Today started early with an alarm at 5:45 for a 6am breakfast. Food is something that is never far from your mind but they do an excellent job here in keeping the fuel coming. Breakfast consists of mostly continental fare with the obligatory cheese plate but there is plenty of cereal, croissants, bread, cold meats, fruit etc etc to get things off on the right foot. At 6:30 we were in a coach for the short transfer to the start of the next leg at Saint Pourcain-sur-Sioule. Todays ride was most definitely not pancake flat . A total of 191 km taking in 7 categorised climbs this was not an easy day. However, by taking the first half relatively easy I found myself feeling relatively strong in the latter part of the ride and even glimpsed the mythical rhythm that climbers talk about where you find a good peddling cadence that is both effective and sustainable (i.e. not too painful … once again it’s a relative term). Whether or not that proves to be like a great round of golf – where you’ve no idea how you did it and it’s impossible to replicate the next day – or not, we’ll find out tomorrow. But it did serve as a reminder of the benefits of taking it easy at the start of the day. There are plenty of good riders sitting around this hotel who aren’t feeling too great after setting off a bit too fast through the early rolling stages.
We rolled through yet more stunning scenery as we slowly climbed out of the valley and up towards the hills where we would grind our way up 10km to our highest point of the stage for lunch at the Col de Pilon. The villages we pass through are already excited about Le Tour and we pass all sorts of painted bicycles, sculptures, signs and even straw bales that are made to look like pigs. I have no idea why either. In this case, I happened to have my camera in hand as we passed a squirrel dressed in the polka dot jersey of the King of the Mountains. No, I can’t really explain it except that there were a lot of trees around and it was quite hilly. But a 12 foot squirrel is not something you see every day so I thought I should mention it!
Running up yet another hill towards the final feed station I grew tired of the group I was riding with and in a fit of over-enthusiasm I ‘attacked’ and rode out from the back of the group, past the leader and on up the hill. Of course, I’m not attacking anyone and it was a group of rather bewildered riders that I left in my wake but to my surprise, despite being nearly 100 miles in to the ride, my legs were feeling pretty strong so I continued on at the same pace believing the top to be just around the corner. Except of course it wasn’t. On and on the climb went but pride somehow endeavoured to keep me going because drifting back to the group would have been too embarrassing for words and I reached the feed stop which finally materialised at the top of the climb about 4 or 5 minutes ahead of my former riding companions who looked at me in a new light. I’d like to think it was awe but it was probably closer to contempt!
The other notable feature to today was the ‘sting in the tail’ once we reached Lyon. Just as you were thinking about the hotel, a massage and a drink, we were assaulted by two long and steep climbs which seemed far more significant than the profile would have you believe. I lost count of the number of false summits by the time we finally turned into hotel gates and pulled down the shutters on day 2 of riding but it was a cruel finish to a tough day.
But apart from oversized woodland creatures and mythical climbing sensations there were a few other things occupying my mind today. First and foremost was hydration. The temperature out on the road today was in the upper 20’s and probably around 30 by the time we reach Lyon. We were warned last night that failing to drink enough today would have consequences for Sunday even if we made it through today ok. And so with those words ringing in my ears I set about making a conscious effort to drink plenty of fluids. And it really is an effort. I drank about 9 litres whilst on the bike today, some of those laced with re-hydration tablets, some laced with carb/ electrolyte mixes and some laced with Sirop De Citron (you can have too much science sometimes). On arriving at the hotel, there was another litre put away pretty quickly. With all that inside me I think I was only just on the right side of hydrated but it is surprisingly difficult to keep remembering to put that much fluid through you when you’re not actually feeling thirsty as such. Tomorrow will be even hotter and it will need to be more of the same.
Next on my list of observations was the matter of shaved legs. Let’s not beat about the bush here … there are a lot of them. I thought perhaps you could tell a lot about the pace and general professionalism of a group of riders (i.e. are these guys going to be going too fast for me to ride with) by the number of shaved legs in the group. But since I’ve started playing closer attention it seems to me that hairy limbs such as mine (you’ll be pleased to hear) are very much in the minority. I wouldn’t even mind if anyone could give me one good reason why shaving your legs is a good idea but they haven’t. The only slightly credible defences (for the pros) are that it makes the healing of cuts and grazes much easier, cleaner and less painful as hairs don’t interfere with the scabs and it makes massages easier if your legs are smooth. So if you are a pro rider reading this – you are excused. For everyone else, I can only suggest that a) they think it makes them look quite professional and b) they actually quite like the feeling. Personally I think it’s only a hop, skip and a jump away from wearing girls knickers.
The final thing bothering me today were my feet. At the end of a long day cycling, there’s no escaping the fact that your feet are pretty sore. I can only liken it to the feeling you get when you take off a pair of ski boots. You know that they fit you properly but you still can’t wait to get them off when you get in. Cycling shoes may look like pimped up pairs of trainers but they have totally inflexible soles made out of carbon fibre and a series of buckles, ratchets and straps across the top that would surely cut off any circulation in your feet if you felt so inclined. To cap it all off you are putting all of your effort through small plates on your sole attached to the pedals which gets pretty sore after a while. Kind of like that feeling you get when you think you’re going to have a blister but it doesn’t show yet. Fortunately it normally all goes away overnight but in the latter part of a long stage it’s a constant niggle.
Strava stats are all here.