Monthly Archives: July 2008

Clean Up Day

So yesterday was our final day of riding here at Whistler. It turned out to be an epic day. It had rained the night before, so the trails were in perfect shape. Muddy in spots, dry in others, perfectly tacky dirt, slippery roots and rock faces. Super sweet fun.

We started out the day with Lukas, Christian, Jose and I ripping Angry Pirate into lower A line. We did that the requisite 9 or so times and then it was lunch time. We met up with the girls and rode a bit with them first though.

Liz is jumping up onto the tops of the table tops on Crank it Up, this is really an accomplishment for her. She did not really want to come to Whistler this year. She is always freaked out before we come here, but has a fantastic time once we are here. Ali and Hanna are both hitting the backsides of the tabletops. It is truly amazing, if they both lived here they would be ripping riders and skiers. They already truly have advanced level ski skills, and if they lived here we would see them with advanced level riding skills as well. As it is, they can be classified as decent intermediates, capable of single black diamond level trails. One thing that always surprises me here, is the number of women riding. If I go to a local XC trail, there is only maybe 10% of the riders that are women. But, here the documented mix is almost 30% women. I wonder why that is? That could stand some discovery at some point.

We split up again by gender, and the boys and I went back to our usual Schleyer or Angry Pirate or Dirt Merchant or A Line alternations. They were great fun. Late in the day, we decided to break it up and made a couple of trips down Crack Addict. That trail is a bit above the boys ability, but nonetheless we tore at it. On the 2nd time down, Lukas piled into a tree at the bottom of a wooden bridge. He knocked himself silly and tweaked his hurt wrist. He was in good spirits as he had had a fantastic day of riding and was not ready to stop, but you could tell his wrist was hurting.

As Lukas was collecting himself, Christian slid down the same ladder bridge and lowsided down the length of it. He got up slowly, and after we got him going, Jose and I decided it was time for the boys to have a break. We met up with the girls at GLC and watched people come off the big drop for a few minutes, then headed back up the hill.

I took Hanna down Angry Pirate, and she made it look easy. Not fast, but really good technical skills. She had trouble with 2 sections, but went back up and tried them again and made them both. Wow.

We made a couple more runs down Crank it Up to top off the day. Liz did not want to stop at the end. Funny how addicting the riding is at Whistler. I can never get enough, and sure enough even someone who did not want to go cannot get enough in the end.

Reluctantly we grabbed a table at GLC and watched the last people come down the hill. Lukas and Ali (being 18) joined us for a beer and a salute to a really really great trip (Hanna, Kelsey and Christian being 16 or less had to make due with a Sprite).

Final day celebration at the GLC.

This marks the end of our 2nd family trip with the Gonzales family to Whistler. It has become a tradition that I hope will stick. It was really really fun having Lukas with us. He is such a natural athlete and a family member. The only family member missing was Lisa Belg (our 2nd foreign exchange student) maybe she will be with us next year.

We also got to expand our little family game of “best and worst” of the day to another group of people. That is the dinner game of having people express to the group what was the best thing that happened to them that day, and what was the worst. It always results in a bunch of really fun dinner conversation.

I did not work all of these photo’s into previous posts, so I am just dumping a bunch of photos in here now. Enjoy.

Joe

Lukas on the plane. I have no idea why he is wearing underwear on his head.

Family V on the hill.

Flat day. Not my best side though.

Perfectly good bridge that people jumped off of.

Kelsey, Hanna, Lukas. Lukas looking exceptionally good.

Goons going riding.

More goons.

The girls and Candace.

Lukas goofing with Ali.

Ami and Joe at the top of the mountain.

Pile of kids at the top of the mountain.

Famous THING at the top of Whistler mountain.

Lukas telling his mother on the phone that he has broken his arm.

Hanna, Ali, Liz. Rainy day ride.

Team Helly Hansen.

Weird.

The crew from the greatest family vacation ever.

