Mark and Lillian’s Haute Route Alps

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The Haute Route is different things to different people. For some, a challenge of a lifetime, climbing up cols that they had only seen on TV, for others a chance to experience the ups and downs of a mountainous stage race, and for nearly everyone an opportunity to meet like-minded cyclists from around the world. Here are Lillian and my thoughts at the end of each day, and if you are not inclined to read those, hopefully some nice pictures. This was my second HR (I did the HR Pyrenees last year) and it was Lillian’s first.

We all met in Nice for registration and had a relaxing two nights there before the race began.

Lillian and Alex above the Promenade des Anglais.

Lillian, Mark and I on the start line. (Andrew Speck, aka Specky, behind Lillian.)

Stage 1 (Nice to Pra Loup)

Mark

Toughest HR experience so far. After a 18km neutralised roll-out from Nice, the race kicked off on the first climb to Ascros. I knew I was going into the red but as the climb had a 20km false flat to finish I felt it was worth it. I was in a strong group (about 20-35th in the rankings) containing Emma Pooley, a couple of Swiss guys who I’d met last year (Mattias and Camillo) and London Dynamo’s very own Alex Donaldson.

Alex taking shelter behind the smallest person in the group, Emma Pooley. 🙂

At Ascros (60km) I stopped to get water and let the group go. I ended up riding for about 10 minutes by myself which was disconcerting, but luckily I was caught by 4 guys including two strong Brits, Richard and Michael, and together we powered up the valley and through the spectacular Gorges de Daluis.

Descending the Gorges de Daluis.

I was struggling to hang onto them but we all reached the next drink station (at 107km) together. I was worried I had misjudged my effort and as we started the Col de Cayolle, a 1500m climb over 32km, I realised that I had started too hard. Cramps started to flash through my calves and thighs. I started being overtaken by all the sensible people that had not set off like maniacs. The only consolation I had was overtaking Camillo and then Alex. Both were completely cooked. Eventually the pain was over and I topped out on the col, where timing stopped, in 55th position I had lost 22 places on the climb!

View from the climb up the Col de Cayolle taken by Andrew.

Alex, who looked like he may not move for the rest of the day, and I waited for Mark and Lillian. It was great to see Lillian make it through the long initial section in good time and we rode down the valley to the final timed section, an ascent to Pra Loup, together. My legs had come back and I rode this well gaining a few places and finishing 49th overall. Lillian was 15th woman and relieved to have got through the first day… although very nervous about what tomorrow was going to bring.

Lillian

This was a really tough first day – long drags up valleys into the headwind and the Col de Cayolle was long and very hot. If the broom wagon had appeared I would’ve gladly climbed into it to end my misery.

The descent off the Cayolle was neutralised with a feed station 2km down from the top. Imagine my surprise when I arrived to find Mark and Alex topping up their tans and recovering from cramp after having gone out too fast. Anyone would think they were on holiday.

Alex and I looking better after our hour of recovery!

We all then descended the rest of the climb together which was nice before I was abandoned at the bottom of the 7km climb up to Pra Loup. I spent over 8 hours in the saddle today! My left foot and right knee hurts but my neck and arm seem okay.

The standard of riding here is very high unsurprisingly, much much higher than say the Marmotte or the etape. I used to think I was a good climber… until now!

Number of bottles – 8

Food – 3.5 Cliff bars, 2 gels, 2 bananas, 2 slices of cake

(And a note on food from Mark: On most days I started with two bidons containing of SIS Go and a Nuuns tablet each and ate three Cliff bars and 5-6 High 5 gels. I drank Coke and water at the feed stations and ate a few salty Tuc biscuits.)

Stage 2 (Pra Loup to Serre Chevalier)

Lill and Boni waiting for the peleton to descent from Pra Loup (we stayed in a different village).

