I have read numerous summer ride reports from sportives all over Europe. All of them in superb detail making me wish I had time to do more of this wonderful sport. As I write the pro-riders are just starting their second week of Le Tour and I am uncertain as to whether it is just hotting up or is it just a two horse race!
So, to our Midi-Pyrenees sportive that took place on 26th June
Four of us entered: Jonathan Partridge, Gareth Hardcastle, Tim Keats and Myself. all up for the big ride of 165km with 3100m of climbing to a mountain top finish on the Plateau de Beille at 1789m
If our drive to Liverpool airport was uneventful then the check-in was anything but. We sensed the "check-in" girl took a disliking to us when she said that our bike bags were too heavy. Over the stated limit of 20kgs. JP would have to pay £180 and £120 for myself. After some swapping round of kit into other bags, mostly Gareth's, we were done. JP just paid £120 and seethed all the way thro security. He was later to discover when complaining to Ryanair about extortion that the actual limit is 30kgs for bikes. A refund was due!
Placing our bike bags through the scanner they picked up all the air cylinders and told us that these must be taken out and surrendered. All this kerfuffle lost us valuable time and on reaching the rear of the queue for security we notice we had just 10 mins before the gate closed. No joking we made the back of the queue with a minute to spare but still waited to board the plane. Once on the crew informed us of a one hour delay due to French air traffic control. bas****ds!!
Flying into Carcassonne and chauffeured out in our host, Craig's, Espace. an hour's drive to the village of Leran. Typically French with only a boulangerie and a bar / restaurant (run by an English couple with a great Menu de jour at €10.
After a 50km ride and dinner we were well prepared for our rest day on Friday.
Arising late to a leisurely breakfast then setting of to the event town of Tarascon sur Ariege a 45 minute drive. We registered, collected our kit and then drove, in Gareth's hire car up to the summit of the final climb. An ascent of about 1000m of unrelenting steady gradient. The difference today being that we did not waste any energy arriving at the top. Once there we engaged in more leisurely eating. Are you getting the picture?
Down to business..
Saturday am. Arise at 5.45am depart by 6.30 Tarascon 7.15am time to stretch my back out on the tarmac take an espresso etc and 8.00am off we go!!! The usual crowds in the town cheer us as we set off, the start is rolling and flat. As the Midi and Sport routes set off 30 and 60 minutes later it is not a rushed or dangerous start. Quite relaxed really. The numbers that we have makes the easy climb seem like flat.
The first feed at 76 km we all arrive together, the day is warming up well. Just 5 minutes and we are away again. But where is Gareth. His bike had fallen over causing the rear breaks to seize. It took him a while to sort this and as we were now climbing he had a bit of a chase to reach us. The double summit climb of Col de Freres and Col de Marmare had a feed station in between. On this climb Gareth and I separated from JP and TK who were both beginning to feel the heat.
An excellent descent down into Cabanes the final feed and bottom of the last climb at148km. We are both absolutely gunning to get on with it. After our final feed from the excellent feed stations we wish each other good luck and depart.
Within 10 minutes the heat and the gradient slows my pace and I bid farewell to Gareth who has now found his climbing legs.
At just under 2 gruelling hours later nearing the summit where the gradient eases for the last 500m the smile of relief and achievement hits me and I speed up to the finish line. Me thinks, Wow! what it must be like to complete such a ride as a pro on the front with all the crowds, press, media and adrenalin. Meanwhile I am over the moon with my time of 7 hours 53 minutes.
What's next? I ask myself.