A Great Sporting Weekend

Accept challenges, so that you may feel the exhilaration of victory ~ George S. Patton

Not only did the British and Irish Lions beat Australia and Andy Murray became Wimbledon champion but James; Thay; Gary; Steve; Carl and I finished the amateur stage of the Annecy – Semnoz tour de France.

A great sporting weekend clockFor James and I our Sunday started early having been preceded by several hours of checking the clock on the hour, even though I knew the alarm was set. Having consumed a good dose of carbohydrate from Weetabix to bananas to some weird tinned concoction that assured me of 500 calories not to mention the bottle of Yop – I was loaded and ready for action!

The park in Annecy was already buzzing by the time we arrived at 6am. There were 11,470 cyclists representing more than 50 nationalities in the 21st Etape du Tour. Our route took us through the Bauges Mountains with an elevation gain of 3,600 metres and the final climb, the Semnoz with 11km at an average gradient of 8.5% – with portions at 14%…… nasty.

stage profile

Stage profile Annecy / Annecy Semnoz 125km

Of course nerves played their part and the obligatory loo stop required a telephone call to Thay to speak to James to bring tissue to Alysoun! Suffice to say, the waiting line for the porta-loos erupted in hysterics by the time I exited the “bathroom”.

Aly and James early in the morning

Aly and James early in the morning

James and I were in the last but one starting pen, each of the 11 pens holding up to a thousand cyclists.

And then finally we were off at around 0815h. A steady 10km of flat, before the first climb, along the lakeside, with a cool breeze and amazing support from locals and tourists alike. I had planned on taking gels rather than bars of sustenance and Thay had given me an apple gel – jeepers, a bit of shock as I squeezed it into my mouth and it had bits in it. However, overcoming the texture issue, it did the trick and provided enough staying power up the first two cols.

Trying to drink going uphill has always been a bit of an issue for me. It’s not so much getting the water bottle out of its holder as putting it back in without wobbling all over the road nor falling off. So with that in mind, I managed to take a drink, promptly breathed the liquid up my nose to then cough it out all over the road. Hmmm, not such a good thing to do. James who was about 50m ahead of me even turned around to see what the noise was all about.

And then flying down Col de Pres I took a bend a little too fast and my back wheel nearly went from under me. Jeepers, my heart leapt through my mouth, it wasn’t so much about me staying upright as much as ensuring no-one behind me ran into me or fell off trying to avoid my wobble.

Aly in action

Aly in action

Safely on my way and onto Mont Revard with some stunning views of the Savoie region, arriving around midday it was hot. By the time I arrived at the feeding station at Feclaz I could hear my heart beat in my ears, felt hot but had goose-bumps and thought that if I continued I’d expire. Banana eaten, two small cups of coke and lots of water drunk and a few stretches my heart beat had become silent, I was still breathing like some weird caller on an 0898 number but with 70+ km done, I wasn’t going to stop now.

I managed another slide around a bend, clearly a slow learner. Although I think I’ll check the tread on my tyres before I head out again. And onto some beautiful pastures, picturesque and surrounded by escarpments with a backcloth of blue skies and wispy clouds. It was good to take one’s eyes of the tarmac every now and again. Some gentle flat before the beast of Semnoz reared its head.

Just after Quintal the road steeply rises and it’s time to stand up and just peddle slowly but surely. I had Mika’s “relax take it easy” playing in my head…. Only 10km to go. That 10km felt like 100. More direct sunlight, some cloud cover on occasions, but not much. My breathing at this point was hard, for those of you who’ve ever done a school cross- country on a cold winter’s day, remember that feeling of raw lungs that have been scoured with barbed wire? Or in the case of the tour – burnt with the hot air. I even walked at one point and then realised that even cycling slowly was less painful and actually quicker than walking. The atmosphere and particularly support between riders was superb and really kept me going. I loved it when the spectators shouted, “allez les filles”(go girls!)

enjoying the ride

enjoying the ride

By the time I reached the sign indicating 5km to go, I’d had it. I was exhausted, my feet hurt, other parts of me hurt and I was hot and wished that I’d done hours more cycle training. However, I was utterly determined to finish. I knew I was still 3 hours ahead of the time the tour “broom wagon” comes along and stops you, so I knew I could do it. I had to do it – it’s part of my three achievements in 15 months, part of the effort towards my charity fundraising. I would finish!

I felt like I needed more energy but the gels were finished, my stomach felt fuller than after a huge 3 course meal, so it was just more energy drink and water to the finish.

And then 4km….3km…. where was 2km? Where was it!? Carl was right when he text me confirming that the distance between 8km and 4km was actually 50km 🙂 Then the best sign ever, the inflatable sign indicating 1km to go. Such a sense of elation but where oh where was the finish? This had to be the longest one kilometre ever. Then I saw the 500m sign and a final push, even a sprint finish…well, it’s all relative when you’ve been ploughing slowly at 5km/hr for the last 7km! So 12km/hr was most certainly a sprint!!

Aly at the finish line

Aly at the finish line

The sight of yet another inflatable sign with “FINISH” written all over it was just fantastic. I’d done it, I’d cycled the stage of the Tour de France that the professional riders will do on July 20th.  Victory was mine, it was hard, I’d felt like giving up at times, I carried on and finished. I’m so grateful for the support of strangers, and of great cycle friends and work colleagues and I’m sure that as I embark upon my next challenge it will be strangers, great friends and colleagues who will keep me going – not to mention my stubborn determination.

We did it.

We did it.


2 thoughts on “A Great Sporting Weekend

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