My plan today, along with everyone else I suspect, was to not ride hard on either of the first two climbs. Our road book advised riding at 70% FTP. First climb up the Col de Vars, having already dropped off from the front group and I was riding at 85-90%! Still it seemed sustainable and from the top Alex, Andy (friend from Geneva who did HR Pyrenees last year but has come back stronger and lighter) and I enjoyed a fast descent down the col to Guillestre and the start of the Col de l’Izoard.

Freshly laid tarmac, for this year’s Tour de France, on the Col de Vars. Andy and Alex.

I remember the Izoard from my very first ride in the Alps (the 2006? Etape de Tour). My three memories were that: there was an approach up a long gorge – correct, luckily this went by quickly in a group of 8; that the middle section up through villages and meadows was deceptively steep – also correct; and finally that one we reached the Casse Déserte the climb was over – seriously wrong. After a short descent there was still a painful two km to go.

Crossing the Casse Déserte. I’m smiling; must have been before I saw it was 2 more kilometres to go.

Another enjoyable descent – all descents today were neutralised – led us through Briancon to final climb of the day, the Col de Granon. I had heard this was hard and it did not disappoint. The first ramps were steep and in the still, super-heated air of the valley. Half an hour later we were still climbing and well above the ski lifts on the opposite side of the Serre Chevalier valley and there was still 5km and 500m of climb to go. These were very slow kilometres. It was truly a tough climb and I was relieved to finish. I was also relieved to see Lillian about 5km from the top as I rode down. She did not look very happy but she finished the stage within the cut-off when many didn’t.

Bleak and windy on the top of the Granon. (Photo by Alex.)

I came 57th on the day and am now 53rd in the GC.

Just a short post today as I am feeling utterly broken.

I felt ok up the Vars and Izoard. In the first 10km my right knee was pretty painful with every pedal stroke and I was worried that I would have to abandon before the first climb of the day (Vars). Luckily it seemed to settle.

Is that a smile or a grimace?

What broke me was the Granon. It was mid afternoon and very hot, a unrelenting 9% slog for 12km with a section of 11% with 5km to go. I got to the top with only 20 mins to spare before the cut-off time.

The lanterne rouge was arriving just as I left to cycle all the day back down to the event centre. I think quite a few would have missed the cut off today.

Another 7 hours or so in the saddle.

Health status: niggly right knee pain (hopefully settling), left foot pain better, neck and shoulder ok. (Lillian took out some inserts in her shoes that gave her feet a bit more room to expand – it seemed to help.)

Stage 3 (Serre Chevalier to Alpe d’Huez)

Today was the first morning in the last few days when I did not have a cup of Lemsip with my breakfast. My cold had started the day before we flew to Nice but although my coughing kept Lillian up I don’t think I can blame it for my (relatively) poor performance on the first two days. I had been worried that it might develop into a more chesty cough so I was relieved it seemed to be getting better.

We had a 30 minute uphill spin to the start from our hotel in Briançon which was a good warm-up for what followed. The stage started with a 20km climb up over the Col de Lauteret. I stayed with the peleton until the road steepened to over 5% about 5km from the top and with my power hitting 280W (which is around my FTP) I decided to drop off the back. I ended up picking up stragglers and leading a group up the climb. I enjoyed posing on the front of the group to the camera bike for a few minutes but soon tired of pulling faces when no one else would come through and do some work. As I crested the climb I was 50m ahead of the group which I thought would give me enough time to quickly fill my bottle. Wrong! They got 100m ahead of me on the gentle downhill towards Bourg d’Oisans and I had to put in a serious effort to catch the back markers. I eventually overtook nearly all of them but Alex stayed away and with some Sagan-style top tube descending beat me to the neutralised section by about a minute. I finished 60th on that section… there are so many strong riders here.

