The schedule for my last big brick session was 130ks on the bike and an 18k run. Although my program had been designed to get all the hard work done before I left home, I was looking forward to chalking up another long day in preparation for what is always a long day.
Things went a bit wayward though, through my own grand plans, advice from a friendly local, and a turn in the weather.
Coach Andy had provided a Bikely map of a route for me to ride but I decided (with KKB's encouragement) that it would be too easy to ride down Col du Joux Plane from Morzine. After all, this Col is where Lance Armstrong cracked in the Tour de France of 2000. I was here, I hadn't come to the Alpes to ride flats. I had to ride Joux Plane the right way, didn't I?
That decision made, I conscientiously prepared a new map of the same course in reverse direction, highlighting the route in crayon on a free tourist map; making notes of the towns I'd pass through and the road numbers to take. France has a well defined road system with numbers and letters, and after navigating our way for the last two weeks, I thought I had it dialled.
When I got to the outskirts of Thornon, though, I couldn't find the route number I needed anywhere, and couldn't find any reference to where I wanted to head. I stood at a roundabout for a few minutes weighing up my options, until a local cyclist approached me to help.
The language barrier wasn't enough to stop him telling me that the route I'd planned was "horrible" and "dangerous". He suggested another quite different route that would get me around to the base of Col du Joux Plane through the French country side and over a few "facile" Cols, instead of the motorway we had originally planned.
I thanked him for his help and he went on his way, then I began to wonder whether trusting a complete stranger was the right thing to do. Maybe he lured lone women cyclists on to deserted roads with the sole purpose of coming after them and attacking them???
I realised how silly this idea was, and also realised that I didn't have much choice. I couldn't find the road I'd planned to be on, so couldn't continue the way I'd set out. So I decided to dice with death and my route completely.
I am really happy I did. The new ride was mostly on country roads through beautiful little villages. It even allowed me to take the obligatory photos at the top of two cols - Col du Perret and Col de Saxel - before tackling Col de Joux Plane.
The ride wasn't going too fast though, not only because of the extra lumps but also because of the changed plans. I stopped constantly to check and recheck my location and directions, and also regularly texted KKB when I turned on to a new road. Even though I'd encountered plenty of cyclists (and hadn't encountered the original cyclist, so obviously his intentions were good not evil!) I thought it was important someone knew where I was!
Finally, after what seemed like (and was) the best part of the day, I was at Samoens, the base of the Col de Joux Plane. I didn't know what to be prepared for. All I knew was that, apart from Lance's experience here, it is rated as either a Category 1 or Hors Category in the Tour De France.
Similar to the advice I'd received from a local when I first climbed Galibier, KKB had saved me to save something for this climb. It only took a couple of Ks to see why. I stopped after a little over a K. It only takes one look at the gradient of the climb to see why - kilometre number 1 at an average of 8.5; then kilometre number 2 at an average of 12???
Of course I didn't know what was ahead of me but if it was all like this, I was screwed.
I got back on my way and it flattened out a little, but about half way up I was passed by a cyclist who started to struggle not far ahead of me. This guy looked fit. If he's struggling, and I'm only half way up, I'm screwed.
Again, another little break, before getting back on my bike and starting up the Col again. From there, I felt better and better. That was until the lightening started to illuminate the sky, punctuated by the rumble of summer thunder. I looked at the distance on my Garmin 310XT, desperately trying to do the maths. How much longer did I have to go?
Before too long, with the dramatic overhead lightshow, I saw the sign that announced my arrival at the summit.
From here, I sent my final few texts of the day to KKB.
- I'm here
- No, the Col
- Be careful baby. I'm proud of you.
- No chance of a pickup? Weather is poo.
And then silence.
I waited the storm out with eight more cyclists - two from Austria, three from Germany, and three from England. Every so often, I'd go to the door of the cafe in search of phone reception in the hopes of getting a reply.
When the rain started to settle down, all of the cyclists got ready for the descent. It had turned cold, so whatever clothing we had, we put on. One of the English blokes went on the hunt for old newspaper, and I managed to get some sheets from him to put down the front of my jersey. I was quite unprepared for a turn in the weather, with just a light vest and some arm warmers.
I was feeling apprehensive about the cold and the slippery conditions when one of the other English guys was having a whinge about the descent, and the newspaper guy told him to man up.
"That goes for you too, athletic powerhouse," I told myself. "Man up. Get out there. You don't need a sag wagon, electrical storm or not!"
The newspaper guy sensed my apprehension and offered for me to descend with them. I kindly declined, saying that I would be descending like a nanna today, so probably wouldn't be able to stay with them anyway, so I headed off before them.
I did descend like a nanna, even so, the newspaper guy was the only one who passed me, the others obviously didn't man up as much as he thought they might. He waited for them at the bottom and I stopped thanked him for his words of encouragement.
It was a dramatic end to a long day. After all of that, and in the continuing drizzle, there was no way I was going out for another 18ks on foot. The brick was well and truly wayward by now and there was no steadying it.
Time will tell whether the wayward brick will come back to haunt me on race day. I hope not.