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River Runs Through it

Today Lukas was ready to ride again. I thought he was going to die if he did not get out and ride. He came all the way over from Germany for this Whistler riding experience, and he was not going to let a little arm fracture get in the way of that.

In the morning, the girls and I rode at the park. I took helmet camera sequences with each of them. I rode behind them on Crank it Up, Karate Monkey, Smoke and Mirrors and Devils Club. They are all going to be stars on that movie, if I can figure out how to splice it all together into a nice little sequence. Bear with me, and I will post it here if I can figure that all out.

In the afernoon, we strapped the splint down tight on Lukas arm, put on my armor over it and set up the bikes for some pedaling trails instead of the downhill trails. Off we headed for the famous trail – River Runs Through It. The trail is a mostly flat piece of singletrack. It is probably only about 10 miles long, but it takes quite a while to get through, because it is absolutely littered with wooden features. Ladder bridges over creeks, goofy little skinny lines over stumps, teeters, meandering bridges that go no where but are absolutely a hoot to ride over.

Prepping for an XC ride – Whistler style. That means it still requires pads etc…

The damaged Lukas, getting ready despite the splint on his arm.

We have gone there each year we have come here. I remember the first time we went there and Liz could barely ride any of the trail. The girls could not either. They referred to the trail as “hiking over a goofy technical trail, with your bike over your shoulder”. Not so any more. They rode way more than half of all the stunts, and in most cases went back to try things a second time if they could not make it over it.

Lukas, Hanna and Ali on the same spot that we used as our Christmas card a few years ago.

Everything worked out for Lukas as well. He loves this kind of riding, and gutted it out with his arm. I think the arm bothered him a little, but as I said, in the end it was not going to stop him. We had a blast.

You might remember pictures of Ali and Hanna going through this tree spot, years ago.

After a few hours of riding at the technical XC trails, Jose and I went back up on the mountain and shredded for 3 more hours – until they shut the lifts down. This was a long day. 10 hours of riding, including 2 hours of pedaling my DH bike over XC trails. Ugh.

I am fried.

Joe

Saturday 7/27 – Whistler

I am sitting here at 7:20 on Saturday morning. Right now, Cadel Evans is on the course, Frank Schleck is on the course and Carlos Sastre is on the course. As it always seems to, in the modern era, the TDF has come down to the final time trial. The weather looks fantastic for them, much better than the day we had there in the mountains a few weeks ago, and much better than they had for a few days in the mountains as well. When you reflect on it like this, that race is completely epic.

In the time that they have been racing every day, I have ridden a huge stage in France and now ridden my DH mountain bike rig at Whistler for 4 days. Wow.

A few things have happened this week. It has been a really really fun and exciting week.

Early in the week, the girls were riding with Candace Shadley. She is their hero. She has been able to teach them so much about riding and line selection and confidence it is amazing. I will always spend the money to put the girls in one of her camps (www.dirtseries.com) if they would like to go.

Ali, Hanna and Candace at the top of Fitzsimmons chair.

Lukas and Christian have ridden most of the week with Jose and I. It has been amazing to see their riding improve over the week. They have ridden – Original Sin, Schleyer, A-Line, Dirt Merchant, No Joke, Fatcrobat, In Deep and many other of the big name trails here. And, not only did they just ride it, they dominated it.

Unfortunately, on the 3rd day of riding, Lukas found himself on the ground and probably has broken his arm. It was my job to lead him down In Deep and Jose was leading Christian down. Lukas and I got separated by a bit, and he did not have me to lead him over the technical sections. He made a bad line choice and tried to jump down a rock face. That resulted in going to fast into a horribly rooted section and he went over the bars and probably tried to break his fall with his arm.

Lukas with the possible broken arm.

We then had to ride all the way down the trail with Lukas with a probable broken arm. It was probably 30 minutes down many very technical trails, all the while with Lukas feeling a super sharp pain on every small little bump. At one point he attempted to follow me over a jump and when he landed the pain was so sharp he had to stop and sit in the shade to keep from throwing up. Ouch.

