This was my kind of stage: 77km, 2400m of ascent and not a single meter of flat. It was day three of Tour de Tarentaise. The tour had us riding some of France’s most famous cycling roads, often covered in big races like the Criterium du Dauphine, including up some of the best mountain roads and down some of the worst. I had been battling a case of blocked legs during the first two stages so it was time for redemption and if there was ever a route profile to entice my legs out of hibernation, this was it. We even started uphill.
The 15km climb from the start line took many prisoners and the front group had been whittled down to 22 riders. I crested the climb with the leaders but pretty soon I realized that had been the easy part. The descent was downright treacherous. There seemed to be more potholes than road and, worst of all, there was gravel everywhere. Staying with the front group, we all clung to our handelbars for dear life and miraculously made it down unscathed.
As soon as we reached the bottom, up again we went for the second of five big climbs. In the company of the yellow jersey, the pace was kept steady and we repeated this process again on the third climb. On the fourth major climb, however, the pattern was broken and the attacking started. Riders were in full combat mode but this soldier was stuck on “steady.” I watched 5 riders get away but, with one rider for company, I stuck to my own pace and reached the top only 10 seconds behind the leaders.
My companion and I knew the descent was our chance to close the gap. It was white-knuckle descending as we bombed down the climb at 70km/hr, slamming on brakes for hairpins only to sprint like madmen back up to speed. It wasn’t long before it was one risk too many and coming into a deceptive corner way too fast, we both had a split second decision to make: crash around the corner or go straight towards a small barrier on the edge of the cliff and hope like hell we stopped before it. Our brakes were screaming, maxed out, and I watched as my fellow daredevil slammed sideways into the wall. My back wheel was locked, also sliding sideways and I was prepared for the same fate. By some miracle, my slide came to a halt and I merely bumped into the barrier. I clipped my foot back in and got going again, as did my partner, and soon after we were back in the front group.
Turns out our kamikaze descent wasn’t the only one and there were two riders up the road who had used the descent to get away so, when the final 8km climb came, I set off alone after them. The 8km saw more attacks and, after attacking for the second time on the climb myself, I came across the line in 7th on the stage.
Covering 112km with two big mountains in the final 40km, the final stage the following day was also for the climbers. The flat run in to the mountains went by quickly and, as we started the first climb of 14km, the power ramped up and the bunch began to splinter. I was pedalling squares. I couldn’t believe it. I knew the power was in my quads, I just needed to access it. I had to get to the front group of 25 and fast. I poured a cold bottle over my head and, as my core body temperature responded, my legs returned. I immediately started to ride myself back into contention.
I arrived at the group but there were only 10 riders there, 11 had powered ahead. Working with the other 10 riders, we tried to limit our losses before the 15km descent and final climb ahead. Staying together on the descent, the 10 of us hit the base of Valmorel together. Between us and the finish line was the 18km and 900m of elevation of Valmorel, a ski station 1200m above sea level. There were also 11 riders.
I attacked. I was off solo, hunting for a few riders in front. Riders chased behind me but we were all strung out, ten to fifteen seconds apart. After 10km alone, I had my sights on a rider just up the road. I took tenth moments later but then another rider from behind joined me just as the road flattened out. He attacked me but, just like the flat section, his power was fleeting and 300m later I had easily taken back my 10th position. Despite the fatigue building in my body, I pushed on and a few kilometres later I saw another target. With 3km to go, I surged past him to take 9th. I continued to hunt but the finish line came first and I crossed the line to take 9th on the stage and 12th in the General Classification.
After suffering through bad legs at the beginning of the tour, I had found my legs in the mountains and moved up 22 places in the general classification in two stages. If home is where the heart is, then my heart-and my legs-lie in the mountains.