The classic mountain time trial. I pushed a little harder than planned, maintained overall position, and spent the afternoon eating.

15.5km – 1,100m – Alpe d'Huez
Stage position: 137
GC position: 92

Pantani’s 39 minute record was never in danger, though perhaps that’s for the best given the chemical nature of the help he was supposed to have had.

This was an individual time trial run as you see it on telly. Riders were ordered according to the general classification, with the faster riders going later, and everyone had a start time at 20 second intervals. In an event like this you try to catch those in front and keep away from those behind.

Everyone is queued up and numbers called forward. At the right moment we were escorted up onto a real start ramp. Someone holds your bike ready, someone counts down the seconds and then you roll down the ramp and away. (Muppet here forgot about being held upright and failed to clip in until I was rolling down the ramp, like the rank amateur that I am!) It looks great in the photos.

The ceremony took place in the centre of Bourg d’Oisans, the town at the foot of the hill, but the actual timer didn’t start for another kilometre after the getting out of town. Over the roundabout, along the flat road leading to the mountain, and the timer starts at the left turn onto the first hairpin, and it’s like turning a corner into a wall. The gradient is steepest for the first few hairpins, and kicks up suddenly.

Pretty quickly I was passed by the first couple of people who started after me. I kept reminding myself I didn’t need to chase, because any time gained here are likely to pale into comparison with those we see tomorrow. A French woman and a British guy I’ve been riding closely with over the last few days sped past me, and I could only think they looked like they were going faster than would be sustainable.

I found it oddly difficult to keep a constant effort today – not difficult to put out the power, but it was varying quite a bit up and down. I ended up pushing a bit more than planned, but certainly nothing too much. With only a single climb today a little extra wasn’t a problem. As it turned out I rode a personal best! Though in the context I’m happy not to have moved any GC places and not to have burned any matches doing it.

I did catch up again with one of those two riders I guessed had gone out too hard, right up in the village at the top, and ended up only a handful of seconds off both of their times.

Tomorrow is the big one. The plan is go at the same pace as ever on the first and second climbs. The first is familiar from the Marmotte and I don’t really have any worries about that. The second is huge – more than 1500m up over 20km, which will likely take nearly two hours. If I’m feeling ok there, I’ll relax in the untimed descent section again and maybe even have a picnic and a coffee (the feed stations are pretty civilised here!), and then go harder for the last climb, Col des Saisies. If people are struggling this will be a good place to pick up time. If I’m struggling this will be a place to lose a lot of minutes and positions.

Highlight of the day: being escorted through the village by a following police motorbike, just like you see at a summit finish on the Tour!

part of the Haute Route series