We made it! The whole team has completed stage 7 safely here’s the tale of how it went.
Our final stage would see us ride 125kms and a humble 1400m of climbing in relation to previous days. Our only major climb for the day would be the Col d’Aspin, 12km at an average gradient of 6.5%. Today was always going to be fast, a mad dash up the Aspin and then the prospect of some fast group riding to the finish, the day did not disappoint.
We started in Peyragudes in cloudy conditions but none of the rain that had been forecast. We were lead for a neutralised 14km down into the valley. As the flag went down the pace was fierce. We had about 5kms of flattish terrain before the Aspin and it was clear that some people wanted to get there first. We were strung out at high speed and gaps were forming already. I rode smoothly and got myself into a good position in the first 20 riders by the time we hit the lower slopes of the Aspin.
My legs felt good, I was riding better each day, back to the form that I showed in this event last year. I felt strong and ready for what was going to be a potentially frantic couple of hours of racing. Everybody went hard. The last climb in the event, why wouldn’t you? The faster you went the better group you could be in on the other side and all the way to the finish. I found myself moving up the field. There were 10 or so riders up the road but I was feeling good in the group behind. The ‘Cafe Pod’ van came past with ACDC blaring out from it’s speakers. It was inspiring, some were probably annoyed by it but I was in the mood for strong sounds and strong riding. I looked behind me and there was Felix from our team. He’s been riding stronger and stronger each day and he was clearly happy to be on my wheel. I kept on leapfrogging a few more riders as we progressed to the summit and as we crested I was just behind Alastair.
Unlike yesterday this was going 100% to plan. At this point there were 7 riders who had crested before us. I was at the sharp end of the next group which consisted of about 15 riders. The descent went well. A few tight bends in the first 5kms needed plenty of concentration. Hannah, the ladies’ leader, had crested with us but she got detached at this point. For a moment I wondered if I could or should help her get back on. That moment passed, ‘look after number one’ said the more powerful voice in my head. The descent got straighter and easier, super fast, an absolute buzz to share it with 15 other good riders. So much concentration required though, touching wheels or misjudging a line at these speeds could have horrific consequences. Road racing is dangerous, there’s no two ways about it, but it’s so addictive and exhilarating too. Concentration is the key, keeping your eye on the ball all the time.
As the road flatted further our group started to work together. Alastair, myself and a few others started to rotate and take turns on the front. We were fairly dominant in trying to organise and encourage the others to work. There were doubtless some tired legs in that group of 15. Some just wanted a free lift to the finish. We needed as many as possible to participate and help. Alastair, myself and Felix all had good legs. We didn’t want a ride, we wanted to work and push things on. Alastair was lying 8th overall in the rankings and Hervé lying 9th had got himself into the front 7. For Alastair’s sake we needed to work to make sure his 8th place was secured. For all the rest of us too it was in our interests to ‘gap’ those behind as much as possible to give each individual in our group a chance to either guarantee his place or to move up the rankings.
We continued to forge on. Not everyone was working but the majority were getting involved at least some of the time. There were about 7 of us who were working all the time. To have 3 of our team in that group was fabulous. We were all decked out in smart AC white jerseys and we rode well. I felt so proud.
There were 3 nasty climbs, each lasting a couple of kms in the last half of the course. Alastair pushed hard over the penultimate one and for a few moments I felt vulnerable, possibly close to losing the group. My fears were short lived, we crested and my legs soon recovered.
Alastair was good for pulling us up the climbs, other riders including myself came to the front for the descents and technical sections through villages. All good.
One final lump before the finish was followed by a descent of about 2kms and then a slightly uphill kilometre to finish. The pace was massively wound up, we all emptied ourselves with a big sprint at the finish, all coming over the line in a similar time. The positions didn’t matter, the time gaps ahead and behind us would.
Such relief, we’d made it. 7 massive days of bike racing in an incredible environment. Hervé had got back 6 minutes on Alastair but not enough to take his 8th position. I’m so proud of what Alastair achieved this week. He’ll cherish 8th place in the Haute Route Pyrenees for a long time just as I do with my top 10 finish from last year.
Shortly after the finish we gathered at a café, had a beer or two and waited for the rest of the team to finish. Then, we cruised into Pau as a team of 10, chatting away and gloating in what we’d all achieved. Martin, who has supported us all the way drove our support vehicle with us, we were back together after a week of spreading ourselves over the Pyrenees.
Each and every member of our team should feel very proud. We’ve been on an amazing journey of endurance sport combined with so much more. The feast on the eyes that the scenery has provided, the immersion in the culture of the area and the community of personalities that we’ve all become part of in our own sections of the peloton is immense. It’s been a huge week physically and emotionally for all. Enjoys your beers tonight and savour your memories. I don’t think this will be our last Haute Route!
I feel unbelievably proud.
Final General Classification results are as follows:
Melanie Batchelor 16th lady
Alastair Roberts 8th
John Thomas 15th (3rd 50-59)
Felix Hoddinott 39th
Mark Fairgrieve 52nd
James Richens 62nd
Riccardo Clerici 94th
Duncan Carrier 106th
Brian Moher 107th
Ian Arthur 197th