After a relaxed meander around the side of the Lac du Chambon – on the emergency slip road, the main road being closed for repairs – the second climb of the day, the Col de Sarenne, introduced itself with 4 steep switchbacks to the hamlet of Mizoën. My legs felt good and I rode well up the rest of climb overtaking a lot of riders. At the very top a Rapha CC rider sprinted between Cafepod Arthur (see below) and I in a dangerous attempt to beat his mate to the line. That pissed me off so I overtook him on the bumpy and loose descent of the Sarenne… which was a bit juvenile I know. I hit a hole at high speed which caused my water bottle to jump out, and at the first bend, an off-camber right-hander, he tried to go by on the outside and going into a two-wheel skid and very nearly wiping out. A few minutes later someone did exactly that and had to be helicoptered off the mountain (luckily he was okay). Unfortunately when I tried to pedal again I realised I had dropped my chain too so I lost sight of Rapha boy… I did talk to him the following day and he seemed like an okay guy which goes to show what happens on the bike should stay on the bike.

The route descended again to Bourg d’Oisan in the valley floor. This was neutralised and as I needed to get some water, having dropped my full water bottle, I decided to stop in Huez village and have a coffee and Coca Cola which was strangely empty and a wonderfully relaxing way to take 15 minutes out of the constant rushing of the HR.

A peaceful interlude in Huez Village.

At the bottom of the Alpe I rolled down the valley to the final timed section which was a climb back to Alpe d’Huez via Villard-Reculas. I know this ascent well, felt strong and was feeling good enough to be able to enjoy the views from the spectacular traverse road back to Huez.

Leaving Villard-Reculas to traverse back to Huez Village

From there it was just up the final few hairpins to Alpe d’Huez and the finish.

Alex and I helping replenish the beer supplies in the local bar.

I did well coming 43rd on the day and moving up to 48th in the GC. Just need to hold onto that top 50 place now. Lillian rode well coming into the finish well before the cut-off and early enough for us all to have a relaxing afternoon drinking beer.

The first half of the HR was always about getting through Stage 2 – when studying the road book before coming out here I felt confident that if I got through this stage, then I would be fine on Stage 3 where the route takes us on roads we know so well from several years of summer holidays in the Alpe d’Huez area.

Yesterday took me so long to complete that it was 5pm by the time I had “lunch” and so I found it difficult to eat anything at dinner time at 7.30. I could only manage a salad. At 11.30pm I woke up hungry and ate a couple of cereal bars.

Trying to replace lost calories whilst on and off the bike can be a real challenge. It’s hard to eat when you’re hot and tired and working hard and I find that I am constantly having to force myself to have a couple of bites of an energy bar every 15 mins or so when riding.

After yesterday’s epic I woke feeling emotionally and physically drained. I was no longer feeling confident about the stage I was initially so looking forward to.

For me, the bit I was dreading the most was the 22km 3% (average) drag from the start up the Lauteret into a headwind. Every start so far has been manic and has put me into the red. The group I was in quickly disintegrated so I worked with another girl and got to the top.

Most of the descents are neutralised for safety reasons. The descent off the Lauteret towards the Sarenne was one of the few which was not. And this is when “local knowledge” was a definite advantage; I flew down and had an absolute blast. I’ve not been able to overtake many people on the uphill in the HR – and so it was nice to turn the tables on a couple of girls (and men!) who have been overtaking me all week!

It was great being on familiar roads again. Once over the Lauteret I was fairly confident that I would be ok up the Sarenne having done that climb many times before. From the Sarenne the route took us to Alpe d’Huez and then, rather cruelly all the way to the bottom to Bourg d’Oisans before climbing all the way back up again to the top of the Alpe via Villard-Reculas.

I must admit I felt pretty emotional all day. When we were last here two months ago, I didn’t know whether I would make it to the start line in Nice with my injury let alone survive the first 3 days of the HR.

Lillian just over the finish line in Alpe d’Huez.

And now it’s finally the “rest day” tomorrow – just a TT up the Alpe. One of the many challenges of a HR is having to move hotels every night so it’s nice spending two nights in the same place.

Health status: Neck/shoulder ok, right knee pain but only towards the end, slightly dodgy tummy from too many gels.