We took him to the clinic at the bottom and had an Xray done. The Xray was inconclusive, in that they could not tell if the line they saw was because of the growth plates still coming together or a small fracture. Either way, it will heal up soon for him, but unfortunately his Whistler riding will probably be over.

I finished the day riding with the girls. We went to the top of the mountain, and the girls rode terrain that I did not think they could ride. But, things are so dry that we experienced a huge amount of flats. 4 in just an hour. Liz got the prize, as she had 3 of those 4 flats.

Liz working away at one of her many flats that day.

Yesterday at lunch we all met at the top of the mountain. It is spectacularly beautiful. It is not any kind of extreme adventure, but it was fun.

Ali and the Gonzales family at the top of the Gondola at Whistler.

Probably our Christmas card photo for this year.

The big extreme adventure yesterday was the Lukas, Hanna and Kelsey doing a bungie jump. I cannot understand how someone would want to jump off a perfectly good bridge over a river, but they did. On the way there, the kids were so so nervous. They kept jabbering on about things, and Hanna admitted that her palms were even sweaty. Lukas wanted me to drive more slowly, as he was openly admitting that he was not sure that he wanted to do the jump.

Nervous kids!

The rest of us were too chicken to contemplate jumping.

The chickens (me included).

In the end, they all went through with it and came out with huge smiles. Lukas jumped with an enormous amount of style, Hanna got the scream of the day award and Kelsey tried to hold on to the bungie for all her worth. It was a scream.

Kelsey, Lukas, Hanna after the big jump!

Joe

Day 1 – Whistler

The day started out a bit cloudy. But, by the time lunch came around it was bright and sunny. In fact, I have never seen BC this dry. The grass in Vancouver was brown, and the dirt here in Whistler is dusty and hard. The trails are super rough and beat up from a summers riding already without much rain. The climate is going weird.

We had a really successful day of riding yesterday. Liz and the girls rode all day with Candace. Of course, by the end of the day she had them doing things on the bike that they never thought they could. They were all smiles at lunch time. It is always fun seeing them go from a bit freaked out to confident in their riding. Candace can work magic with them.

Lukas, Christian, Jose and I spent the day reacquainting ourselves with jumps, technical terrain, wooden bridges, rocky and rooty terrain. It was a great day. Just a couple of small crashes for each of us.

We did have a few mechanical problems though. Lukas flatted and put a huge flat spot into his wheel. We banged it out at the end of the day, but it will be interesting to see if the wheel lasts for the week. He also had a brake lever foul up on him. We lost some parts, and had to chase around town looking for the replacement parts. In the end, it is all back together and he is excited about another day on the trails.

I became the easiest customer ever at the bike shop today. I walked in asked for a Giro Remedy helmet. They asked me what color and size, and said medium and pointed to a black one. They asked me if I wanted to try it on. I said no, and handed them a credit card. Done. New helmet is with me and riding.

Today the girls will get out with Candace more, and the boys and I will head up to the upper mountain. More challenging terrain.

Joe

Departure Day – Whistler bound

As they always do, the departure day dawned really early. Our flight took off at 6:50, and that means a 4am alarm setting to get out the door on time. That is only an hour or so early for me and my normal wake up time, but for a bunch of teenagers that probably only went to bed at 3am, that is really really early. Nonetheless, we are going to Whistler! So, everyone is pretty excited.

Planes, trains, and rental cars later and we are making our way through Vancouver. Vancouver is the greatest city in the world. The ocean, the mountains coming right down to the edge of the ocean, the islands – even the weather. The city has a bit of a European feel to it. Lots of people commuting by bike, electric buses etc… The road cycling on Vancouver island is really good. The Mountain biking in North Vancouver is the best in the world. I love everything about the city. Some day, when I can choose where I live with a bit more freedom – you know where you will find me. I don’t know why I was not born Canadian, eh?

