l’Étape du Tour Daily Blog – Thursday
by Barry Doyle
Cryotherapy and Sun
Finally we caught a break today. The day started overcast with the first splashes of light rain evident from our “depart” in Argeles-Gazost. We were joined by some new riders today including partime St Tiernans member John Brennan. There was a stark contrast between those of us who had two days riding done ( tired, grizzled veterans ) and the new arrivals ( hitting the front eager to impress ). That all changed after twenty kilometres south as we hit the lower slopes of the fabulous Luz’Ardiden. Our new friends were presented with a swift dose of pyrenee”an” reality as the signs advised of 15 kilometres of climbing at a gradient of 9%. The weather was clearing. Though still cloudy there was some heat out today and thankfully the rains had passed.
I hit the climb first, followed by Bren, dave and kevin. I was on the climb not longer than 20 minutes when I could hear him from behind. The snarly breathing getting ever closer, in the saddle, out of the saddle, back in the saddle, Brendan Bonnie murdering Luz’Ardiden. And himself in the process. Bren has arrived over here with a serious knee problem. There was however no talking to the man after numerous experts advises him not to travel. Each day he heads off with a compression strap torsioned at the base of his knee. Each night night he delicately feeds ice into the portable cryotherapy machine that smokes out his room easing be accrued pain from his days work. We all have our personal goals. Just to finish this particular Etape will be an immense achievement for everyone involved, however when Bren finishes this it will be to his immense credit and “chapeau” of the highest order.
Having popped a pain killer at the base of this climb Bren was showing the form he is capable of. Thundering after the big guns and hitting the summit with the lightweight climbers. Luz’Ardiden is a ski station station with only one tortrorous way up and the same wondrous way down. You don’t crease this mounting, it just comes to a stop at the ski lifts. At 1000 meters we ascended through the clouds. A glorious road of hairpins and switchbacks presented itself before us. Finally we had we had travelled for, the weather, heat, view and lest we forget the pain. Reaching the summit the view to the valley was breathtaking. The clouds lying below with the mountain tops bathed in late morning sunshine.
Not having enough, Kevin, Bren, Dave and I headed for the Hautaucam, another famous climb to a ski station. This one was tough. Though not as long as some of the others at 13 kilometres it averages 10% and not only that but the gradient pitches as you climb the mounting. In other words where a sign says the next kilometres has an average gradient of 8%, the first 500 m is downhill, the remainder will pitch to make that percentage up. Sections of this climb hit 15%. Our cadence was down to 40 in parts of this climb as we ground through the gears tiredness from the days climbing beginning to tell. 70 long minutes to high the top of the Hautaucam, clouds slowly sweeping over the deserted ski lifts and tour de France logo painted on the Tarmac. Each of these climbs has a real sense of history as you the names of your heroes painted on the roads over the years.
Finally we had great weather, climbing and form. A far better day resulting in far better morale. Tomorrows rest is to be welcomed, an easy 30 k’s and the sign on in Pau to look forward too.