Starting hard with the length of the Marmotte and two-thirds of the ascent, and climbing Ascros, Cayolle and Pra Loup. Plus: surprise video appearance!

173km – 3,700m – Ascros, Col de la Cayolle, Pra Loup
Stage position: 108
GC position: 108

Well that was fun!

The first part of the day went as well as it could have. I stayed near the front for the first neutralised section making sure to stay out of any trouble, but the group was so much better behaved than in the Velothon or even the Marmotte that it just didn’t matter. In the first climb to Ascros I was feeling strong and everything worked. Yes, I went a bit hard at the start and stayed with a faster group a little longer than I should have, and yes everyone warned not to do that. But after a while the groups split, I settled into a rhythm and it was steady riding over the top and down the descent.

In the valley after the descent I imagine managed to cajole a group into doing a proper chain-gang, and so we motored along sharing the work well for a while.

The scenery around the half-way point was nothing short of epic. The river valley turned into a deep-cut canyon with a road winding along the side. The road kept splitting into a tiny tunnel in one direction and a curve around the side in the other. The riding still felt easy and smooth, great fun!

The second climb to the Col de la Cayolle is long, and high. It started ok there too, but before long I started getting some stomach pain, similar to this year’s Marmotte. Maybe I should stop drinking those carbohydrate-powder bottles that they offer. Struggling to push on it felt like I was losing a ton of time here, and it was only near the top that any power came back. A lot of people seemed to have problems on the second half of the Cayolle, with people stopping to stretch out cramps. But again, wonderful views back down the mountain. If the routes continue like this we’re in for a cracking week.

A nice little stop at the top of the untimed descent and I managed to recover, drink, eat and get early word from the family that the checkpoint timings were looking good… This is also where I was accosted by the roving staff videographer to have a quick chat, and I ended up on the stage highlights video! I didn’t even plan on embedding these videos and it’s nearly bedtime, so just go here for a sample of the day!

The descent down here is another valley and then river canyon. Very pretty, but also pretty dangerous with some sharp bends not well protected against the drop to the riverbed… Needless to say I had promised the wife to be extra careful and spend the time looking around! A final kick up Pra Loup, and it was nice to finish on a familiar climb, having visited in July.

And it seemed to go well, placing me in 108th position overall, out of 309 who finished the stage and … who started it.

Village, massage, and I even had a go in the cryomassage chamber run by one of the sponsers, in which they pump liquid nitrogen over your legs for a few minutes. It seems to be just a gimmick but some people said it felt good for the muscles! It just seemed cold, to me. Dinner in the race village consisted of some rice next to the chewiest, yet least cooked steak I’ve ever seen. Second dinner of a kilo of pasta and half a chicken went down much better.

I also spoke with the people in the Infocrank tent. They’re there to sell posh power meters but are also coaching, and helping with pacing tips. They took a look at the data from my ride today and were clear that I’d gone too hard in two separate places, and was draining far too much energy for a multi-day event – during the first half hour after the neutralised start when everyone was excited, and during the chain-gang section.

Tomorrow I’m going to have to slow down, so I’m very likely to drop a bunch of places in the GC ranking as a cost of maintaining energy for later in the week.

part of the Haute Route series