A highly unanticipated problem

17 Jul

I’m skipping the July 16 report (which would’ve detailed our very long day of bus travel) and will fold those tales into the July 19 report instead (another long bus journey day). I started writing the July 17 report last night, but I was a little bit inebriated, which caused me to lose half of what I wrote and the remaining half just kinda sucked, so I’m starting fresh this morning (July 18).

* * *
The trouble with yesterday is that the ride was SO epically awesome that there’s no way for any other ride to ever come anywhere close to being as good.

Our charge for the day was to summit Alpe d’Huez. We’d be among ~10,000 other riders and ~500,000 spectators already camping along the road in anticipation of the 100th Tour de France (TDF) rolling through the next day (ie, today).

I realize now that climbing Alpe d’Huez in the midst of TDF pandemonium signifies the peak of my cycling addiction and there’s nowhere to go but down. Damn you, R2R, you’ve ruined my cycling future by giving me such an amazing day yesterday!

Non-cyclist readers need to understand that Alpe d’Huez is pretty much The Most Iconic summit in all of cycling lore. The climb is 13.8 km at an average 7.9% with 21 hairpin bends. So, it’s actually “easier” than the Gavia and Ghisello climbs we did, but as a TDF mainstay since 1952, it has a storied history among cyclists worldwide.

The 21 hairpins are each named for a rider who has won an Alpe d’Huez TDF stage. The Dutch Corner, turn 7, might need to be renamed R2R Corner after what happened yesterday. The Dutch are insane (in a good way) and they know how to party. The are like a giant orange wave of energy that helps lift you up the mountain and they can transform into a huge orange wall when they link arms and lift chairs and break out into a joy-filled, chaotic sort of line dance.

Not surprisingly, they took a special liking to Nate — quite possibly the only known handcycle to make it up Alpe d’Huez. Nate, along with his pushers, celebrated with the Dutch on the way down. They turned up the music, brought out the beer and dancing ensued. They even lifted Nate up in the air as if he was the King of France being borne down the mountain via livery. The customary trading of hats and jerseys ensued and it seems safe to say R2R is now a full-fledged member of the Dutch contingent, at least those on Alpe d’Huez. Video will follow in the recap post I plan to write once I return stateside.

As for my own Alpe d’Huez performance, it also was pretty extraordinary, although it was a bit of a bummer to realize how different/better my Haleakala climb could’ve been if only I hadn’t been waylaid by those pesky health issues. Sigh. Ya can’t win them all, though, I guess. And “winning” on Alpe d’Huez is pretty fucking special, so I’m OK with how fate shook out for me.

I again was the sole female among a pack of 18 male R2R counterparts. These 18 were different from the prior day’s 19, however, insofar as 10 of our prior day’s riders bumped down a group while at the same time we accepted 9 riders who came out of the Racer group to join us. In other words, the ride ante was “upped” considerably.

I tried to follow my coach’s advice to just “find a wheel … [to] comfortably hold and just stay on it,” but the best/closest-to-my-pace wheel belonged to Sal Guinta, the Medal of Honor recipient, and I’ve got no ability to hold a candle to that guy, so I had to go with Plan B: Just ride your own ride and don’t blow up.

Turns out that “my own ride” ended up being 4 other people’s ride as they latched onto my wheel and allowed me to tow them up the entire climb. Two of the guys sitting on my train were from England and around hairpin #9 I overheard one say to the other “America is amazing, where in London could you find a woman strong enough to pace you up the mountain?” They stuck with us until the last 3 hairpins which flattened out to just 4-5% and therefore allowed me to up the jets a bit and leave them in the dust — sorry mates!

The sights and sounds of the climb were out of this world. The road remained open to vehicle traffic in both directions, several thousand riders raced/labored/walked-and-pushed up the mountain and also ripped/gingerly picked down it, while another couple hundred thousand people lined the sides in varying states of excitement and we (and the road) were bathed in light rain. It all could/should have been a recipe for disaster, but because everyone seemed to have a universal love for all things bike, the experience was nothing but good. Everyone went at their own pace, did their own thing, followed their own inner instincts and yet it all came together in a gloriously harmonious way.

When we regrouped at the bottom, we’d done 55mi with ~6,500′ of climbing and the hotel was still 35mi away with another ~1,200′ of gain. Half of my group opted to load into the bus/bike trailer to drive back. The rest of us planned to return at an 18-19mph pace.

So much for plans … We averaged 27mph on the return. And the only reason it was that “low” was because we throttled it back to “just” 15mph on the 1mi / 3% hill. I sat 3rd wheel the whole time — the coveted aerodynamic sweet spot. I hardly pedaled much at all; just enjoyed being sucked along in the fast-moving slipstream vortex. What an unbelievable rush!

We got back to the hotel with exactly 90mi showing on our Garmins. I tried to convince the group leaders to take us out for a bonus 10 to make it a full Century, but they were spent from pulling us over those last 35miles, half of which were into a fairly robust headwind. I respected their decision and bought them both a beer.

We’re boarding busses in 20 minutes to take us back to the mountain so that we can join with literally 1.1million other lunatics to cheer on the Tour as the guys –for the first time ever– race up Alpe d’Huez twice. I’m still in my PJs so I gotta run. More epicness will likely follow in the next update.

DAILY DRINK TALLY: 1. Sad story. The R2R program coordinator, Maria, doesn’t usually ride with us because she has so much behind the scenes stuff to take care of. She rode Alpe d’Huez though because the prior night she heard that her dad had a heart attack brought on by pneumonia. She rode to clear her head and to honor her dad. Two hours after she got back from the ride, her father died. This girl is very special to me because (a) she checked on my every week while i was in the hospital and outpatient therapy programs and (b) she reminds me so much of my lovely former assistant who I miss so much. So when Maria (the R2R person) cries, I cry. She is my family and I am so sorry for her loss.

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