Hubert ARBRES Ride report

The trip to the South of France was so full of incident that I can not really do the trip justice here. So I'll mostly stick to the cycling.

Arriving on Friday afternoon in time to unpack bikes an savour the delights of Lourdes. (Lots of shops selling religious souvenirs and groups of people going to and from the Grotto. I kept expecting to see Father Ted appear). As usual in France found a nice bar with good food.

On Saturday we went out for a spin on the bikes and since it was there went up the climb to Hautocam as expected we split on the lower part of the climb but a bit of the way up a phone rang as one of our number had managed to break the dropout on his bike so the rear gear mechanism was no longer attached to the bike. Two other riders saw an opportunity to stop climbing kindly offered to push him back to Lourdes which can't have been more then 15km. The rest of us continued up and up. Now I have climbed lots of cols, mostly when touring when I had very low gears and also was 20 years younger but I've never really been worried by a climb. However the climb to Hautocam had me worried. I got to the Cafe that is about two thirds of the way up and was very happy that no one else wanted to go to the top, preferring to save themselves for what was going to be a long hard day on Sunday. The only other fool rider to have a 25 rear sprocket and a 39 tooth small chain ring opted to go to the bike shop and buy a 27 tooth sprocket. I did not. I'm not sure why.

The afternoon was spent first at the Hubert Arbres' bike shop. Where Hubert himself fixed the drop out on my colleagues bike by borrowing a drop out off of another bike on condition that we returned it after the ride. We also had some Photos with Hubert Arbres and our international cycling journalist managed a short interview despite not having a pencil!

The evening we found a bar and watched the football. Enough said. Then went to a restaurant to do the usual pre-ride meal. Two main courses followed by a pudding.

The hotel did us proud the whole time. It could not be described as flash, but it was cheap had a basement bar that was no longer used in which we could keep our bikes and was happy to feed us early enough for us to get to the roll out at 7:45 with the start about 2km out of town at 8:00.

Then bang. The 500 or so riders went off at speed 28mph plus as we headed out of town towards the Cote De Loucrup. On that short climb I began to get really worried. I was struggling to keep up and was in first gear. I could not help notice no one else was. There were triple chain rings, huge rear cassettes and compact chain sets all around me, going past me none of which seemed to have had to reach for their lowest gear. Then two of my cycling friends caught me as we topped the Cote.

I decided then the only way to get up the Tourmelet was to not sit back and let it grind me down but to try and attack it. I was thinking “out of the saddle like Lance”. Clearly deluded but as the climb started I followed through with my “plan” which meant that I was quickly away from the rest of the team and to my great surprise when the hill got steeper I actually did climb out of the saddle and made it up faster than I expected. I even made a mental note of the time. Alas I forgot everything later on on the ride. There was a photographer near the top. If the picture comes out may tell me if I was really out of the saddle.

Over the top, past the statue of the naked cyclist, I did not stop for the food and drink figuring I could make it to the next stop where I hoped there would be less of a queue and started down.

One of the great descents. Sweeping bends long straights with great sight lines. Only later was I told that the lower parts have a very high accident rate with cyclists hitting cars which are going up the hill. I had no close calls and finished in a small group still feeling good.

On the profile the Col du Borderes just looks like a small clibe that take you up to the Col Du Soulor. What it dows not show is how steep they both were. More like the Surrey hills only without the down hill bits. In our hotel in the morning we had met a Spanish cyclist who was tiny and had a triple chain set. He past me on the Borderes, I past him pushing his bike on the Soudor. He was not the last. If I stopped I would never be able to start again.

I grew to hate people. Mostly Spanish riders who would pass me in pairs, not using first gear as they had triples, talking. That is just showing off.

On the flip side there were the helpers at the drinks stop. I came to a halt and was immediately handed a cold drink of water which I drank while two people took my water bottles and filled them. Then the man on the Soulour who had a water bottle he was filling from a stream and then pouring it down the back of any rider who wanted cooling off. I know he was still there when the last of our team that came up the hill. A star.

At the top of Solour I made sure that I got both water bottles filled for the extra weight on the descent. Then failed miserably to get my feet into the clips for ages. My right foot was aching not sure why I suspect my cleat needs moving backwards but from now on it was down hill, mostly. Another brilliant descent this time on my own, well once I got past the Renault van. Then as the road levelled out I was on my own and getting slower and slower. I was empty. I'd tried to eat but when going up mountains I had not eaten enough. When going down I had needed both hands on the handle bars. I was paying now. Poking in energy bars and water as fast as I could while trying to keep going at 20mph.

Then another star. Three riders caught me. Two French one of whom made sure I got on their wheel and there again was the Spanish rider from the hotel. The only downside was the speed went up and up. 25 to 28 mph. After a bit the Spanish Rider was dropped. Then after two more miles so was I, just as I past the 30km to go mark.

On my own again and struggling once more. At about 20km to go I was caught by the Spanish Rider again. Now we worked together for what was the longest 20km I have ever ridden.

Finally we were in Lourdes being waved through the red traffic lights by the Police some tight bends around the back streets and back to the Salle de Fetes for the finish. As I entered the finishing straight there was a cheer. I could not understand how so many of team were already back. They had taken the sensible decision and taken the shorter route. I swore I would never ever do this again.

When the results came in I had completed the ride in 6:59:22 seconds. Under 7 hours. More than 45 minutes inside the target time for a “Brevet d'Or” for my age. Within an hour of finishing I was already thinking about the next big ride.

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Comments:

Chris, GREAT RESULTS! Gearing is vital, changed to 12-23 on my rear cassette as 'small' hills dot my area.

Posted by William R. Walling on July 05, 2006 at 09:44 AM BST #

Sounds like a great ride Chris. Well done!

I was on holiday in France last week - near Bordeaux. If I'd known you were cycling, I'd have come to cheer you on. On second thoughts, Lourdes is perhaps a bit far from Bordeaux - it all looks so small on a map :)

Posted by Trevor Watson on July 12, 2006 at 03:42 AM BST #

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This is the old blog of Chris Gerhard. It has mostly moved to http://chrisgerhard.wordpress.com

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