Stage 4 (Alpe d’Huez Time Trial)

Today was the time trial day and what a course; up the most iconic of Alpine climbs, the 21 hairpin bends of Alpe d’Huez. Last night we stayed in some self-catering apartments. It was a relief to be staying in the same accommodation for two nights and even nicer to have a home cooked meal this evening. Back to last night though. It turned out we had only been given one set of sheets and further we could not find any blankets. I ended up sleeping on one of the sofa beds with just a towel as a blanket and in spite of being cold had the first good night’s sleep of this HR. The following morning I noticed some drawers under Lillian’s sofabed… containing, you guessed it, blankets and duvets.

Riders started every 20 seconds from Bourg d’Oisans so I rode down early to take photos of Lillian going down the start ramp.

Lots of hanging around at the start.

Lillian on the ramp. The timing started at the start of the climb proper.

I had been planning to ride the time trial at 90% so did not start too hard. However, when I looked at my power meter I saw I was riding strongly and managed to maintain 275W (which is just below my FTP) for the whole climb. As I passed the start of Alpe d’Huez village I saw I was only a minute down from my PB. Not bad on tired legs. In the final section through town I gave a Swiss rider a tow through the flatter sections, which was fine; in fact he was gracious enough to thank me for it, but when I got to the final approach to the line did not want him jumping me and put in a decent sprint. Consequently I crossed the line feeling completely drained only to have Arthur give me water and a coke. I rode with him last year in the HR Pyrenees and it’s been great seeing him and the Cafepod van at the points when one most needs an expresso.

The standout ride of the day has to go to Andy – who came 7th overall with a time of 52 minutes! Alex also had a good ride finishing 25 seconds ahead of my 56 mins. I came in 39th place. It was actually very close. Had I been a minute faster I would have gained 15 places. Emma Pooley, previously the women’s leader, decided to run down the Alpe and back up with a number on her back. She did it in 1 hr 24 – impressive – but was classed as a DNF. So she is now out of the GC.

It was a rainy afternoon – in fact is started to drizzle just as I finished – so we spent the afternoon indoors. It was nice to have a chance to catch up on emails and life outside the HR bubble. The forecast is good for the next few days so it seems we have been extremely lucky with the weather.

And finally it’s the “rest” day, just a time trial up the Alpe. There were 2 ways to ride it today – a full on TT effort to try and gain places in the GC or as a recovery ride (if that’s possible).

Currently 16th out of only 20 women left in the race I really am not bothered about my ranking – my goal has always been to complete the HR within the daily time limit.

With a monstrous Stage 5 looming I chose to take it easy. We set off at 20 second intervals in reverse GC order, down a ramp just like the pros.

I set a new personal record of sorts – probably the slowest time ever up Alpe d’Huez and one of the slowest on the day.

Looks like Lillian is putting the guy behind her in the hurt locker… guess he was about to overtake.

Worryingly my niggly knee pain is has got a lot worse and hurts with every pedal stroke. I’m now hobbling around. Tomorrow is the queen stage, 183km/4500m all the way to Megève via three massive cols, the Glandon, Madeleine and Saisies.

I actually don’t think I’m going to make it unless some miracle happens overnight.

Stage 5 (Alpe d’Huez to Megève)

The queen stage, and if the announcement that evening was to be believed the toughest HR stage ever. 183km climbing 4500m and crossing three Hors Categorie cols, the Glandon, Madelaine and then the climb to Saises via Bisanne.

The day commenced at 7am with a neutralised roll down to the Lac du Verney, via Villard-Reculas. I had expected this to feel very sketchy and dangerous with riders jostling for position but it was fine. The timing for the first climb, the Col du Glandon, started by the lake. About a third of the way up the climb I found I was riding with Guilherme, a Brazilian rider that was doing the ‘Triple’ (the HR Pyrenees, Alps and Dolomites back to back). I figured he would be a good wheel to follow as he should know how to pace himself. We worked together to catch another rider on the final uphill to through the meadows and I reached the col with a PB for me on the climb by about 5 minutes (1 hour 19 minutes).

