Day 3 Pau to Luchon 162 km , climbing 4, 568 m
A beautiful start to day 3. Tourmalet, Aspin and Peyresourde; not one, but three Cols to conquer; a stage of the Tour de France – what had I let myself in for?
There was a silence and apprehension during breakfast. It was 6.30am. Most of us had been sensible and retired to bed early. I sat next to Adrian Bridge – even he was looking nervous and pale. We spoke very little and concentrated on eating as much scrambled egg and bread as our stomachs would allow. The mental preparation had begun – there was no way we could wing this! This was a really long tough day – just over 100 miles.
We exit Pau, and follow the river that runs through it down to the religious theme park that is Lourdes. We stop for our first coffee break in Lourdes. It is during this stop that I get to know three riders who inspire me to keep on going. Austin Healey; a natural athlete and talented cyclist. About half way up cycling along the highest road in central Pyrenees, my mind went blank. I could only concentrate on the pedals as the gradients stuck between 8% and 9%. I was pushing down on my pedals trying to escape the surface of the ground before pulling up on my cleats forming small and heavy 360 degree circles. I ride on, but my quads are cooked, my breathing hoarse and ragged. I can’t get enough air. The pedals barely turn. Austin joins making everything seem effortless. He has music from Queen blasting from his portable speakers, and I find Andrew Ridgeley join our new short-lived Peloton. It was a special moment, we were laughing with the pain, and the sun was shining on the snow-capped mountains ahead of us. Eventually, I wobble to the roadside and climb off my bike. It’s over – I’ve made it to the summit of Tourmalet. It’s very cold, so I quickly apply layers and stuff myself with energy bars, admiring the local livestock up the mountain path – Llamas.
The decent is fast and scary. My hands are freezing and I struggle to lean into the corners as I zig-zag down the precarious mountain road. I am a slow descender, but I still manage to reach speeds of 68km – full concentration is required. No sooner had I reached the bottom, and the whole process of climbing and descending begins again as we attack the second Col D’Aspin. After a skiing accident and an amputated leg, rugby player Charlie Lewis was determined to get back into sport. After 12 years, 15 operations and a prosthetic blade, he finally found the freedom to run and cycle again. Until you’ve had something taken away, you don’t realise or respect just how much it means. Running is freedom, something we, as humans, were born to do. Although, in his interim post-accident years he cycled ferociously, it never filled the void. So, on 8 January 2014 – on his 29th birthday – he hobbled into Charing Cross hospital and had his lower right leg amputated. The page was turned for Charlie.
I finally made the summit of the final Col of the day – Peyresourde; I thought it was never going to end. When I reached the top, I thought I was going to collapse. I was helped off my bike by Gavin Disney-May shivering with cold and hunger. I was thrown into the back of a van and told to eat two Mars bars as quickly as I could. I felt sick, and unlike my colleagues avoided being sick on the fast and furious final descent as we rolled into Luchon. Rule #85 Descend like a Pro! All descents shall be undertaken at speeds commonly regarded as “ludicrous” or “insane” by those less talented. In addition all corners will be traversed in an outside-inside-outside trajectory, with the outer leg extended and the inner leg canted appropriately (but not too far as to replicate a motorcycle racer, for you are not one), to assist in balance and creation of an appealing aesthetic. Brakes are generally not to be employed, but if absolutely necessary, only just prior to the corner.