In the end, we made it up to Whistler. The Sea to Sky highway is historically one of the greatest drives I know of. But, nowadays it is pretty torn up. The stupid Olympics thing has forced Canada to try to make the road wider. I think it has been under construction now for about 5 years. It is a huge project. Basically, the mountains come right down to the waters edge in this part of the world. The Sea to Sky highway was always a beautiful little 2 lane road that followed the edge of the water from Vancouver to Squamish. The road snaked around and zigged and zagged with the water and the mountains. Spectacular! It was slow going for sure, and I am certain that if you lived with that road on a regular basis – it was probably frustrating. But, somebody had the bright idea of hosting the Olympics here and of course that means that thousands more people will need to use the road. Thus, the project to make it wider. Unfortunately, the project has made the drive way less spectacular as a wide road kind of ruins the feel of the mountains and ocean. Maybe the beauty will return when it is all done.

This is our annual Whistler trip, and for the 2nd time, the Gonzales family is doing the trip with us. Jose and I have known each other for more than 20 years and have been riding mountain bikes together for that long as well. Jose is an old Kawasaki mechanic and a suspension wizard. His son Christian is only 13, but can ride as he races MX at home. His wife Ami and daughter Kelsey do not ride, but they are here to hang out in Whistler as it is one of the most beautiful places in the world. This is going to be fun.

When we arrived, we quickly unpacked the van and bombed over to pick up the bikes. Then we had a few hour bike building party. We were supposed to have 3 new Session 88 bikes and 4 new Remedy bikes. All but one were here, one still in transit.

Here is the results of the build party! Love that sight!

I have to show off a few shameless bragging photo’s. Here is my ride for the next 6 days. Sweet!

I cannot wait!

What a site! All shiny and willing! Yes!

Unfortunately, I discovered that someone in baggage must have stepped on my bag and it crushed my helmet. I loved this helmet as it was a Standard Giro Remedy, but with some pretty cool one off graphics. Oh well, it was due to be replaced this year because it was crashed in too many times already.

See the crack line from the eye hole past the vent to the bottom.

Cracked all the way through the mouthpiece!

No longer oval shaped!

Helmets can stand quite a few crashes, but apparently they cannot take being stepped on or sat on sideways. Carry them on with you, do not check them.

So, the girls are riding with Candace Shadley for the next 3 days. Candace runs an outfit called “Dirt Series” ( www.dirtseries.com) . Candace has an affiliation with another bike brand, but I don’t hold that against her. She is the greatest. If ever you can get to one of her outfits camps or just get out for a ride with her, you should. I cannot pump up her business enough.

Tuesday the 22nd is our first day of riding. I will hopefully have some photo’s from that day.

Joe

Hixton weekend – local D16 races

7-12/13

Today is Monday. I am worked. I am sporting a super sore body, including a back that is wrenched, sore knees, sore arms and shoulders. Damn this getting old thing is tough. I am reasonably fit, not as fit as I was at the start of the season, but not that bad. The whole hurting my knee and focusing on that as well as the break in the race season has killed my fitness. Oh well, you didn’t tune in to hear about my lack of fitness.

This past weekend was an important local race. In fact, it was a double race. Both days, Saturday and Sunday.

Hixton is one of our usual old stomping grounds. I have been doing races here for about 6 years. I have usually gone well here. Not always wining my class, but normally feeling like I had a pretty good race. Normally in the top 4.

Since it was a double race, it was an opportunity for Scott and I to pull out the full GNCC race set up. The trailer, the Suzuki tents, our identically logo’ed bikes etc… It was fun. I know we are a couple of dorks, but I was looking forward to camping in the trailer at a race site, as it has been a while.

Our race site before everyone else arrived.

