After what was supposed to be the easiest stage yesterday, this tuesday morning we had what could be considered the hardest stage of the 2012 of the Haute Route to look forward to today. 4700m of climbing with 3 “hors categorie” climbs. Col de la Madeleine, Col du Glandon, and L’Alpe d’Huez.
With temperatures in the 30s on the final climb, this was going to be painful and long (5h40m on the bike for me). At the start the general plan was to take it easy on Madeleine so as not to crack on the final climb as I did on the tuesday marathon stage in Haute Route 2011 (which also started on Madeleine coincidentally). After a long and painful neutralized descent, the climb starts with all the favorites taking it easy. A small group forms ahead of the peloton but I don’t recognize any of the riders and no one moves to join them.
After a few minutes Emma Pouley (who had stopped for a nature break before the climb and later said it had been a mistake), arrived after having to pass several hundred riders. In all the adrenaline she keeps going and joins the break. Nicolas Raybaud from our Team No Limit goes as well. There is also one rider from Kenya Riders with them, but John Muy (podium 2eme etape) stays with us. A short while later the Kenya Rider is dropped from the escape group.
Peter, Ben Blaugrund and I discuss and decide the break is perfect for us – we are happy to ride behind others wheels in the peloton for a change. Unfortunately, it is short lived as Michel Chocol (2nd on the GC) takes off to join them, which of course causes the domino affect of Peter going, then Ben going and then me… Michel’s strong 3 minute pull bridges all of us to the break. We are now 7 in front and this time there are no riders from Kenya Riders, or more specifically John Muy, who is threatening Ben’s 3rd place classification and who is just ahead of Emma and me on the GC).
Peter goes to the front and sets a solid pace that everyone can follow and our gap grows from the peloton. At the top of Madeleine things start to split apart though as Michel accelerates. Emma goes with him, but Ben and I are determined to not go hard on the first climb so we stay back. In the process though, Nicolas is dropped as well as all the others from the original escape group. Peter joins Michel and Emma with ease so Ben sets a steady pace behind and mostly stay on his wheel, giving turns when I can.
From a distance we see Peter drop Michel and Emma and head for a long day at the front by himself. To end the suspense Peter showed his superiority by winning the 3rd consecutive stage solo. Meanwhile, we still have a long way to go. Ben and I keep a steady pace and are close enough at the top that we catch them at the very bottom of the descent in the valley just before heading up Glandon.
The moto tells us the John Muy is 1m28 behind us, so we all take turns pulling, but after a few kms I stop pulling to avoid blowing up. 10k from the top Emma stops for water but Michel, Ben and I don’t need any so we keep going. Eventually Michel pulls away and we start to see John coming back to us as we near the summit. 2km from the top I can no longer hold Ben’s wheel so I drop off and slow down. I stop at the top for water and a nature break and in the process John Muy is first down the other side.
By this point my legs are no longer of producing the same power. I see John and Ben down the valley but am unable to catch them before the final climb. The route takes us through Villard Reculas, which is a 9km climb. I have no legs and start to wonder if I’ll be able to pedal the whole way up. About 3km from the village, Emma finally catches me. She sees I’m in trouble, even offers a gel, but I have plenty – just no more leg muscles. She offers to drag me to the village where it will be flat for a while, but there is still a lot more climbing so I tell her to go on, and that she can catch the others ahead. She was very strong.
I limp my way to Villard Reculas and again take water, an orange slice, and even a gel from the feed station. This combined with a flat portion helped me recover before hitting Huez and the final 6km ascent to l’Alpe d’Huez. After continually using one bottle as a shower, and the to drink, I start to feel better. As I hit turns #5, #4 and #3 I start to feel better. I see no one behind me so I just do a solid pace to the line for a 6th place. This will likely be the best I can do on the GC this year. The 5 ahead of me are just plain stronger…
Post race meal was a nice lasagna, some lentil beans, and a delicious chocolate cake well deserved. Now once again it is recup mode. Tomorrow – time trial up l’Alpe d’Huez!