the riders.
It was amazing to watch the pro and semi pro riders. They are so fast it made my head spin. You see, I got caught by the medium length race - they left a half hour after we did in the long race and those guys went by me like I was standing still.
We all took a few hours off and I even dozed for a bit and then the guides made us dinner at the cabins. Pasta with 'shrooms and stuff.
I wasn't the only one who was hurting. Some others looked worse than me. One guy was almost falling asleep in his dinner. We were all just trashed and completely worked over from the heat, distance and difficulty.
Oh well, I did it. I am proud of that accomplishment. I will never do it again. It was nuts. I will never forget it.