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20km of flat took us to the last main climb, the Col d’Osquich. Here, Graeme and I left Ultan and Mat to fight it out for the KoM prize. Spinning our way up the 6km climb, we tried to use the Basque scenery to take our minds off our legs. Graeme was suffering from jelly-legs; me from empty chicken legs, so we were happy to be the Grupetto. The two leaders soft-pedalled for us at the top and we flew down the other side, at last able to enjoy some grip on dry roads.
After a few non-descript but energy-sapping bumps, we arrived at the true rollercoaster section of the ride, and which would take us the last 20km to Bayonne. 100 years ago, the route followed the valley but this is now a busy main road. Besides, I wanted a more ‘dramatic’ end to our epic ride, to catch some of the superb views towards the Spanish part of the Pays Basque. There was only one way to get them…
The Route Imperial des Cretes is a tough one to tackle with 300km already in the legs, and it has some pretty bad road surface at times, too. Graeme and I rode together, crashing through gears almost in synch as we went from top to bottom gear every time the road reared up at us. Legs were screaming, but we knew the end was within sight. Sheer willpower brought us triumphantly to the sign, “Bayonne 7km”, from where it’s downhill to the finish. I felt a pang, not just of relief but also of regret. It had been a remarkable day of cycling and although I had nothing left, in a strange way I knew this was a unique ride and didn’t want it to be over. Even the Brooks saddle had given in to my determination. Bum and saddle seemed to have come to an understanding.
Claire, along with Pete, our photographer, were there for us at the finish line in front of the town hall in Bayonne. We coasted in triumphant, running on empty but filled with that mix of admiration and incomprehension. One hundred years ago, Lapize and his fellow riders completed the stage in times ranging from 14 to 21 hours With or without their own ‘cocktails’, those guys were a different type of human being. By riding this route we had a better grasp of what they had achieved but to say we had an understanding of that achievement would be inaccurate.
Our own riding times ranged from 12hr 40mins to 13hrs 10mins and we had taken just over 16 hours in all. It was one of the hardest but most enjoyable days I have spent on a bike and certainly one of the most meaningful. As a foursome we had grown closer with every kilometre covered – Vive le Tour!