The final chukka. It’s come around pretty quick in that you don’t get a whole bunch of time to yourself (St Moritz porn flick aside) it’s pretty much get up, eat, pack, put bag in the lobby, cycle to the start, cycle to the finish, eat, shower, massage, find hotel, pasta or pizza, gelato, blog, sleep, repeat – need a pretty big t-shirt to get that slogan on. On the other hand Geneva seems a lifetime ago. If you’re signing up for Haute it’s a pretty full on experience. As Pilsbury would say ‘This aint no tan camp’. If it was I for one wouldn’t be here. If I’m gonna drop some coin on something and spend time away from those I love then it needs to be one hell of an experience. Anyway more of that in a wrap up post. Need to find out how we wrapped up first.
Another of those BIKE RACE days. This time around 100k starting and ending with a climb. Before the off, with tongue firmly planted in cheek, I donned the Epic Camp Canada Yellow Jersey – whoever was King Haute-inator was going to get that privilege and it was my intention that if it could be me it would be me. Pilsbury being Pilsbury wanted the photo opportunity so just before the off the middle-aged Brit with the walk of a cripple pushed his 8 year old bike past a bunch of guys whose wheel I couldn’t hold when they were going easy and hit the front of the elite holding pen for the winner, winner, chicken dinner shot…just as the official photographer was doing the same for the real leader. Awkward much.
We were off. Climbing a little in the neutralised zone until we hit the timing mat. This was a legit climb. 16k rising to over 2300m above sea level. It was a 7am rollout so the top certainly wasn’t going to be Popsicle friendly. The plan was pretty simple. Go hard then go home. As we were climbing straight out the blocks I opted for only 1 bidon to keep the weight down. The climb kicked in and I was somewhere near the back of the ‘elite’ 75. Got in a nice groove tapping out a nice rhythm. The tunes had been reinstated for the last day but there was no telemetry to occupy/distract me. I’d left my Gamin charger at home (supposedly) and had got a charge off another rider a couple of times but when it died yesterday I wasn’t too fussed about tracking the guy down. Probably an indication of a more experienced athlete – several years ago I’d have moved heaven and earth to get some charge in that sucker. Passed a few people and then a decent group formed just ahead of me including a whole bunch of Mexican dudes. We’d spotted them early – it wasn’t difficult there was a lot of them and we’d been observing them as they seemed to have the same hotel postings as us. Their main distinguishing national characteristic seems to be at least 75% of the group, irrespective of its size, need to be talking at the same time – very quickly and plenty loud enough. At the same time no one has to look as if they’re listening. They clearly enjoy themselves and loved their cycling. On the bike this concurrent talking percentage reduces to maybe 25% but when you’re sat there breathing out of your ass and there’s over 10k of the climb to go you just end up wondering how the hell they have the ability to talk and ride.
I decided that was the race right there and I needed to stay in touch so the transit to the last climb didn’t see me isolated in the valley. I looked up a couple of times and there was some stunning scenery and a lot of snow but I wasn’t rolling Petroworld until Stop Chrono Man had put in his appearance for the day. I felt strong so even ended up gapping the group with 5k to go. No idea by how much as today wasn’t a day for looking back – the result say I went over just inside the top50. Top was super cold so early but I was a man on a mission so definitely wasn’t stopping at the aid station and with icy fingers I decided that zipping up a gilet and a rain jacket was too much faff so I descended with just my yellow jersey protecting me from the cold. After two consecutive days of eating tarmac I felt a little more cautious on the descent. Lost a few places as a result.
The first few miles I was isolated and could see a group up ahead but one is highly unlikely to chase down several. It kept me honest though as I made sure they didn’t get out of sight. Another guy joined me and we took turns – although it was clear that unlike me he wasn’t on the limit. Finally we bridged up – probably as much a result of them slowing to make a bigger group as us hammering it. Then there were half a dozen and soon after Team Mexico and a few others, including the ladies’ leader, were with us. Woohoo. You little beauty this was the train to be on. We were fair drilling it with at best 30% doing their share of the work. Poor form if you ask me (and not as much fun) but then at the end of the day it is a race so I can see why some might do it. Personally I could never be happy not taking my share irrespective of the bearing on the result. At the end of the day the result doesn’t mean as much to me as embracing the experience – as Pilsbury puts it we’re all getting the same prize money. We then hit the second aid station and as I was right where I wanted to be so I thought I’d risk going with the one bottle and one museli bar strategy to go voll gas for 100k. Seems reasonable! Some of the stronger guys quickly stopped and bridged back up – I doubt I’d have made it myself. We were still absolutely drilling it and I was beginning to warm up – esp when we hit the inside of a long tunnel – it was like hairdryer in there and was a welcome relief. Every now and then some one would have a go off the front but inevitably they got reeled in or sat up. Then two strong guys went including my original ally in bridging up to the first small group and I never saw them again. Then the pace softened and I was on the front for quite a while. Would rather not be there but was riding my own tempo and not being passed.