We will get to the race report in a minute, but first I have to call out some of the color of the race environment. Hixton is a great piece of property. It is actually called CMJ raceway. It is about 400 acres. It is a super hilly piece of property. Covered in woods. It boasts a huge hill for a hill climb competition, a great outdoor MX track with enormous hills and tons of woods riding. On Saturday, there was a hillclimb and a vintage MX race going on at the same time as our HS race. As a result, our HS course for Saturday was 100% woods. On Sunday, day 2 of the hillclimb was taking place at the same time as our HS race, that allowed the MX track to be added for that day.

The lineup of perfectly good MX bikes, shredded and turned into hillclimbers.  Oh Well!

It seems that hillclimbers and ATV riders come from the same family tree. I don’t know what it is about those 2 groups, but somehow you have to like really loud motors to be fans of those things. I think when people are in their formative years, if they lean towards loud things and making things louder, then that is a future quad racer or hillclimber. Hillclimbers take a perfectly good MX bike, weld on a ridiculously long swingarm, get rid of the radiators, get rid of the front fender, get rid of the airbox and then bolt on the loudest exhaust pipe they can find. Then, of course, you are required to start those bikes every hour and rev the piss out of them for 5 minutes. 2 stroke or 4 stroke, it doesn’t matter – same routine for each. Wow.

The other interesting phenomenon is to take an MX chassis, lengthen it all out and do all the other things listed abovev, but then fabricate all the mounting plates etc… to put in a huge motor. A Harley twin will work, a 1000cc inline 4 cylinder, even a 6 or so cylinder car motor. I guess there must be an open class in hillclimbs. All of that for 10seconds of flame throwing, mud spewing eardrum splitting abuse.

Scott picked me, the trailer and my bike up at my house at about 4:45. We had originally planned to head up on Friday eve, but that has become increasingly difficult for Scott with his young family. On both Thursday and Friday nights, the skies served up the 2 largest thunderstorms I have ever experienced. It was spectacular. But, they also dropped about 4 inches of rain on us during the 2 nights. For an area already saturated with water, it spelled a mud race. I am ok with that these days, in fact I kind of like mud.

So Saturday’s race started out fantastic. The gun went off, my bike started on the first kick and I was first in my wave to the first turn. I charged through the course for the first lap and even with a couple of wrong turns (I had not seen the course as we drove up that morning), I still had a comfortable lead. Rob did not get his bike started easily and it took him that first lap to catch up to me. I stalled on the 2nd lap trying to brake too hard for a turn that came up on me faster than I remembered, and he got by me. Later in that lap, I got back by him when we were blocked by a few C class riders struggling with a big hill.

Unknown to me, he went down chasing me afterward and I did not see him for more than an hour. Finally at an hour I started to see him when the course looped back on itself. At an 1’ 40” I was pushing too hard to stay ahead of him and I crashed really hard on a slick turn. I slammed to the ground on my shoulder, my head, my hip and my knee. The bad knee. I tweeked my knee and shoulder and put a huge bruise on my hip. But, the worst of it was that I was completely dazed and it took me too long to get up and get to my bike. Rob went by me as I was trying to get back on my bike. With only 15 or so minutes to catch him I just could not make it up. 2nd place is how I came in. I was actually ok with that, as I felt that I had raced hard and came close to winning. But, I had gone hard and was really knackered after the race.

One big long 5 mile rut.

With the mud, the race became super rough and rutted. It was like riding one long rut, with rocks and tree roots exposed. It beat you to death. I set up the helmet camera for the race, but apparently failed to push the start button, so you don’t get to see the race. Oh well.

Scott and I loaded up the bikes after the race to go and find a car wash. It had been really muddy and the bikes had a good 30 pounds of mud on them. I also needed some Ibuprofen and a compression sleeve on my knee to keep the swelling down.

Home sweet Home.