The descent was neutralised so I took it easy and enjoyed the view. It was a long way down (1500m) to La Chambre and the start of the next timed section, the Col de la Madeleine. I started up this alone but was soon overtaken by a group containing some strong riders including Richard and Michael (who had destroyed my legs on the Stage 1) and Emma P.

This was a day on which it would pay to be sensible and not stick with the fast group.

I decided to let them go and rode the bulk of the climb with a Frenchman, Florian. 5km from the top, Alex overtook me pedalling really strongly, and I managed to stick to his wheel and was paced most of the way to the top. By coincidence I rode at an NP of 247W for 1 hour 25 both this and the previous timed sections.

Perhaps I should ride for Black Widow Cycling next time and be able to enjoy the Cafepod freshly cooked lunch.

There was a fantastic view of Mont Blanc from the top of the col and I enjoyed that and the beautiful smooth road on the following descent, also neutralised. I was on my own for a long time and started to wonder if I had gone off route. However I eventually reached a timing mat for the final timed section; 20km of flat roads to Albertville, 15km of gentle uphill to Beaufort and then the final 15km climb to Saises. I waited for a group to come by and as luck would have it was joined by Alex and four riders from a UK club, Adalta, plus several other familiar faces. We worked well for those first 35km but after that it was every rider for themselves. I was (relatively) strong and was soon catching riders in front. However, the climb went on longer than expected and I had the Col du Granon feeling of thinking I had missed kilometre markers as it took so long for them to appear. Eventually it was over though and I crossed the timing mat feeling that I had had a good day. I was 41st and moved up to 44th in the GC.

I waited there for Lillian who arrived about 90 minutes later having made it through the stage well under the cut-off. A great effort especially as her knee had been causing her pain was all strapped up.

I spent all of yesterday afternoon either lying down or foam rolling, iced my knee, dosed up on ibuprofen and watched YouTube videos on knee taping. I was so convinced that I would end up in the broomwagon today that I even made myself a special broomwagon sandwich at breakfast time.

It was another early start – 7am from the Alpe – but once I settled in, I found that my legs felt surprisingly okay – my strategy of taking yesterday’s TT as easy as possible paid off. My knee was a constant worry, as were the cut off times. I felt like I was constantly racing the clock today. I got to the top of the Glandon with 15 minuste to spare.

Although the descents are neutralised and untimed, this is only for the GC time – you still have to make it past each checkpoint and get to the finish by certain times. For those at the front it means that these types of HR stage can be ridden as a series of hill climb TTs. And then rest and recover in the neutralised sections like Mark and Alex did on Stage 1. But for those towards the back like me, I can’t hang about at feeding stations. At each one I tried to be efficient as possible, cramming food into the mouth, refilling bottles and pockets and setting off down the descents asap and descending as quickly as possible to try to gain time.

After the Madeleine there was a valley section into the headwind. I managed to get into a chain-gang that worked well together.

Onto the Saisies, climbing the hard way via Bisanne. By now it was very hot, my knee was aching and my feet felt like they were going to explode. All the way up I was taunted by small streams which were just a little bit too inaccessible – I was also worried that if I stopped I wouldn’t get back on the bike again.

In the end I made it to the finish with a comfortable hour inside the cut off time. A feeling of absolute relief when I managed to complete the stage. 10 hours on the bike today and the longest ride I’ve done in a day since the Marmotte in 2012.

Relief at the end of the timing in Saises.

Two more stages to go. I’m hoping the knee will hold out.

Stage 6 (Megève to Morzine)

It’s has got to the point now where the routine has become so familiar that it feels that we have been doing this for a long time. Wake, eat, ride, eat, eat again, prepare drinks and ride food for the next day, try to get a good night’s sleep. It seems an age ago that we were in Nice but strangely the days pass very quickly.

This morning it was up at 5.20am for a 7am start by the church in Megève. After a neutralised 14km section timing would start at the bottom of a punchy 3km climb followed by a descent to Ugine. A flat section led to the Col de Épine followed by a rolling descent to Thônes and a drag up the Col de la Columbière where the first timed section stopped. This made it more tactical than yesterday which was mainly a series of uphill time trials.