Then the reason became apparent. Team Mexico and the other assorted members of the group of about 20 were getting ready for the last climb. Having had no Garmin and no idea when or what the climb was (guide book said 6.5k at 3% and sticker said 11k at 6.5%) I had no idea where we were. Then the climb started and despite being on the limit for the majority of the previous 3hours I was going to go all in as a last hurrah. A lot of those that had anonymously sat in and enjoyed the ride announced their presence by riding off. I kept the pace up and saw the ladies’ leader just ahead. She would be my bait and on one of the flatter sections I rode past only for her to repay the compliment when it ramped back up. Undeterred several ks from the finish was a prolonged flatter section so I hit it hard and moved back ahead. Considering what had come before both today and in the week I gave it a big last effort. No looking back just keep cranking it out and soon it would be the end. As ever sure enough it was. I’d just about broken the top50 and had an awful lot of fun.
It was nice and warm as the sun took hold and we were a lot lower down so the plan to wait up for Pilsbury for the roll to town was invoked. Was pretty glad to hit the aid station and partake in some much needed refuelling. That was the first finish line of the day. Quite a bit of mutual congratulation and relief. Found a spot in the sun to wait for Pilsbury. Then K-squared rocked up and started talking to the ladies’ winner. After being crushed by hopalong she duly announced as she as so far ahead in the GC that she rode the last climb at tempo…yeah well not for the purposes of this blog you weren’t sweetcheeks you were going hard! Although given the fact Pilsbury took 2mins out of me on that last climb (and the fact she told us she rode as a Pro for two years) maybe I had left my best down in the valley. Nae bother though – I’d had a blast.
Turns out dual nationality Pilsbury had his own personal Eye-talian escort up the climb. Some guys from the local cycling club paced him up the climb and talked him through it. One setting the tempo at the front and the other shouting encouragement, making sure the lead out guy didn’t go too hard and explaining the climb in great deal. Petroworld to the end of course.
Once Big E arrived we started the descent. Was great to finally find some flat and ride the E-train. Haute Holland and the dude would be Top10 for sure. Was a bit of a drag to the finish village and the second finish line of the day and I just enjoyed my seat behind the combined might of the Curly Freight Train and the Big Guy-Express. If Big Guy was any more laid back he’d be horizontal – which judging by his sleeping habits may just be his favourite position. I can’t think of anyone else I’d rather pull some foreign object out of my asshole. High praise indeed.
So after being tailed by the Mavic team car (nice of them to make sure it was gonna match my last day jersey) into the place with no name which wasn’t Venice but was the 2nd (and official) finish line of the day. Really nice touch to have the finish line 50k from the end point. So we stopped, got a well-earned medal and some photos. Love the one below with half the Big Guy’s head in it. At 6foot 9 and the wrong side of 40 you’d think he’d have learnt to stoop a little for photos with normal guys. After a pretty legit morning it was time to hit the pizza hard one more time. Didn’t quite make the gelato stop as we decided to join the next motopaced convoy into Venice. Sounded kind of cool. Big Guy decided that after the 2nd finish line it would be ‘somewhat an-tie-CLI-matic’ and K-squared had already sent a photo of his and Lesley’s bikes on the train. Petro made the call we were rolling to Venice and despite a clear blue sky and temperatures in the 70s Dee-oh asked if he needed to take a jacket. Cue 50k of the Pilsbury and Popsicle double act asking Jeff every few hundred metres if he was warm enough. I got the impression it got funnier for Jeff every time we asked!
