Where was I? Ahhh I was fighting to get to the top of the first mountain, the Category 1 climb, the Col De Vars (See previous article).  This monster comes after 130km in the legs and you sure feel it. The heat and the sheer effort used to get to this point while staying ahead of the broom wagon were beginning to take its toll mentally and physically.

I do not know how I found the strength to lift my bike

During this climb I was appreciating the modifications I had made to my bike’s gearing. I had swapped out my semi-compact chainset for a compact one and along with the 32-tooth cassette I had in the back, made the endless climbing more bearable. I made it to the top of the Col De Vars where a fellow cyclist made me take the picture above saying “you may never, ever, be here again”.

I did not spend too much time resting  (and celebrating) at the top of this climb as I knew the hardest part of the ride was still to come. First we had a 20km, 1,000m descent into the town of Guillestre where the last major rest and feeding stop was.

The way to the final test

So down we went, swooping left, right, left, right…hitting speeds in excess of 70kph. There was every type of corner from the fast sweepers to the hairpin bends with sheer drops waiting for you should you get it wrong. I was again struck by the sheer magnificence and majesty of the terrain. What a region! God certainly took his time when he created this region. “Thou shalt be magnificent!” must have been the proclamation from Him. Ernesto Colnago must also be blessed to have created a machine as magnificent as the C60 I was riding. Stiff but comfortable, fast but not twitchy and utterly, utterly sure-footed in the descents. I reached the bottom thinking I could have gone much, much faster and that is a testament to this bike. Truth be told this bike is far, far better than I am and its limits are far higher than mine.

Last Man On The Road

As I got to the last major feed stop at Guillestre, I ran into two of the ‘buddies’ who had set off before me, ‘our’ CS (Chief Shepard) and ‘our’ GS (Good Samaritan). Our CS was struck by cramp from km 47 and had valiantly struggled all the way and over the Col De Vars and had finally admitted defeat. He could go on no more. Our GS was trying to persuade him to continue to no avail. Then we heard an announcement over the tannoy from the organisers that the course would be closing at the next time cut-off which was in ten minutes! I beckoned to our GS: “let’s go”. As we got back onto the road we saw the gendarmes erecting two separate barricades to close the route. They closed the route 5 minutes early and we were the last two to make the time cut. Hundreds, if not thousands of participants were instantly disqualified and they would not be allowed to continue! I will never forget the scenes I witnessed at those barricades, grown men were reduced to tears at the sheer unfairness of it all. Imagine being 5 minutes inside the time-cut and being wrongly disqualified after months of training and sacrifice, not to mention the cost to take part? I really felt for them and could watch no longer, so we took off.

Riding with ‘Our’ GS