Haute Route Alps Stage 1

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And so it begins again! For myself, Duncan Carrier, Adrian Beer and about 60 other riders we begin the second of our massive race weeks. Carefully designed travel and logistics have gone well from the Pyrenees meaning we managed a decent rest day in between these whopping weeks.

For the Alps our Alpine Cadence Team swells as we welcome Mark Fairgrieve (UK), Paul Martin (UK), Felix Hoddinott (UK), Mark Roberts (USA), Luiz Capelati (Brazil), Jardel Andreis (Brazil) and Andrea Azevedo (Brazil) who join our ranks for the second week.

Stage 1 would start in Megève and finish 96kms later on the Altiport above Megève. A lumpy anti clockwise loop that was to take us up to Le Bettex, Plateau d’Assy, Cote de la Provence and La Cry. All of which would conspire to give us 2600m of vertical challenge

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Today’s course would be a contrast from what we experienced in the Pyrenees. A series of ‘punchy’ 4-6km climbs today. Long enough to reward the skinny climbers but short enough to give some ‘puncheurs’ a chance to get up and over the hills and stay in touch. A course designed by Nicolas Roux to both challenge us and to take in the maximum views of th stunning Mont Blanc massif.

Alps start 1

We rolled out of Megève for a 7.5km neutralised convoy. I really had no idea what to expect from this week. I was dipping my toes into unknown territory with my mind and body. A second consecutive week of bike racing in the mountains. Bring it on, let see what happens!

The neutralised section was somewhat chaotic as expected with 500 riders wanting to get themselves well placed for the flag going down at the foot of the first climb. I got myself where I wanted to be with kilometre zero approaching, way out on the left as we took the tricky right hander and into the climb. We were off. I was happy with where I was. 5kms of climb ahead of us that would rapidly filter and separate the peloton into it’s fitness related parts.

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I was with the lead group of about 25. Ruari Grant, a potential winner of the event came past me and said hello in his usual relaxed way. ‘OK’ I gasped, a little more on the limit of the ability to speak than he was! The elite guys like Ruari pushed on up the road and the group started to split. That was fine by me. I needed a sustainable ride. I needed the right people with me and I found them. That climb went well and my legs felt good. My power meter had failed and I had no readings from it but I didn’t need them. My numbers were good.

As we crested we’d fragmented into small groups and I was in around 17th spot. The following descent was fast, narrow and no opportunity to relax. I made good time down there accompanied by the likes of Mitch from Australia and Jeff from the US who I’d see plenty more off during the day.

A minor navigation issue took me down the wrong road for 20 metres but a short, angry chase got me back with my new found descending friends. Through the flats of Passy and we could see other riders ahead that we rapidly absorbed to form a group of about 8 to hit the lower slopes of the second climb, Plateau d’Assy.

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6kms ahead of us and still the legs were good. The group split though, 3 riders ahead a little to hot for me. I settled in with the others. A couple of kms of consolidating and reviewing. The 3 ahead got about 20 seconds on us. I was feeling strong and I moved away from my sub group who I felt were holding me back. Off I went across the void. With 2kms to go I knew I probably wouldn’t get back to them on the climb but if I could go over the top within 10 seconds I knew I could get back on the descent.

A skilfully passed bottle from Martin at the crest didn’t slow me at all. I caught the 3 others about 2kms down the other side. This was going well. Onto more flats. Up ahead were more riders who we absorbed to create a group of about 9. They included Bruno Bongioanni from Nice who I’ve had some great battles with before. I like riding with Bruno. He knows what he’s doing.

Being in that group was perfect. A bit of ‘through and off’ rotating meant we transported each other swiftly and efficiently to the foot of the next climb. Things couldn’t be much better at this point. Cote de la Provence was another 5km affair and not too steep. A ‘power climb’ where riders could elect to churn a bigger gear and really get the bike moving. 3 riders went off the front. I was happy left with the others at that point. ‘Bye bye young boys’ I quipped to Bruno as the three headed up the road. The rest of our group had fallen back. I rode with Bruno for a km or so and was feeling strong. I’m used to be being very closely matched to his level. Today felt different though. The legs were great and I moved up the road ahead of him. I could hear a comment from behind, something about being ‘en forme’. He hadn’t seen me ride like this before.

I moved up the road and although not catching the other 3 I was always in touch, just a few seconds behind them. At the top of the Cote de la Provence the timing stopped as the following tricky descent into Sallanches would be neutralised. I powered over the line and had moved up to around 12th pace on the day.

Next we would head up to La Cry. A 10km climb but broken in the middle with a long flatter section, effectively meaning 2 climbs of about 3/4km with a gap in the middle. People had talked about how tough the first section was. I was past caring about gradients and numbers. When the legs are good it doesn’t figure. I was happy whatever the hill threw at me. I’d started over the timing mat at the back of a group of about 15 including Bruno, Mitch, Jeff and a few of the bigger hitters.

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I worked my way through the field. As I passed Jeff he got on my wheel and we’d be destined to be together to the finish. He and I worked really well together on the flatter sections and we made good inroads on riders ahead. He could ride a bike. I’d never met him before but I could see I’d got a reliable partner to help us both progress.

As we got closer to the top of La Cry we could see the fastest of the initial 15 riders just ahead. A well timed push and we were back with them. Perfect timing, just before the final climb from Megève to the Altiport. Another ‘power climb’ with humble gradients and one where you need to be with other riders to get the drafting effect that’s so crucial on a climb where the speeds would always be between 20 and 30kph.

I was in cycling heaven. This was going so well. I found myself on the final climb with 6 other class riders. I knew of most of them. I felt like I’d just been promoted to the Premier League and I was loving it. Names that always appeared above me on race results and now I was getting a ride with them. With a couple of kms to go there were a couple of attacks which were reeled in. With 1 km to go the pace slowed. Whatever happened now I was happy. Even if they all battered me in the sprint we’d all get similar times and for me it was more about creating time differences on all the riders we’d left behind including my rivals for the over 50 category and the Pyrenees/Alps GC.

I finished strong, I think 4th of the 7. Super happy, thank you legs and body you’ve done me proud. Really chuffed with my ride today. Made good decisions at the right moments. Couldn’t have done better.

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So, I came 10th on the day, 10th in what I think is a pretty strong field. Ruari managed to take the win more than 10 minutes ahead of me. Another world of a level. A relatively short stage today so now loads of opportunity for rest and recuperation. 8 amazing days done, 6 to go. Light at the end of what is actually a very bright tunnel….at the moment

And so to the rest of the team. Positions were as follows: Mark F 73rd, Felix 122nd (very sore from a nasty crash but he’ll be ok), Mark R 147th, Adrian 156th (puncture cost 15mins), Duncan 186th, Luiz Capelati 201st, Paul Martin 305th, Jardel Andreis 315th and Andrea 328th (19th lady)

There is now a GC ranking for Pyrenees plus the Alps for those doing both. I’m winning! Pretty happy about that, just lucky for me that Carlo Fino who won in the Pyrenees has decided to retire, not feeling well apparently. Adrian sits 16th in that GC and Duncan 27th. Full results can be found here

Tomorrow for stage 7 we leave the sophisticated comfort of Megève and head towards what will be a much talked about, brutal finish above Courchevel on the newly paved Col de la Loze. More uphill battles to be won.

See you tomorow!

 

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