We prepped the bikes and then had dinner and it was lights out at dark. I love sleeping in the camper, as that is usually where I sleep the best. It was not the greatest night of sleep though. I could not sleep as there were people setting off fireworks, and my knee and hip were throbbing. I have a huge bruise and swelling on my hip. Apparently I sat up in my sleeping bag at some point during the night and yelled something out at Scott. He says it was sort of incoherent and angry. Creepy. He was probably farting.

Sunday came around, and it was the same course in reverse with the MX track added. That was going to make the ruts bad as well. The course had dried out a lot and was not nearly as muddy. Muddy, just not as bad as the day before. Again I got a decent start. 3rd in the first turn. (I am using a starting block now. It helps me heaps, as it gets me up higher and I have more leverage on the lever. Good for guys with bad knees.) My friend John Buechner was first in the turn and super fast (at least these days) Jim Blau was second. Jim used to be a good starter that would slow down a lot later in the race. Not any more, he is fast from the start and still fast at the end of the race.

Jim and I both got past John and I immediately smacked into a tree trying to go Jim’s pace at the start. I hit the tree so hard that it knocked my breath out and my back was in real pain for a long time. I became a tourist just taking up space in the race after that. First Rob caught me and left me behind like a slug. I battled with John Buechner for a while – passing back and forth – but was in too much pain to keep up that pace. I settled in to 4th and that is where we finished. Rob 1st (damn he is tough to beat), Jim 2nd, John 3rd, me 4th. We were spread about 6 minutes apart at the end. We were on 10 laps together and 5th place was 2 laps down. It is fun to race at the front again.

Next race is not until early Sept. The schedule is a local race at the beginning of Sept, then 4 GNCC races during sept/oct, and a national HS race tossed in there as well. There is 1 other local race I could add in there if it works out also. In between now and then there is a mountain bike trip to Whistler, and a 12 hour mountain bike race. I may also try to do the Dairyland Dare bike ride in the hills of western Wisconsin.

Tune back in for some helmet cam footage from Whistler, if I can make the camera work.

Joe

L’etape du tour

If you have read this blog before, you know that I was planning a cycling trip with my wife in France. You also know that we have had a break in our race season anyway at this time. But, this blog was put up to tell the stories of our race season and specifically the GNCC races. So, I will warn you now that this entry does not have anything to do with motorcycle racing. If you have no interest at all in cycling, this probably will not mean much to you.

If you do have an interest in cycling, I must tell you that I participated in one of the great participatory spectacles that there is in cycling this past week. On Sunday July 7 (the same day as the Somerset PA GNCC race), I rode in the L’etape du Tour in France. This is the citizen “race” over one of the tour stages that will be part of the Tour de France this month. In fact, it was over the same stage as the July 14 stage that will go from Pau over the Tourmalet in the Pyrenees mountains and then finish atop the mountain top finish at the ski station of Hautacam. This is a monster of a stage. 175km long. 2 category 3 climbs, and 2 beyond categorization climbs (or HC). I put the word “race” in parenthesis, because it is ostensibly a race, but there are 9000+ participants. I can promise you that about 8970 of those riders are just there to do the same course that the TDF will do a few weeks later. Me included.

Trek bicycle (the company I work for) is a sponsor of the event, so I (along with others at Trek) was able to get an entry into the ride via our connection there, and most importantly I was able to get in the first wave because of that. I was there with a huge group of about 25 of us that did the ride.

The race site to pick up bib numbers and check out the expo. 9000 riders!

Hijinx! Liz was pretty nervous and we were making fun of her.

The day before the ride you have to pick up your numbers and paraphernalia at the race site. It is amazing the organization that is required to herd 9000 riders and their families and friends through the paddock. But since this ride is organized by the Tour de France organization who have as much organizational skill as any organization anywhere, they pull it off marvelously.

It was raining the day before the race, all day. The forecast for race day was chilly and more rain. We were hopeful, but along with the other 9000 people, we were planning for the worst. We picked up our numbers and made our way around the expo, looking at all the serious Euro roadies getting ready the day before. There were new tires and jackets and clothing and gloves etc… being gobbled up by everyone there. Us included.