It had rained overnight and I lost track of Alex on the slippery descent. Towards the bottom where the roads were drier a big, strong looking German guy went by me and I put caution to the wind to stay on his wheel. The two of us formed a nucleus of a group that grew in size. With an effective chain gang we caught Alex’s group at the bottom of the Épine. This was relatively small climb, ascending only 470m, so we were still in a group at the top where we caught Andy. This was a surprise as he had been taking minutes out of me on each of the climbs so far.

On the flats and false flats up to the start of the last 700m of climb on the Colombière the group stayed together.

Me, Alex and half of Graham on the drag up to the start of the Colombière.

However I think Andy did too much work as he was not his normal climbing self once the road started going uphill. I ended up finishing strongly, ahead of him and Alex – who picked a bad spot to stop for a pee at the bottom.

The women’s leader was not far behind. She is a strong climber having beaten me on the Alpe d’Huez TT day!

Marjolaine wearing a cool homemade leader’s jersey as the HR provided ones are men’s fit only!

The final challenge of the day was the Col de Joux Plane. Lillian has really suffered on that climb; even Lance Armstrong had a bad experience on it, and even mention of its name would elicit a ‘I hate that climb’ or something similar. However as I had previously not ridden it on the limit I had more pleasant memories of it. Today I realised that when you are tired and have to dredge up ones last reserves of energy it is a beast. Andy had faltered lower on the climb but recovered and caught me a couple of kilometres from the end. He then proceeded to do a Contador-style out of the saddle push for the whole of the last two km. I somehow managed to hang on and we finished together. It was nice to ride with Andy as he is usually more towards the front of the race with a GC position of 31st versus my 43rd.

Even better, I met my old colleague Mark and some of his family on the col and while waiting for Lillian I had an omelette and salad them. When she reached the finish she was crying with tiredness but importantly I think she has done the toughest that the HR can throw at her.

We just need good luck on the final stage tomorrow. I came 41st in the stage. My GC position is not secure as I am only 20 seconds ahead of Ben from Australia. We were only separated by 1 second yesterday so we are clearly very similar riders. It could make tomorrow quite interesting.

Probably the toughest day I’ve ever had on the bike. After yesterday’s massive stage and cumulative fatigue from the week, my legs were completely dead and I felt like I struggled all day.

During the first two climbs up the Épine and Columbière (the easier side from Le Grand Bornand), all I could think about was how nice it would be to find a shady spot under a tree and wait for the broomwagon.

I’ve not slept properly since leaving London. The early wake up times of 5.30 haven’t helped. Talking to the other cyclists, many have said the same. You’d think that spending several hours a day on the bike for days in a row would result in good sleep – it’s been the opposite. Perhaps it’s too much adrenaline, too many caffeine gels and too much anxiety about getting up and ready in the morning.

The last climb of the day and the last HC climb of the week was the Col de Joux Plane. I’ve already cycled up it three times previously and suffered on every occasion. This time was by far the worst. I can safely say it’s my least favourite HC climb and I dislike it even more each time I do it! I ended up crawling up it agonisingly slowly and was completely exhausted by time I got to the top. Luckily Mark was there waiting at the finish but had already met a friend for lunch!

In spite of my extreme tiredness today I was still comfortably inside the cut off time.

Lillian with Mont Blanc behind her on the Joux Plane.

Tomorrow is the final stage. The finish line in Geneva is still 140km/2600m away. It can’t come soon enough.

Stage 7 (Morzine to Geneva)

Andrew, Alex, Mark and Lill getting ready for the final test.

