Trois Etapes 2014 – Part 4 – Stage 2: Col du Soulor Redux

Day 2 of the Trois Etapes started exactly the same as Day 1, except for the stiff legs and the requirement to become a walking billboard for Rocktape!  Thanks to my time in the Army and numerous injuries I no longer have much meniscus in my left knee.  Combined with a constantly strained and stretched patellar tendon, previously torn medial ligament and a fractured patella that often dislocates my left knee is somewhat useless when made to work.

.:Mucho Rocktape:.

.:Mucho Rocktape:.

Luckily for me, the main issue from Day 1 was in fact an iliotibial band (ITB) strain in my right leg.  Even luckier for me was Jenine, the team swanier, who was able to strap my knees and quads so well that almost all discomfort disappeared as soon as I was warmed up on the bike.

.:The team starting Stage 2:.

.:The team starting Stage 2:. Photo courtesy of Mark Howard

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.:Typical mountain biker pose:. Photo courtesy of Mark Howard

Stage 2’s timed section was 75km into the day’s ride, which made for an interesting and extended warm up.  We were only about 5km into the ride before Dan suffered a flat and had to swap out his wheel.  This short stop was followed up with a couple of quick roadside toilet breaks and food stops.  There were a few small climbs and lots of winding roads for us to enjoy on the way back out to the Col du Soulor.  A few blind corners equated to a few close calls with cars which just made the ride more interesting and raised the heart-rate.

The timed section began at the small village of Ferrieres, at the foot of Col du Soulor.  This time we would attack the mountain from the other side; the more scenic route to be honest.  The race format for the day was the fastest six riders of each team completing the 12km section.  This meant Adam and myself would lead the team out of Ferrieres at speed and then drop off when we could no longer maintain the pace.

More by my lazing position in the shade than anything else; I was chosen to lead the team out and onto the climb.  I was a little nervous about this as I wasn’t the strongest climber in the team and by going flat out I was risking bonking before I had even started the stage proper.

I put this aside and decided to just go for broke from the start.  I basically went as fast as the gradient would allow me to go.  Almost immediately the rest of the team called out to back off a little, but this was replaced moments later by calls to speed up again.  I held onto the front for close to 1.5km before I had to drop off.  I watched as the team sped past me and a minute later watched as Adam dropped off from the front as well.  By this stage the climb had well and truly started and the rest of the team settled into a slower, albeit, still faster than me, pace for the next 10km up the mountain.

.:The fast section of the team powering up the climb:. Photo courtesy of Mark Howard

I struggled to keep my heart-rate up as I went further into the climb.  Unlike the day before I wasn’t getting passed as often and soon found a good rhythm alternating between sitting in the saddle and standing up for the climb.  In my head I had a little mantra each time I stood up and sat back down “I take two gears and ride”/”and the mountain takes them back”.

Eventually I saw the end of the climb at about the 2km to go mark.  Up until then I had been enjoying the beautiful vistas around me.  By the time the 1km mark appeared I decided to up the pace and sprint towards the line.  I won’t lie and say I broke any records; but for me being able to give everything I had to the mountain meant a lot.

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.:Me finishing Col du Soulor:. Photo courtesy of Mark Howard

When I reached the top of the mountain I learnt team-mate Shane had pushed himself so hard, he had an impromptu nap on the side of the road with the local sheep.  Once he was given the once over and was ready to get back on the bike we headed towards to the hotel with a short stop for coffee on the way.

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.:Jo leading the team down Col du Soulor:. https://www.facebook.com/matthewconnorsphotography

.:Re-org before a well deserved coffee:.

.:Another quick tyre change before a well deserved coffee:.

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