Stage 9 - 168.5km
The Pyrenees are stunning. In 2007, I did the Etape which is a stage of the tour - for a cyclist it's a great experience with closed roads and 8,000 other people all riding one stage. I loved it; I found it quite hard to be fair though, and suffered a lot.
This year I've trained specifically for the whole three weeks of the Tour De France. If I'm totally honest, I've not done as many back-to-back days as we're doing here, which has surprised me in how I'm feeling right now. I'll admit to being a little confused - 9 days with nearly 1,000 miles and no major aches or pains. Don't get me wrong, I feel like I've been cycling that's for sure but not enough to put me off getting on the bike. Being fair though, the scenario helps. Let's be honest, if it was raining and cold, going out onto the roads back home I know would bore me for this length of time. But the weather, the views, the whole organisation of having 80 riders and a support team around you makes it like your own bubble, our own world for 3 weeks. It's not something you can live in permanently, I get that, and for friends and family I see it can be a bit hard and self-centered. But it's something I love to experience every so often, and have to.
Today's stage was big. 5 mountains, with about 27 miles of climbing. Each one had its own character and charm. It may be woody and secluded, or more open like the Col de Peyresourde. What's important is to treat them all with respect, making sure we're fuelled OK, and certainly with enough liquids.
The descents are another thing to really consider. Today in general was quite a turning point. We have all of the riders who have done a few stages leaving after tonight, which will just leave the 40 lifers. The parting day though involved several spills, both of lifers and the stage racers. The descents need to be managed, but you can't manage gravel on a bend or a guy pulling his car out, or a tyre exploding at speed. All that happened today, leaving a few people with less skin than when they came. The worst of the day was a broken collarbone, 30km from the finish - tiredness had set in and reactions perhaps slower, when a local reversed out in front of one of our team. He's OK and on the coach today, but strapped heavily. Another rider is missing an hour of her life. She can't recall before or after the accident. Helmet wrecked but everything else is fine. She's planning to ride again on stage 10, if we can get her a new helmet on the way up north.
Without going over every part of the route (there was 12 hours of it!) the highlight of the day for me was the last mountain. We left a pretty village and climbed the 8km through shaded roads, winding up, following a river at times and opening up to a vast panorama. Standing on the top and looking around at mountains with snow, fields of green and blue skies with dramatic clouds, the calmness overtakes the past hour of uphill pain, pressing on the pedals, whilst, and in no simple way of saying it, sweating buckets. Being fair it doesn't sit comfortably with the views, when you're stood there wet through, but hey, don't be a cyclist if you don't want to sweat.
Heading off the mountain was again wonderful, past wild donkeys, cows and horses. Through land that opened up into an immense open section. The finish for the stage was to be in a small town but our booking was in a hotel further out by about 20km. Time was pressing - 8pm every night is our meal time, so three of us worked together doing 30 second turns on the front to pace back at around 30 mph. Back to the hotel for 7.40pm, quote of the day, after 112 miles was "Really sorry guys, I may have to miss my turn, my legs are starting to really hurt." (Much respect)
Tomorrow (Monday) is going to be tough but in a different way, it's transfer day. We're heading on a coach up to Misillac. It's a long transfer, with tired legs, and aching bodies and we'll certainly be grateful of getting to the hotel sooner, rather than later.