The novelty of following a motorbike wore off after about 500m. We had 50k to go and we were soft pedalling to keep everyone together. Big Guy (and me) just wanted it done. So the triumphant procession into Venice basically involved Big Guy and me just behind the motorbike breathing in its exhaust fumes and if we got really lucky a bit of spittle from the cheese eating surrender monkey every time he decided for no apparent reason to spit. The most boring roads imaginable only broken up by the clatter of a crash near the back of the group – luckily a few places behind Jeff. Then we were rolling and I was pretty keen for it to be over – especially as the motorbike did the same speed irrespective of the terrain. 35k going up a hill is a tough wheel to hold after 60, 000 feet of vertical gain in a week. Then there was a left hand turn into what Eric quaintly called a layby. An-tie-CLI-matic indeed. It was actually the front of a conference centre. At last we were done. It was baking hot after a long day at the end of a long week and we’d all emptied our bottles a long way back.
Or were we done? Nope we’d lucked in big time. Due to our accommodation being elsewhere we had to be motorpaced another 10k to an even more salubrious industrial area for the 3rd finish of the day which was the venue for picking up your bike box (and Garmin charger – I knew I’d packed that sucker) and packing your bike…with no food or water or even pre-warning that that was gonna happen. I locked onto the bumper and due to the pace got to eat a lot more shit. Unbeknown to me some guys including Pilsbury dropped off – although the pace was very toasty so I wasn’t that surprised. They were lost in Venice not even knowing where they were going. Pilsbury wasn’t best pleased when he arrived and duly informed me Smokin P (his wingman at Epic camp and sometimes at home) would never have done that – it took all the self-restraint I could muster not to say in my opinion Smokin’ would easily have held 200watts for 10k ;o)
The atmosphere was a little grouchy with the heat and the unexpected pleasure of packing your bike – not the most fun at the best of times. Several people needed tools that they had at the hotel due to no warning being given and some guy’s box was locked and the key was elsewhere. Dude started cussing at the lady in charge of that area and shouting about ‘his bloody key being at the bloody hotel and it being bloody ridiculous and we’ve just ridden 160k and it’s boiling hot and this is a bloody joke blah, blah, blah’. There’s only so much disrespect I will tolerate (I get that from my sadly departed pops – thanks dad) and he tripped the wire. I politely pointed out that all the shouting in world wasn’t going to change his predicament with the key and perhaps he was venting his anger at the wrong person at the wrong time. If he’d have let the girl get a word in edgeways he’d have heard her say we have a truck and we’ll take your bike and your box and you to your hotel. Mr Grumpy looked north of 60…a lot old enough to know better. We’re all a work in progress – I guess we all progress at different rates. Seriously poor form. Just as well she wasn’t British otherwise she might have had dear old Pilsbury up in her grill too ;o)
This was a little shambolic though…if indeed you can have degrees of shambolic? As we then initially got told we could walk to our hotel pushing our bike boxes (Big Guy only had cleats) and plan B was, therefore, invoked where we would be shuttled to ‘very close to your hotel’. The van journey was plenty long enough to know walking wouldn’t have been a great option, had to be a couple of miles. Then we were told over the bridge and straight on ‘a couple of hundred metres’. If that’s a couple of hundred metres they can measure my dick. It was 200m before you’d got you and your bike box (and your excruciating sciatic pain) over the bridge of 100 steps. Luckily enough Jeff is a pretty laid back guy too and we just chuckled our way to the hotel through the crowded walkway. Life’s generally too short to sweat the small stuff…just ask a Syrian!
One more night of team photos and team pasta and of course gelato. With it being the last night and all Popsicle took it out hard with a 5 scoop bowl – much to my Merican cousins’ amusement. It was another great adventure rolling Petroworld and Eric and Jeff made it all the more enjoyable. 4 guys living in each other’s pockets in far from a stress free environment and not a cross word was exchanged. Didn’t hook up with K-squared and Lesley as much as I’d have liked as they’d booked the upgrade package with closer hotels and private massage meaning once they were done for the day their major priority wasn’t hanging around. K-squared kept me honest in the GC especially on the Furkapass and I’ve got 15 years on him. Chapeau. Lesley never stopped smiling and to all accounts rode pretty strong all week. She even managed a half smile on the miserable descent after the TT in St Moritz. We ended up just in the top half of the GC as a team but this was more about personal achievement, adventure, refusing to back down and finding your limit. From what I saw Team Haute-inator scored pretty highly by those measures. Good jawb team!