Monday, 2 June 2008

Challenge Dauphine Libere

Preparation is key for a cycle sportive like this. So, the day before the event (in the Vercours, near Grenoble, France) I fly from Liverpool to Geneva, only I don't, there's debris on the runway at Geneva so we divert to Lyon, where a bus will then take us to Geneva. It's just that sister Wendy is due to arrive in Geneva later in the evening, I'm thinking that if her flight is also diverted to Lyon, the last place I want to be is Geneva. Call macpuppy (our man in Vercours) who is going to meet us in Geneva, he's been in bed all day with a virus, the last thing he wants to do is drive to Geneva. So I get on a bus to Grenoble, sick macpuppy meets me there and we drive to Geneva to meet Wendy's (late) flight, there's just enough time to fit some new tyres (my, they were a tight fit) and get something to eat, except everywhere's closed, get back to macpuppy's kennel at around 2am, when I start building my bike. Oh, I've only eaten a baguette in the last 12 hours too. Get to bed at 3.15am, get up at 6.45am to make the registration cut-off at 8am. Like I said, it's all in the preparation.

Mass start, 900 riders, lead-out car, motor cyclists, it's quite a spectacle. Macpuppy skids on some gravel but keeps upright and we settle into the first climb of the day. It's long and steady. Very long and steady. Back tyre feels a bit soft- PUNCTURE! Tant pis!
Those new tyres I fitted are tough to get off the rim, but eventually I get the tube changed, why won't it inflate though? Can't figure out what's going on, decide to take the new tube out to sort it out. This takes some time - did I mention that the tyre was a bit tight? - but I now see that the valve is kaput. So, patch the original tube put it back in, wrestle the tyre back on (this time it took 2 pairs of hands - a cycle tourist had stopped to watch the comedy) and I'm back on the bike. This whole episode took about 50 - 55 mins. That's right. I am now the 'lantern rouge' and am praying that they haven't packed up the first feed station by the time I get there. They haven't and I grab some sausicon, cake and brioche and get going. Still haven't passed any riders, it's going to be a lonely ride.
Over the first Col and down the other side, I've passed about 3 riders but there's no one else in sight. At the 2nd revaitailment there's maybe 6 riders hanging around, I just grab food and get going, to see if I can catch up with Wendy and macpuppy (or, indeed, anyone). After Villard de Rouset the signs tell me it's 12km to the Col, and once it starts to ramp up I start to catch a few stragglers. At the turn off for the 173km route I'm way after the cut-off time and anyway I couldn't face the thought of another puncture with no-one to hear me scream, so it's now a 70km time trial back to Autrans. At the 100km mark I think I spy Wendy ahead, yay! Macpuppy's not too much further up the road so for the next 10 km we sort of ride together, regrouping at the top of each climb. There's a fantastic gorge, the rock overhanging the road and raining water down on us, then with 10 km to go Macpuppy starts to fly. I try to stick with him but I can't and the gap opens up - with 5km to go he must be a good 200m ahead of me but I get a second wind and stamp on the pedals to see if I can reel him back. No chance!
Finished in just under 6 hours, the GPS says less than 5 hours riding.

483rd out of 500. It's a different story in France. It's not that the hills are tougher, I mean they go on a bit, but there was nothing very steep, it's just that people seem to take it much more seriously and the general standard of riders is much higher than the UK. The standard of the feed stations is incredible too. Bravo!

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