Back at our hotel, we had a dinner of salad and pasta. Very close to what Scott and I would have before a GNCC race, but with a French twist.

The alarm went off at 4am the next day, as we had to be at the race site and in the departure chutes by 6:30 for a 7am start. A quick breakfast got us on our way at 4:45. It was raining, but not too cold at 62degreess. It was still dark at 6:30 when we had to be in the start chutes. It got slowly light while we were in the chutes, and at 7am on the button the start horn went off. We got over the timer pads with a beep and headed out.

It is amazing having the whole road closed for an event. In the US, it is hard to imagine 175 kilometers of road shut down for a bike race. But I would say that the roads in the US, are actually better roads for riding a bicycle. At least the lesser traveled roads and anything with a shoulder or bike lane. There really is no such thing as a road in France with a shoulder and very few bike lanes. In fact, there is often times a brick wall or a deep gutter right on the side of the road in France. Not bike friendly at all.

looks like a race to me!

So, the whole road was closed and it became multi lane with different paces on the road together. I had 2 goals of the day. The first goal was to get my wife Liz to the top of the Tourmalet. At the top, she planned to get in the Trek Travel van and finish her ride that way. Liz is a good bike rider, but did not go up racing, so the thought of flying down the back side of the Tourmalet in the rain with 9000 crazies did not thrill her. Me either, to be honest.

Liz is a great climber, but not great at riding a big gear at a high pace on the flats. I towed her along as best I could, but our pace was only about 27 to 33 kph, whereas there were plenty of groups going much faster than that. But, when we got on the climb of the Tourmalet, we began to bring a lot of those guys back. When I say guys, I mean it to. There were 9000 participants, but only about 250 women. The crowd along the way loved it when a woman would come by. Liz got cheers in every town we past through and all the way up the Tourmalet. In a ride like this, it is good to ride with a woman, because you get cheered all the way.

The rain kept falling on us, the whole way. The rain makes it hard to ride a wheel, it makes you cold whenever you stop, it makes you have to stop and pee many more times, it makes riding in a pack more dangerous, it makes your glasses fog up, up throws dirt up into your eyes, it throws dirt and manure onto your waterbottle, it makes the downhills scary… It never stopped raining the entire day.

The top of the Tourmalet was 120 kilometers into the ride. The last 17 of that are at an average grade of 8.5% the 17 kilometers before that are at an average grade of 5%. Yes, you read that right. That makes for more than 30 kilometers of climbing. I said already that my first goal was to get Liz to the top of that climb. She was glued to my back wheel, and I paced her all the way up. We plowed our way through piles of riders that were struggling with poor fitness and poor pedaling technique. Liz made her way there like a champ.

Every time I would look back, she had a look of total concentration on her face. About every 30 minutes, I would peel open a gu packet and rotate back to her and force her to eat it. She did not want to, but I am sure it was what she needed. Some times I would ride next to her to check how she was doing, but mostly I just made a road through the riders ahead of us so that she could motor on to the top. We were not setting any records going up that climb, but we were pulling back hundreds and hundreds of riders that went way to hard on the flats before the climb.

Statue at the top of the Tourmalet, on the day we were there. At the top, we just peeked out above the clouds for a short bit.

We found the Trek Travel van just below the summit of the Tourmalet at La Mongie. Liz was elated. She had made it. We both toasted her making it there, and tucked in to the food that they had laid out.

I mentioned at the start that I had 2 goals. The first was getting Liz to the summit, and the 2nd was then to head off down the back side of the Tourmalet and then see how many people I could pass on the climb to the Hautacam.

I added my jacket, knee warmers, head cover and winter gloves and set off towards the summit of the Tourmalet. It was raining and 45 degrees.

