Willy's Wheels in Mountain Madness
Well, madness it was at the top of the famous Col d'Izoard, on Monday July 11th at about midday. Got there by bike from place called Gap, having already ridden 86 kilometres, and in the process elevated self and faithful Fausto Coppi bike to an altitude of 2360 metres (about 7300 feet to imperialist readers).
The problem was that bidons were dry. And the ravitaillement tables were empty. Not good for the 1000's of very thirsty cyclists, who like myself had braved the gradients, the heat, the exhaustion of grinding up this legendary mountain pass.
But then the water truck was spotted, and by direct action soon a fusillade of 6-pack Volvics started flying in all directions, missing some, hitting others. After this madness the whizzing down at 40-50 mph seemed a safely serene business! But not for long!
Saw at one vicious hair pin bend a stretchered fellow rider being shoved into a helicopter, so on came the brakes to slow the pace a bit. But as Arthur predicted braking on descents will cause your tyres to explode though heat build-up. My front one did so spectacularly, but Fausto held course! Changing tubes was a finger singeing business, as wheel rims were practically smoking.
At least not too much time was lost and I reached Briancon with an hour to spare on the elimination time. Those rows of buses waiting for eliminated unfortunates did look menacing and evil! But Willy's wheels spun onwards to tackle the next Alpine Col, the 25 km long climb of the Lautaret. And thanks to lingering memories of lines of buses Fausto fairly flew up the gradients. Piece of cake, I told myself. No worse than your average Clifton CC Sunday club run.
That is, until after Le Bourg d'Oisans (with a repeat of water madness!) the pleasures of the final climb to L'Alpe d'Huez made themselves felt. That would have been just after 3, when temperatures were said to have reached oven-baking hot 40oC on the totally exposed South facing rock-lined 10% gradient 3000feet 15 kilometre long are-we-nearly-there climb to the finish.
Lots of riders had reached their finish a lot sooner, and were seen strewn along the road side, oblivious to the remarkable beauty of the surrounding scenery across the valley towards les Deux Alpes, and no longer interested in the business of the day! But Willy's wheels kept turning, albeit very slowly, thanks to a carefully judged supply of emergency food energy (prunes d'Agen and Algerian fresh dates) and a just-in-time appearance of a little cascading stream.
Yes, the climb to the Alpe was no fun at all! The mind was even more numb than the legs, but the finish was reached with only about half an hour to spare, after 117 miles and a total of 4000 metres of climbing and descending in the day, Out of 7548 starters 2071 never made it, a cruel fate indeed!
Euphoria was slow in arriving, as strategies to deal with crippling cramps had to be thought-up and implemented. All through the dark evening driving back with Coppi in the back at rest, but for me apart from cramp sleep had to be dealt with too! About 3 stops for triple espressos kept the blinkers open well enough, so further mountain madness was mercifully avoided.
So, will I do the Etape again? Of course! Since the Alpe climb had been the 2nd hardest thing I've ever done the next one is bound to be...a piece of cake! And moreover, the day had yielded more that 1300 in sponsored money, to Amnesty and to the Woodcraft Folk.
So, thanks all, I'll keep riding, you keep signing those cheques!