Thursday, 8 July 2010

The long dud Friday

Alpe d'Huez is like a Glastonbury Festival of cyclists. They are everywhere, crawling around the place in nervous anticipation with a combined £10 million worth of bikes beneath their legs in preparation for the big day.

Registration and preparation are the order of the day, but Martin and I, along with Mark who's in our apartment, want to get some hill miles in our legs to test the bikes out. We decide on the Col de Sarenne, a 7km pass that skirts around the edge of the 3320-metre Pic Blanc and out towards the Barrage du Chambon.

Once out of the confines of the paid-for roads, however, we discover it's more of a mountain bike route. Mark and I press on, but Martin heads back having seen enough poor road surfaces to know that punctures are never too far away.

The rough road plunges down into a gorge before rising up to its peak of 2,000 metres. It's dreadful, but I need the psychological boost of an alpine pass in my legs, so I graft up the 11% gradient till I reach the summit. Mark has gone beyond and down into the valley, but I stand at the top and drink in the fresh mountain air. It's fairly thin, but feels innately healthy. I see Mark sprinting back to the top up what looks a horrendously steep incline and decide he'll be in a different class come tomorrow's race.

We drift back and prepare to register, which takes none of us anywhere near as much time as we fear. The temperature is rising fast, so we seek solace indoors and watch the football. Given we're setting off to Bourg d'Oisans - where the race starts - at 6.30am, we take an early dinner of pasta at Smithy's Tavern while watching the Scottish Andy Murray lose to Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon.

Our evening is mercifully brief - we don't even see the end of the Uruguay v Ghana quarter final. A few hours' nervous sleep awaits before our longest day. I'm still totally unaware of how I'll handle the miles and the mountains and the tension is building. With luck, the nerves will be shaken off by a brisk descent from the Alpe in the morning.

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