Final day and it was going to be a tough one. The timed section was 103km with two tough 500m climbs, the Col de Encrenaz and the Col de Ramaz (separated by a short descent) providing the selection of the groups that ride over another three named cols, the Feu, Cou and Saxel. So it was going to hard as soon as the 3km neutralised section ended. The initial 10% slopes of the Encrenaz were a vicious warm-up but did the job of splitting the field into groups. I was with a few guys I knew from other days including Marc from GCN. On the descent of the Encrenaz, a bumpy and narrow road, Marc’s water bottle bounced out after he smashed through a pothole. I had decided to take three bottles to avoid stopping at drink stops; however I didn’t see anyone else adopting the same strategy and wondered if I had made a poor decision. At least now I had a use for my third bottle (nearly empty now) and offered it to Marc on the top of the Ramaz.

A fast descent and some rolling hills, including the Col de Jambaz, took our group, which has swelled to 9 to the start of the Fou. It was whittled down over this col and by the time we got going on the Cou there was only myself and Louis from the Wolves of Geneva team remaining. We caught a Brit, Ian, about 2km up the climb. He is one of the crazy Triple riders. When I had passed him on climbs earlier in the week he had been swearing in the most extreme fashion. However he seemed much happier today – he later said he like climbs until they get to more than 7%. This one was an average of 6.3% for 8.1km so he loved it. He was a powerhouse and towed Louis and I most of the way up, back down the other side and to the start of the final named climb, the Saxel.

Towards the top of the Cou we overtook Ben, my GC rival. He latched on to us and proceeded to attack on the final lumps into the finish. He made a valiant effort but I was not going to let him get away. It did break up our group though and he and I finished a bit ahead along with another flat and downhill powerhouse, Pasi the Finn! Alex was waiting at the finish having come in a couple of minutes and 4 places ahead; he had had a hard day having eventually been dropped by one of the faster groups. I was 41st… and my GC position 43rd was retained.

Alex and I on the finish line.

There was no water or refreshments, presumably to encourage us to ride to the picturesque but touristic lakeside village of Yvoire where we were all had lunch before a convoy back to Geneva.

Post lunch photo with smiles all round.

The convoy proved to almost be the crux of the day for me. I had a hunger flat – probably due to the ice cream I ate just before we left in Yvoire – but the convoy was not going that slowly and was certainly not stopping. With cold sweat running down my face and my handlebars wobbling I just kept the pedals turning. Thankfully we reached the official finish after an hour and I could collapse on the grass in the Jardin Anglais – which seemed appropriate as we had started on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice. Lillian had a really tough day riding mainly by herself but finished the event and by Geneva was positively chirpy; a nice contrast to my exhaustion. Then it was off to our hotel – which was in the red light district but luckily surrounded by lots of cheap restaurants. I say cheap but this tasty Lebanese mixed meat platter cost £14!

It was a fun and memorable week and I was happy and proud to see Lillian complete the HR, as well as my other two Dynamo team mates.

During the entire ride today the only thing I kept thinking in my head (and on occasion out loud) was: “Where’s the f£&”ing finish?”

Today was the flattest stage of the whole week but within 3km we were climbing out of Morzine onto the Encrenaz and then the Ramaz which I remembered well from the London Dynamo Morzine Sportive trip last year.

The rest of the route was just painful, slow and seemingly into a lot of headwind up 4/5% non-climbs which seemed to drag on forever. During the previous 6 stages I was able to work in a group when I needed to. Today I was pretty much by myself all day. No groups formed (at the back where I was). And the riders who passed me one or two at a time were just going a bit too fast for my dead legs.

By the time I crossed the finish line in Yvoire the feeling was mainly relief and fatigue (the elation and sense of achievement came a couple of hours later when I had recovered).

Lillian and I with Arthur in Yvoire.

The start line in Nice now seems like a very long time ago! 320 cyclists started off in Nice. Around 45 DNFed along the way. There were only 23 women of which 18 completed all 7 stages (I came 14th). What a week! I need to go back to work to recover now.

As well finishing the HR Lillian and I managed another significant achievement; coming at the top of the London Dynamo leaderboard.

And in terms of effort I reached an all time 7 days TSS record of 2224! Lillian was 2139.

 

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