Trois Etapes 2014 – Part 3 – Stage 1: Soulor & Spandelles

As I said in Part 1 of this series, the journey to get to France was a long one both in distance and in time spent preparing.

But it seemed on the morning of Stage 1 of the Trois Etapes, it had all crept up on me and I was left wondering if I had done enough training or was I going to embarrass myself and the team.

My race preparation was simple: breakfast, shower, get dressed, pack my bag, FaceTime the family and finally downstairs to the bikes.

.:Cosaveli flags:.
.:My ride bag:.
.:Team Soldier On Bike:.

When all the riders were downstairs, Scott – now race director – gave us the rider’s brief and all the teams headed off for the short ride to the Mayor of Lourdes’ residence in the heart of the city.

.:Team Soldier On and our Pro-Rider Jo Hogan:.
.:Team Soldier On and our Pro-Rider Jo Hogan:.

We arrived at the Mayor’s residence and signed on for the race.  From there we lined up in front of our team car and started the 40km ride to Arrens-Marsous for the start of the first climb and timed section; Col du Soulor.

.:The team starts signing on:.

The first 40km of Stage 1 was relatively easy, but soon we felt the temperature and humidity rising, which was going to make the next 7.4km of climbing somewhat more difficult.  The first timed section was based on the first six riders of each team crossing the line.  The decision had been made that the team would ride together until the two slowest riders couldn’t keep up and would drop off the pace.  For me, I dropped off after about 1.5km but never lost sight of the team while on the climb.

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.:Team Soldier On leaving Arrens-Marsous:.
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.:The team sans me:.

The climb up Soulor was the first real climb that I had done in months and was a very big challenge; both physically and mentally.  I set a reasonable pace from the start but stayed below my threshold; something I found difficult to do as the gradient increased steadily the further into the climb I got.

After what seemed like an eternity in the saddle, I crested the top of Soulor and crossed the timing mat.  A quick lunch followed with before we rolled down the sweeping decent towards the second timed section of the day; Col de Spandelles.

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.:Just after finishing Col du Soulor:.

We reached Eschartes, a tiny village at the base of Col de Spandelles, and prepared for the next section.  This time our four fastest riders were to set the team’s time for the stage.

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.:All the teams at Eschartes:. Photo courtesy of Mark Howard
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.:Team Soldier On with Jo Hogan front & centre:. Photo courtesy of Mark Howard

A few minutes after the frontrunners were well and truly into the stage the rest of the riders started the difficult 10.5km climb.

I dreaded this climb but decided to just grind my way up to the top.  It was hot, it was steep and the little bugs that kept stinging my back were not helping at all.  The climb seemed like it wouldn’t end and every-time I looked up to the summit I could see other riders at various stages on their way to the top.

I had my jersey undone and I was sweating profusely, as I neared the marker signalling the final kilometre I ran out of water and steadied myself for what would be a difficult final few minutes until I crossed the timing mat.  When I rounded the final corner and saw our driver Bruce cheering me on I took a moment to zip up my jersey and started a little sprint towards the line.

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.:That moment when you fight the urge to vomit:. Photo courtesy of Mark Howard
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.:Andy ignoring my attempts at breathing:. Photo courtesy of Mark Howard

The 30km ride back to Lourdes incorporated the other side down the Col de Spandelles; a somewhat sketchy road complete with potholes, gravel and hairpins.  By the time I arrived back at the hotel I was exhausted but extremely elated that I had completed Stage 1 of the Trois Etapes.  After a difficult lead up to the event it was a massive confidence boost to finally have finished the first day of riding.

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