Posts Tagged ‘si’

Tourmalet showdown

Photo: Getty Images

Today’s stage finish up the Col du Tourmalet delivered a Tour battle to rival any I can remember. As @rich_mitch observed, it wasn’t quite Lance vs Pantani, but Contador vs Schleck, mano-a-mano through the mist, was tense and gritty stuff.

No-one but Andy Schleck could have restrained the accelerations of Contador, even though, in the end, the Spaniard made only one significant move. On the face of it, however, he didn’t need to win: with only 8 seconds separating first and second place, Contador’s time-trial pedigree means he’s sure to take overall victory on Sunday. Schleck had to attack, and he did all he could, riding a savage tempo up the mountain that had both riders grimacing in pain. Ultimately, they were so evenly matched that they crossed the line together – Contador generously, and wisely (given the events of Tuesday), handing the stage win to Schleck.

2002

I rode up the Tourmalet in 2002, while traversing the Pyrenees on a week-long charity ride from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. On a day of drama that will mean nothing to anyone bar the protagonists, I can vividly remember flashes of that punishing 90-minute ascent (the same, tougher, side as the Tour went up today).

To recap, we were a group of 7, that included university mates Ewan, Si and Joe, plus some older blokes, one of whom was Mike B.

Mike was a keen club rider; we were an odd assortment of fitness levels, ranging from Joe, a natural talent, to Ewan, who despite radically transforming himself in recent years and completing an Ironman in 2008, was at that time shambolically out of shape. But it was a charity ride, so racing was hardly on the cards.

That is, until the first morning of the trip, a tough, drizzly leg out of Biarritz, when Blakeney rode off the front for 50 miles. Who did he think he was, Eddy Merckx? Suddenly, in the microcosm of the group, Mike B (who is actually a good guy all round), with his carbon Trek and beer gut, was the villain of the piece. Revenge was brewing, and the Tourmalet – which we hit on the Thursday – would be our showdown.

Toast

We stopped for lunch in a town not far from the foot of the mountain. I remember taking Joe to one side and briefing him for the climb: he was not to hang back with us, he was to ride at B’s pace, and keep up the tempo until B cracked. Joe and B rode off together, leaving us to await the outcome.

It goes without saying that the climb was hard. For the first time, I experienced all the usual side-effects of long, hot mountain climbs that I’m now pretty familiar with: the pins-and-needles face, the slack jaw, the aching back. I dropped Si after 20 minutes – a minor victory – and then it was me and the road.

I initially thought it was a product of my own super-heated brain when I looked up after 10km and saw Mike B, dismounted at the roadside, helmet off, pink-faced, puffy, a Dead-Elvis grin on his face. But he said something – it could have been ‘Help’ or ‘Water’, I can’t recall – and I realised with a surge of adrenalin that Joe had buried him. I was intensely delighted, not only by this reckoning, but also by the fact that I was now number two on the mountain. A celebratory hot chocolate was my reward at the summit.

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