Stage 2 looked downright scary on paper, 3 big climbs amounting to 3900m of climbing spread over 121km. The way my legs felt the previous day I was seriously concerned as to whether I would get through this day in good shape.
We woke to a gloriously clear day, the views of the Pyrenees as we left Pau were stunning. Our route would take us over 40km of fairly flat terrain before scaling the beautiful Col d’Aubisque, 16kms long at an average gradient of around 7.5%. Next would come the Col de Spandelles, 10kms at 8.3% and then a summit finish on the fearsome Hautacam, 15kms at 7.5%.
As per Stage 1 the ride began with a 10km neutralised section, as the flag went down for the timing start the pace increased a little but we ended up enjoying a relatively leisurely 40km run in to the first climb. When I say leisurely, the ride still required plenty of concentration and short efforts to maintain position in the group but careful and accurate ‘draughting’ behind other riders meant those first 40kms didn’t eat into reserves much at all.
As we hit the lower slopes of the Aubisque I felt pretty good. My legs felt as though they were almost back to normal after the abuse I’d put them through the previous day. I’d already made up my mind to ride conservatively and give myself the best chance of still having decent energy levels on the last climb.
The first part of the Aubisque climb was ridden at a fairly moderate pace by the leading riders, it looked like they were showing the day some respect as well. As we progressed further up the road the group started to split. 10 or so riders gently pulled away from myself and the riders around me.
I was happy where I was. I looked around at the characters I was with and it suited me just fine. I had raced with several of them before and I knew their level and that I was in the right place. Alastair had made the front group and that proved to be a good decision for him.
I often think of songs when I’m riding that sum up the situation. ‘Get Back’ was the one now. ‘Get back to where you once belonged’ summed up the fact that I was back in the group I should be in. The more I thought about it I felt so stupid in chasing Alastair and others the previous day and paying the price. Now I was happy.
I progressed to the top of the Aubisque without incident, frequently using the shelter of the other riders in the group, especially on the exposed, upper slopes that are vulnerable to the wind. Trusty Martin was at the top of Aubisque to provide fresh bottles and to avoid any of our team having to stop.
The decent from the Aubisque is epic. It’s spectacular, technical and dangerous. I adore it and I know it better than most of the riders around me in the event. My descending skills are fairly strong relative to many of the other riders in the event. I’m lucky where I live and how much practice I get on major descents. For so many of the riders in this event they just don’t get those opportunities to develop their skill due to where they live. A long descent that is tricky and unpredictable is an opportunity for me to make up time on the rest of the field. All went to plan. I rode well, good lines, no silly risks, just taking advantage of my strengths, that’s what cycling is all about.
The total descent to the foot of the next climb was around 20kms, perfect! I arrived there having eaten good amounts of time into several of the riders around me. I made up my mind to ride up the Spandelles nice and steady, still trying to conserve something for the final climb. I’d earnt myself a bit of a buffer over some of the other riders and if some of them came back to me on the climb then so be it.
Spandelles is a lovely climb, narrow and up through the bracken it’s very pretty, especially near the top. As I started the climb I sighted Alastair just ahead of me, my swifter descent had almost caught him. He was looking strong though and he sailed away from me up the Spandelles and was soon out of sight. I was happy to tap away at my own rate. 2 or 3 riders caught me before the summit but all in all the 10kms of the Spandelles went ok. I felt so tired though. I felt pretty drained. I was really concerned as to how I’d put in a strong performance on the final climb, the Hautacam.
The descent of the Spandelles was untimed due to it being too gravelly and rough to safely race on. This meant a great opportunity to recuperate, eat, take a leak and stretch.
So, just 15kms left up the Hautacam. It’s a tough climb. Although it’s average gradient is somewhere around 7.5% you’ll struggle to find any of it that is that gradient! It’s a rampy affair with lots of steep pitches interspersed by occasional mini descents and flatter sections. I started the climb with a couple of other riders and to be honest the whole climb was quite uneventful for me. I tapped out a steady rhythm and I was really pleased with how my legs had held out. I wasn’t breaking any records but it was a solid ride and a massive improvement on yesterday’s antics. I finished the day in 17th place which I’d have bitten your arm off if you’d offered it to me at the beginning of the day.
At the finish I was able to congratulate Alastair on another fabulous performance, he finished 7th on the day and is now 8th overall in the event. All the rest of the team finished without too many dramas, Mark had to get a replacement wheel from Mavic support which didn’t cost him too much time but apart from that it was another very successful day. James had another solid ride to lift him to 42nd in the men’s general classification, Mark is in 47th place, Felix 55th, Duncan 108th, Brian 113th, Riccardo 114th, Ian 195th, Melanie 17th lady and your’s truly 17th. Brilliant!
Tomorrow sees use scale the iconic Tourmalet followed by Couraduque. A sunny and warmer forecast will mean lots of sweat left on the roads tomorrow, can’t wait!