Time trial day! I'd been looking forward to this ever since we signed up for the Haute Route. I'd never done a time trial before, and this was not just a time trial, it was up the 21 bends of Alpe D'Huez. There really was no trick to doing well here. Just an hour or so of flat out effort.
However the events of the previous day were playing on my mind. I'd had a 'jour sans' as the French say. A day without. The legs had nothing. I was really worried about how I'd do. The climb is straight forwards. It ramps up at 10% for the first 4 turns then is pretty consistently 7-8 for the rest of the climb. My strategy was to go fairly hard at the start and try and keep 230 – 240 watts, then once the gradient lessened slightly to ease right back to 200 watts. I didn't want to run out of gas as I had done on the Madeleine the day before. Then if I had anything left I'd give it some more at the end.
Anyway enough of the strategy, more about the experience. And what an experience it was. Riders went off in reverse order of the GC with the first person out of the gate at half nine. I was out at 11:08:20, Ian and Simon were off at 11:55 with the last person off at just after 12. There was a starting pen complete with starting ramp and a count down. A guy even held you on your bike so you could clip in properly.
Sat in the starting pen the anticipated nerves had been replaced by shear relief that it was dry and sunny. It would be hot for the climb. “812”, my number was being called. Up the ramp, clip in, then you're counted in. “3, 2, 1, allez”.
Bang, off. A quick wiggle through town then hit the first ramp. Wound up the power to 230 – 240 watts. The muscles felt fine, it was the knees that were really hurting. Quite a few people kept flying past me. All I could hope is that they'd come back to me later on in the course.
The steep ramp ended and the gradient eased off to 8%. All you can do at this stage is settle into the hardest rhythm you think you can maintain for an hour. Fortunately I was not having a jour sans. 220 watts felt sustainable. Now it's about managing the pain and the thoughts in your head – have I gone too hard, not hard enough.
Alpe D'Huez is a beautiful climb. I think it's the way you have the constant hairpin bends and that you have the constant reference point of the valley floor so you realise how quickly you are climbing.
It was such a great experience. There were two feed stations where the people would run along beside you and give you water and coke as you rode. It really felt like the pro experience. I was loving it.
The bends tick down. Finally bend 1 comes up and you think you are there. But you've still got 2km to go through the village. By this point I was really trying to wind it up. Coming round the last roundabout it's a steep finish to properly kill you legs. Of course I had no option but to sprint as hard as I could. My legs were screaming in pain. I finally stopped the clock in 1 hour 09 minutes. Not brilliant but I was really pleased given the previous day.
Ian and Simon went at it hard. Finally there were some signs of life in the intra family competition. Ian went off first, Simon followed and caught Ian in quick time. Ian fought to get back on terms but ultimately Simon had the legs and too a total of 48s off Ian, taking him into the lead. Ian did not look healthy at the top. Signs of Casper the ghost making a reappearance maybe.
Our stay in Alpe D'Huez was nearly at an end. We started in the most miserable conditions imaginable and finished with a time trial in the glorious sun. Now onwards to Digne. On paper this looked like a transition day but the rider briefing showed that there would some really painful bits.