Haute Route Pyrenees Stage 5 ITT

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Stage 5 was the Individual Time Trial, the ‘race of truth’. Riders against the clock. Starting at 20 second intervals. One hill. No hiding.

For many in the event it would be regarded as an easier day, certainly a lot less time on the bike, a bit longer in bed, a bit of respite from the 4 previous tough days.

Our hill was the Col de Spandelles from Argelès Gazost. 15.2kms and 930m of ascension. A fairly humble average gradient of around 6% but in fact a climb that includes huge variations as you can see from the profile below. With steeps and flats and a tricky surface too it would be a good all round test of pacing, fitness, gear choice and even bike handling.

spandelles profile

As with most time trials we started in reverse order of where we stood in the General Classification. Slowest riders would start at 9.00, the leaders at around 11.00. 20 second intervals between each rider with the exception of the top 5 riders who would have 2 minutes between them to reduce the chance of them getting embroiled in duels.

Argelès Gazost was buzzing. A great atmosphere and a superb location in the middle of town to launch an average of about an hour of pain on each rider. We’d ridden from our hotel in Lourdes which gave us a nice 12km warm up. I then headed up the first 4kms of the course itself to do a few ‘openers’. A few hard efforts, just a few seconds each one, to get the heart rate up and give the body a little taste of what I’d be inflicting on it a little later. When I’m fresh for something like this, without what we’ve done in previous days, I would easily get those ‘openers’ to get my heart rate into the 170’s (Beats per minute).  Today 150’s were all that were happening with the fatigue of the first 4 stages. I expected that though, more importantly my legs felt good and I was feeling quietly confident that my body could deliver a decent ride.

 

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As my time approached I stepped up on to the rather dramatic start ramp. A very quick gel sucked in at the last minute. Presenter Fergus Grant asks me how I feel, ‘excited!’. It’s my turn, Richard Scales has just departed and I’m ready. I’ve already selected a gear that suits the first couple of hundred metres. Here we go. I’m happy to be pedalling. I find all the anticipation and waiting quite nerve racking. It’s a relief to get on with the job. I settle into a good firm rhythm. The first 2 or 3 kms were steady and up at about 6/7%. The crucial thing in any time trial is pacing. You’re looking for an even effort throughout your anticipated time. So easy to go too hard too soon when you feel good. A power meter is really useful in that regard as it helps cap your effort and keeps you ‘out of the red’. For the 48 minutes that I expected to take, I can sustain around 315 watts when I’m on good form. Go over that for too many seconds in the early stages and I would pay at the end. The other aspect on a course like this is trying to even out the power on the changes of terrain. Easy to make the mistake of going too far over ‘threshold’ on the steeper bits and then easing too much on the flats. You need the opposite. A measured effort on the ups where the hill provides you resistance and forces you to work anyway. On the flats, with less resistance the perceived effort needs to be greater to achieve the same output. I hope that makes sense! Basically the flats are not a resting opportunity, completely the opposite, they need to be ridden hard.

 

All was going well. I gradually reeled in Richard and passed him after about 2.5kms. He’d had a tough day yesterday with major frustrating mechanical issues. I moved on, I felt strong. I didn’t need to look back, I knew that I was in catching mode rather than being a ‘catchee’. A couple more kms and I could see Krzystof ahead. He’s just behind me in GC and had started slightly out of order about a minute ahead of me. I was gaining on him which confirmed I was going well. Was I going too hard though? I kept looking at my power numbers, everything under control, high but not quite in the red zone of the dial. Legs good and heart rate going up nicely into the high 160’s, my heart and body were not quite as tired as I thought. I forged ahead. I dealt with the flat sections well. Being pretty light and more of a climber type the flat sections could easily be my downfall. I was really happy with how I geared them though and kept the power on. Passing more of my rivals who are just behind me in GC was spurring me on. So good to get encouraging words, those ‘Go John!’ shouts from the likes of Stephen and Andrew when I went past them are like an added 10 watts straight away. It feels fantastic to get encouragement from your peers who totally get what’s going on and can see you are going well.

5kms to go, more checks, too hard early on? Will I pay for my efforts? Still good. One right hand bend sticks in my mind. Flattish section, gravel on the road, I nailed it. Got such a good line and carried plenty of speed around it. I was pleased with myself. I could here shouting from a few spectators on that corner and I knew I was one of the quicker ones through there.

3kms to go and still all good. A tough and sustained finish coming up. I was still reeling people in and no one had caught me. Roedi Weststrate, 5th on GC had started one minute behind me and then the leading 4 riders starting 2 minutes apart. None of them passing me was good as I’d fancied Roedi taking a couple of minutes out of me on this climb. With 1km to go I saw 42 minutes on the clock. This was good, I was heading for a 46 if I could keep this up.

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Nearly there, I remember passing Xavier just before the last bend and then I’d got 200m left. What an atmosphere, shouting, cheering, a brilliant place. I glimpsed Adrian Beer on the left, ’50m John! Go!’. I tried to absolutely empty the tank and finished strong up the steep and gravel strewn last few metres.

tough finish.jpg

Over the line and few moments to recover away from the crowds before taking in what had happened. I knew I’d gone well and the result was almost incidental, I’d done as well as I could regardless of what my position was.

I ended up 7th. Very happy indeed. 46 minutes and 20 seconds. Carlo Fino won in 42.18. To be 4 minutes off a rider of that quality was fine by me. Roedi ended up 15 seconds ahead of me, so happy just to be in the same ball park as people like that!

carlo.jpg

So a good time trial done. Still 6th overall with bigger time gaps now back to those behind me. Jon Bray rode a fabulous 12th place today and is now up to 11th in GC. Stephen maintains his 14th in GC, Adrian moved up to 41st with a solid 51 minute ride. Duncan and Riccardo also comfortably broke the hour to both move closer to the magic top 100.

Back to ‘normal’ business tomorrow with an early start and a triple mountained jaunt planned for us including the beautiful Col d’Aubisque.

Bye for now!

 

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