9 June 2013 - 'My' Tour de Cure
129km in 5h14min, 1509 meters of cumulated vertical climb
This is going to be a different blog entry from usual.
Not only is this the first (and probably, last) article in English on this blog, but it's the content that's especially out-of-the-ordinary. And - again, unusually - this will be a lot more than just biking.
Going back in time...
I spent a year as an exchange student in Alaska back 13 years ago. Rich & Sue hosted me for a full year where I went to high school and did quite a few of the things one should do, see and experience, in Alaska. They both became way more than just a a host family.
Fast forward to 2010 - both of them came over to France again, for a special occasion; Rich was my best man as I got married on August 21st, 2010.
Just a few months ago, Rich passed from diabetes-related health complications.
Let's keep things simple. I like simple things.
Nothing's going to bring him back but there are a couple of simple things I can do, though:
- One, learn from Rich's experience and remember how hard he's fought many of his own physical battles. Ask anyone and they'll tell you - even though he lost many toes, a leg, and felt weak at (many) times due to his ups and downs in blood sugar levels, he would never give up. I've never seen him turning around before he made it to the top of any mountain hike he's done. He was a regular (bike) wind trainer user and would often ride his bike outside, in the snow, whatever the temperatures (yes, in Alaska).
- Two, become involved in the Tour de Cure (as explained - in French - in a previous blog entry), an annual event organized througout the US by the American Diabetes Association to raise funding going towards fighting and ending diabetes. This is a biking event taking place this year on June 9th in Anchorage, Alaska, and is something Rich would definitely have taken part in, once again.
As I can't make it to Alaska to join the forces riding in the 'In Memory of Rich' Tour de Cure bike team, I can at least train as if I were, and also go on a 'special' tour, on my own, on 9th June. This is going to be just the road, my lungs and everything but an empty head. It's not about feeling bad and sad, my translation of this whole thing is just - go and push hard on the pedals.
I've asked friends and family to donate towards this cause and raised a total of USD550, going through Sue's fundrasing page directly in support of the ADA. A drop of water in the ocean? Maybe, but a useful one! I would like to say a big thank you once again to all those supported this ride, including the Audard, Barnier, Berlemont, Bourlier, Conton, Creton, Delattre, Fontaine, Gardeil , Hug families, and other anonymous donors.
So today, I'll be riding my bike in southern France, in the Vaucluse region. Some of you who might be regular Tour de France followers might have heard of the highest summit in the region - the Mont Ventoux. In fact, the professional riders will face this climb later this summer as they head south towards some of the toughest mountain stages.
Except - them suckers ;) - they'll only finish at the top (= one climb). What I did yesterday was going up to the summit three times, using each of the three roads leading up the summit at a time. In a word - one of the most demanding bike rides I've ever done, and definitely the one with the most cumulated vertical climb I've ever done in a day. This is just to say, as I go on my Tour de Cure this Sunday morning, leaving from a nice little town called Carpentras, I'm already quite sore. But today, turning around or cutting short isn't an option - I'm sure you get the gist.
Here I am at the top of the first pass of the day, col d'Unang (altitude 259m) - a very low one in altitude, I have to acknowledge. I was just overtaken by a group of 15-some cyclists, but they're going just way too fast for me, no need to burn my legs too soon by trying to keep up with their pace, even drafting behind.
In the background, the world-renowned Mont Ventoux, cyclists' paradize. I went to the summit yesterday.
I've now gone through a series of small villages - each with their own little 'typical village of southern France' sort of feeling. One with this real old stone fountain on the main square, this other one with an ancient weathered facade on its tiny town hall... I've never been through these villages so wouldn't be able to tell you anything about them, really... I'm basically discovering as much as you are, looking at the pictures !
I'm going up and down, trying to sustain some sort of a decent pace despite the wind blowing on my left shoulder. OK I am not exactly of the sort of cyclist caliber, size and weight-wise, so I really have to push hard on the pedals to fight what's often thought as 'cyclists' worst ennemy'. A quick climb and I'm now at the top of yet another pass, the col de Gravezon (altitude 269m).
