Stage 2 started in Megève with a summit finish atop the Col de la Loze, 122kms later. 3300m of climbing with the Col de Saisies and Cote de Montagny providing the substantial warm up climbs before the Loze.
I slept badly and felt tired this morning. Maybe this would be the day when 8 previous days of intense racing would catch up with me, maybe.
We started with a relaxed 9kms of neutralised riding towards Flumet. The rest of the peloton seemed to respect the top 25 riders who were jammed up behind the Commissaire’s car and it made for a stress free start. The flag went down on at the foot of the Saisies, a 13km climb without too many steep pitches. As we climbed the leaders pushed ahead and I found myself in a ‘best of the rest’ second group. I could have made the first group if I had too but for the first time really in 9 days of racing I went for a more defensive approach.
I didn’t need to be in that first group. The key people in the race for me were not in that group, most notably Louis-Paul who is 2nd behind me in the Pyrenees/Alps GC. As it happened, riders started to get spat out of the front group and got absorbed by us. All confirming that I’d made the right call. One of those spit outs was Bruno who I’d spend lots of time with today.
Saisies went well. Totally to plan. Legs and body felt fine. My power meter was working again and the numbers were good. I cruised up Saisies at about 275 watts and it felt very manageable. Today was all about pacing and saving something for what would be a very tough finishing climb.
As we crested Saisies in a group of about 15 I came to the front and rode ahead. I knew all the roads today intimately with them all being on my doorstep and within day ride distance of where I live. I wanted to be first down the descent, partly to get clear from other people and their unpredictable lines. Partly to take some responsibility in showing people the way. You always want a local rider on the front in a descent if possible.
I loved it. In my element. Nailed the lines and felt proud of how I was riding. Then, big shout from behind. I looked back to see a purple jersey and it’s wearer crashing off the side. It looked bad. I reckoned it was Richard Scales, having yet more bad luck after all sorts of issues in the Pyrenees. Turned out later that he was ok and able to continue but it made me think.
The margins of what we do are so fine. We go fast, you have to if you want to compete. Things can go wrong in a fraction of a second. We’re so reliant on our wheels and tyres performing. Bike crashes are horrible things to witness. Let’s move on.
As we continued I was overtaken by Bruno. Probably the only man in that group I was happy to have overtake me. He descends beautifully, even on roads that are new to him. I followed him to the bottom giving me a chance to relax a fraction.
Onwards to Albertville. Mainly down, a fast 20km stretch where we tended to single out as a line of 15 and threaded ourselves through the gentle bends duplicating the course of the river alongside us.
We smashed our way through Albertville and onto a flattish 25kms to Moutiers where the next climb would start. Our group was up to about 18 with a few chasers that had bridged across to us. Again, more roads that I knew well. I started to boss the group a bit. They had no idea as to exactly how the road would unfold. I knew exactly the stretches where a ‘through and off’ rotation would work and where it wouldn’t.
I loved my job. I was able to be super specific with distances and hazards. ‘Thanks John, how come you know all this?’ ‘I live here’. Every one listened. On sections where line was crucial such as roundabouts and narrow sections in villages I came to the front and guided everyone through, once onto wider sections we’d resume the rotating.
At 73km we hit my key feed station, Martin got me quickly sorted with 2 bottles. Hydration was crucial in the hot conditions we were enjoying. As we came through the feed station we caught the leading group who’d stopped briefly there. A good indication that we’d made really good progress on the flats.
So now we had one big lead group of maybe 25 riders. We approached Moutiers together and hit the foot of the next climb all together. Cote de Montagny is an 8km climb rising up about 500m. It starts with a very steep 300m which immediately fragmented our 25. The likes of Ruari Grant and the other big hitters rode away from me, thats fine. I was dropping riders behind and found myself in a small group including Bruno.
I climbed all that climb with him. A steady pace. Perfect. Louis-Paul my second in GC man was somewhere behind on the road. Again, I had no interest with riders ahead. I was in a good place. That climb was perfect. A firm effort but not burning too many matches that I’d need later.
I led Bruno and another American rider down the other side to Bozel. Again local knowledge helping me to save them a few seconds. One more job to do for the day. The big one, Col de La Loze. 22.5kms long and rising up a whopping 1500m. The most notable section was to be the newly paved last 6kms, a totally new road, only for cyclists! That final 6kms rose up just under 400m but in the most irregular way imaginable. A series of flats and descents followed by a succession of ramps of 16%-18%. Vicious.
As we started our 22.5km trudge we were joined by Louis-Paul, ‘I’m back guys’. He’d chased back onto us with a couple of other riders. I was pleased to see him. He’s a really nice young bloke and having him there seemed right so that we could properly resume our GC battle.
The first few kms up to La Praz went smoothly. Just like a yellow jersey wearer in the Tour I had no reason to push hard. I left it to Louis-Paul to lead our small group up. At that point I’d be happy to ride to the finish with him and preserve my lead of about 20 minutes. Louis Paul is young, not sure how old but in the 18-29 category. Another generation to me. He’s a good looking rider. Stylish, tidy. He looked fresh and capable. I thought he might force the pace and see what he could do to me.
6kms up the climb and all was well. I’m happy and comfortable. My power meter shows me chugging away at about 250 watts. At this point of the day that’s plenty. 8kms up and LP’s pace is easing. My power numbers are sneaking to 240 and even lower. It looked like he was starting to fade a fraction. I felt good. I didn’t feel like fading. I moved gently past him and smoothly cranked up my effort to about 280 watts. Not an attack as such, just a tester. I felt good and I just wanted to see what would happen. He and the other rider who was with us at that point dropped off quickly. I rode away. I settled into about 265 watts and moved further away from them. I was feeling good, really good. I could see Michael, a Canadian just ahead, I bridged to him gradually and ended up riding all the way to the finish with him.
Riding through Courchevel 1650 and 1850 the gradients eased and I rode hard. Michael was strong and hung onto my wheel. I encouraged him to make the most of me feeling good. He talked a lot! I didn’t want to! I was in my zone and the chatting could come later! We rode well together. We hit the fearsome last 6km point and things were going really well.
As we hit the first of the steep ramps I could see he was shocked at how tough it was. We reeled in another rider and dealt with the ramps as best we could. 22 minutes of really tough bike riding to get that last section done. My 34 – 29 gearing was fine for me on there but I was worried for lesser riders coming up later that would be really struggling on these slopes. I suspect there would have been a fair bit of walking going on later in the day.
Michael and I emptied ourselves to the finish to wring out everything we’d got. I crossed the line a couple of second ahead of him. After a few moments of recovery he came over to shake my hand. That wasn’t enough, I put my arms around him and I’d made another friend and rival. The people you suffer with in this event and the friendships you make are just brilliant. Such a huge part of why you should do Haute Route.
I was really happy with my ride. For yet another day I’d made good decisions and thelegs had continued to obediently deliver. Getting through today is another major hurdle dealt with and I’m feeling optimistic.
Onto all our results, today’s position then Alps GC in brackets:
John 13th (12th), Adrian 53rd (76th, Mark F 56th (62nd), Felix 67th (80th), Mark R 171st (161st), Duncan 131st (152nd), Paul 306th (299th), Luiz 234th (212th), Jardel 280th (293rd) and Andrea 279th (298th) (20th lady)
Tomorrow we face the ‘queen stage’, Courchevel to l’Alpe d’Huez, 144km and and an eye watering 4600m of climbing. I really don’t know what to expect from tomorrow but there’s certainly going to be some stuff to write about!