I went over the top of the Tourmalet in the fog, and headed down in the rain. The rain actually let up a little bit and the roads even dried a bit when I got down the Tourmalet. But, the top in the rain, with the exposure and the switchbacks has to be one of the scariest descents I have ever done. My speedo said that I was going 90kph at one point. The descent was 30 kilometers long, and you did not have to pedal and I am certain the average speed was more than 50kph. Wow.

When I got down along the river, it was hard to turn my legs over they were so cold. I was shivering and struggling quite a bit, that was a harbinger of things to come.

I arrived at the base of the Hautacam having lost a lot of places on the descent. I have always thought of myself as a good descender, but I must tell you that coming down that descent was a humbling experience. I cannot believe how fast some people will go down a descent like that. I had my work cut out for me up the Hautacam.

As we began to go up a bit to the start of the Hautacam climb, I pulled over one last time to peel my clothing and to pee one last time. I had my jersey stuffed with my jacket and gloves. I would need those later.

The Hautacam is about 17km long climb and has an average grade of 10% or more. It is hard. In addition, it is an up and back. That means that there are cones up the middle of the road for people to go up one side and down the other side. It made it extremely hard to pass people going up, as the right side is just jammed with people. But, I had a goal of passing lots of people.

I got into a fantastic rhythm going up, and found that my best plan was to ride right next to the cones and slip out to the left of them whenever I could to pass clumps of riders. Again, people had gone way too hard and had really poor pedaling technique, which made them turtles up the climb. I stormed up the climb.

The L’Etape has a timing system with an ankle timer. The results showed that I had move up in placement by about 250 places from the top of the Tourmalet to the top of the Hautacam. That means that I probably passed more like 300 as I lost so many places on the descent. That was my goal.

I hit the top in 8’30”. Too slow, but given what my goal was I was fine with that. At that time, it still put me well above the halfway point in the total number of people that rode.

But, the worst of it was still to come. When I hit the top, I discovered that we had to wait there to be metered down the descent, as they did not want to let more than a couple go at a time.

I spent more than 45 minutes in the rain at the top of the climb, waiting my turn to go down the hill. Remember, it is 40 degrees and raining. When I left the top, I was already shivering and freezing. About 1/3 of the way down, I had to stop and rest my fingers. This is a technical descent that is very steep and very twisty. I could barely control my speed as I was so cold. My whole body was shaking uncontrollably.

I stopped again at about the 2/3 point and walked for a bit. I walked on a descent! Is that the most absurd thing you have heard? I was shaking uncontrollably. My lips were blue. I could not straighten my fingers. When I started riding again, I was not going any faster down the hill than I went up the hill. I was beginning to become delirious. I could not think straight, but I knew enough to get off my bike and walk again. I know I was dangerous to myself at that time. Walking helped warm me up a little, so I eventually started to ride again.

I did finally reach the bottom, after stopping a 3rd time. In total, it took me more than 2 hours to get down the mountain, between the standing at the top and the pathetic and dangerous manner that I rolled along – 2 hours. It should have taken about 10 minutes to get down.

This is Dean at the end, but this is what we all looked like. Frozen and out of it and eating everything in site.

When I got to the bottom, I was given directions to the Trek Travel tent. The directions were not clear to me though, so it took quite a while to find the tent. The whole time I was shaking uncontrollably. I was never so happy to see the tent and my clothes to change into after an event in my life. I have never ever ever been that cold in my whole life. I have done ski races in northern Minnesota, I have been caught on a the chair lift in ripping snow storms in the mountains, I have even camped in the snow. But, I have never felt as completely out of control and chilled to the core as this. I hope to never be that way again.

This is what we did after the Tourmalet adventure. Tony, Steve and Me.

And this!

More!

So, I finished the L’etape stage. On July 14, when I watch that stage of the TDF, I will have an even greater appreciation of that day. Liz got to the top of the Tourmalet, one of the hardest climbs that is ever in the tour. She will have a new appreciation as well.

Doing it for fun is one thing. Doing it for a living would be another all together.

Joe

Not exactly sure how she puts up with me.