Why do I keep mentioning these passes I'm going through? Well, long story short - I am part of a (quite big, actually!) nerdy cyclists' club in Europe, named the "100 passes" club. To become part of this club/association, you just have to bike up 100 passes (a reminder - 'cols' in French), 5 of which should be higher than 2000m in altitude (approx. 6500 feet). And then beyond 100 on to 200, and so on... I'm now totalling about 300 different passes I've ridden my bike up to... I've been playing this game of looking at maps and searching for new ones to ride up for the past 2.5 years.
Right, I've now gone through the village of Villes-sur-Auzon, and I'm starting the longest climb of the day - about 20kms (approx 12,5 miles). Luckily, this is a really nice climb, one to enjoy. Not only is the gradient 'manageable', rarely above 3 or 4%... most of the time 3% really. But also, this is exactly the kind of ascent I tend to enjoy - this is a really quiet road, the scenery is quite amazing... it feels really special ! Plus, all the high-frequency training I've done on the wind-trainer (home-trainer... whatever you call it), consisiting in sustaining a high pedaling/high heart rate frequency for an hour, pays off on this type of terrain. Love it!
I haven't seen a cyclist in ages, looks like I'm the only one out here today! As opposed to yesterday, when I saw probably a good 300 cyclists throughout the day. I'm going to climb through the so-called Nesque gorges, with the little Nesque river running at the bottom of them - though I can't ever see it from the road, I'm too far up from the bottom of the cliffs.
I've now seen lots of cyclists coming down the gorges in the opposite direction... the first following the same direction that I'm following just catches on me close to the top of the climb - he's timing himself... and tells me he's going really soooo veryyyy slow today (bearing in mind.... well... he's just caught me!). Anyhow, we can now chat about our respective itinerary today, and before I know it, here comes a group of 4 red and white jersey-sporting cyclists right in front of me... friends of mine!
... even though i'm a good 5 hour drive from home, we had sort of coordinated this with them - we knew we might run (ahem - pedal) into each other. Here they are.
A quick 5 minute chat and everyone goes their way. I still have quite some distance to go, and the weather, while better than yesterday, isn't a 100% reassuring. I can now ride down to the next town on my itinerary - Sault. I was here yesterday too actually.
There seems to be an antiques / old-fashioned-useless-items-for sale sort of market today. The atmosphere's nice, everyone's probably on vacation. Lots of people from all over Europe, including people speaking languages I don't quite know.. Flemish, Dutch, etc.
I'll go through this small town after a quick pit stop to refill my water bottle. And then I'll go easy to spare some of my energy... I'm really feeling yesterday's efforts, trust me. And on to the next village, Aurel, where I'll go up another low pass, the Collet de Reilhane (altitude 755m). A matter of only a few minutes really, before I backtrack a little to continue on the main road nearby - I have quite a long bit that's downhill... nice.
Facing Mont Ventoux again - well known because there is not a single tree at the top, making it for a moon-like sort of terrain (so it's often windy up there!)
I'm now going to cross the Toulourenc valley, a nice little - quite narrow - valley just north of Mont Ventoux (remember - the one big mountain in a wide area of southern France that's mainly flat).
I then catch a group of 10 cyclists... I speed up, just for the sake of it. The heart rate goes up, my legs hurt and frankly I don't know why I'm doing this. But the endorphins' kick helps. Once you get used to that... there are only good reasons to give it a 100% :)
I'm now going down to the next village - and that's actually how I 'cross' the next pass - I haven't had to pedal uphill at all this time, for some reason the pass isn't located at the very top of a hill!? Weird.
The next 20kms are up and down, and up and down... there's no end to this! But it's fun. And pretty around here. That's also an opportunity to go up another - no less than - 5 passes, respectively the Tray le Col (altitude 363m), the Pas du Voltigeur (altitude 328m), collet de Marin (altitude 312m), col de Ronin (altitude 374m) and the last one today, the col d'Anrès (altitude 404m).
OK, given the differences in altitude, I can't say any of these are difficult at all to reach... I just take my time and enjoy the roller coaster :)
I'm now really exhausted... it feels like I've been riding my bike all week end long - oh wait, I have. Time to go home now. Lots of food and lots of water, plus some stretching should help ease the soreness.
I kept thinking about family and friends, all the way over there in Alaska, who must be about to start their own Tour de Cure ride today, given the time difference. Good luck you all! And thanks for supporting such a noble cause!