As we drove the winding roads back down towards Gap on the way home from GP Challoil we passed a place which most cycling fans will remember well: when Lance Armstrong rode across the grass to avoid the crashing Joseba Beloki. It’s so odd to think something so crazy and now historical happened on such a small, abandoned road on the side of a mountain. My day may not have been spectacular or momentous but on a small, abandoned road up to a Ski Station, it was a moment just as historical in my books.
The weather on race day was also less than spectacular: grey clouds and frigid temperatures. There was only 60km on the books but with 2 large climbs followed by a 13km climb up to the finish, topping out at 1600m, it had the chance of being momentous.
Unlike any race I had ever done, the start line was at the base of a 6km climb. The race began as normal but a mere 4km into the race, thanks to an attack from an Aix-en-Provence rider, the race was torn to shreds. That one attack whittled the 60 rider field (only a few are crazy enough to enter these types of events) down to 15.
With little co-operation and a lot of attacking I switched into “don’t miss out mode.” Marking riders and trying to stay out of the wind was the plan. With the nonsense that front groups tend to get up to, the pace slowed and we were joined by another 15 riders from behind.
With 2 teammates now by my side, I was able to sit back let them cover moves while I rested and planned for the 13km uphill finale. We hit the bottom of the last climb and in usual French style the attacks started within the first 10m.
I kept my tempo and sat in the front group. We kept going up and up and up, small signs giving me a hint of the gradient that the next kilometers would hold. This was no spectacular Team Sky meticulously-planned leadout, this was just a group of 12 riders trying to inflict as much pain as possible on each other. As we neared the top one rider slipped away at the perfect time and, as the rest of us looked at each other, he eeked out just enough of an advantage to hang on and win. But the race wasn’t over for me just yet.
On the final run in to the finish, there was no banner in sight. With the finish line tucked around a hairpin out of sight, I just followed suit as everyone put it on the big ring and opened up. I may have attacked a few too many times on the way up as I was left struggling in the sprint and finished 7th. Standing around trying to suck in as much 4 degree oxygen-deprived air as I could I was happy to finally break into the top 10 for the season. Like I said, not spectacular. Not momentus. But a little bit historical, at least in my book.