Sunday, 26 August 2012

The Persuaders

Saturday 25th August: day seven, Auron to Nice

So the final day of 'Operation Alpine Beasting' begins like most others- with a horrifically early alarm. I will never be able to shovel down a ropey breakfast at 5.15 am, although I'm not alone in this regard. By this point I would happily serve 10 years for a 'Full Irish'.

In fact, the other day we were struggling along and tormenting/demoralising ourselves further by listing all the foods that we missed. For Heavens' Sake, we've only been away from Blighty for a week! Pathetic, isn't it?

A barely controlled descent...great for chatting to other riders though!

Looking back down as we wound our way up the first Col of the day.

Anyway, we had a controlled section for the first 16 miles before the clocks started and the first climb began. As usual I glanced across and up at what lay ahead and caught a brief glimpse of our yellow jersey leader cycling up the mountain faster than I can cycle on the flat. As the golf-saying goes, 'They play a game with which I am not familiar'.

Day seven: never mind the map, show me the sea!

By the way, the leading female cyclist is Team GB's Emma Pooley, so here is a photo of Ms. P. and her Olympic bum:

E.P. really is tiny. And fast as.
The challenge today was to cross the timing mat at the top of the Col du Vence (about 20km from Nice) by 14.25 at the latest otherwise you would be put in the broom wagon. I hadn't had that pleasure all week and as much as I wanted a rest, I really did not want to start now and was sweating big-style.

Anyway, off the top of the first climb was another beautiful descent but tragedy struck this time: a 40 year-old Swedish rider called Pontus Schultz collided with a wall on the wrong side of the road and careered into a ravine. Pontus did not survive. Everyone is desperately sorry for his family who came to the finish to see their man home.

A privilege to be cycling along these roads.

Mini Millau.
The big hand is on the...never mind all that, just shift your 'arris, lardy!

Eventually we crested the last climb and saw the '5km to go' banner: cue a realisation that this stage was dans le bag, a big shout of sheer joy and the application of full beans to the finish line.

Over the course of the week I had never walked and missed two cut-offs: one on the legendary 'Tuesday In Hell' and also on Thursday by 15 minutes or so, but I didn't really care because,

 a) I couldn't have tried any harder, and

 b) see a)

Above shows the final timing mat atop the Col du Vence- straight after was a descent with unbelievable views of the Med and then a meet-up in Vence for handhakes, hugs, a beer and a surprisingly weighty finisher's medal.

Hefty medal for a hefty cyclist. Fair deal!

I am never getting up from this chair. Ever!
We were then given a Gendarmerie (probably just made that word up) escort into Nice via the Promenade des Anglais and managed to hack-off scores of Euro-Trash motorists into the bargain. Fantastic!

On the run into Nice we have some of T.L.R., namely Andy Fla, David, Matt and The Tractor. Dunno who the interloper/wannbe on the far left is. We get a lot of that y'know.

We were staying at the polar opposite of this place regrettably. Although our hotel did have a kebab vendor outside. Open past 2am. Negresco schmesco!

It was also gratifying to note that Team Lanterne Rouge were the first eejits into the Mediterranean brine too- it was warm and felt wonderful, hah-hah!

How to empty a beach.

Martin, Andy Fla and Matt had to disappear fairly soon unfortunately but the rest of us attended the Haute Route 2012 Closing Party which quite correctly observed a one minute's silence to honour Mr. Schultz. It really is difficult to reconcile just how fleeting all this can be.

We have all met (and in some cases, been) some great company on this ride so it was always going to be a downer saying au revoir etc..

Anyway, we struggled through a monstrous downpour which killed Andy's iPhone to an Irish pub in Vieux Nice where the unofficial after-show party continued way after we left at around 2am.

Complete. And. Utter. Disgrace. Excellent!

One of T.L.R., Mark, had an airport taxi booked for 4.45am so he reckoned the best way to deal with that was to just keep going. He was our 'Man Of The Match' by a country mile: 24 carat comedy gold!

The Tractor, David, The Funniest Man In The Northern Hemisphere Last Night aka Mark, Some blinged-up lardy. Vieux Nice, 2am.

A couple of days ago a rider noticed The Tractor's number plate (which says he is a T.L.R. member) and said 'thank you'. Andy asked what for and the stranger* said that he had been about to scrub his whole Haute Route entry until he read about our team and it's less than po-faced attitude: it was then he thought that 'yeah, this will be alright!'. Good to hear that, hah-hah-hah! (*see the comments section below!)

So that is part one of the 'Toughest 11 days On A Bike' done...we have just driven 500 miles from Nice to position ourselves in Argeles-Gazost, right amongst some 'Paramount Movies'-type mountains. The fun starts again tomorrow in the a.m.: until then, cheers!

                                                               Day 7 stats!