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The 1910 Ride
Rapha are celebrating the centenary of the Col du Tourmalet’s first inclusion in the Tour de France with a tribute challenge, the 1910 ride. Here Phil Deeker, one of the quartet riding the event, explains what lies ahead and how he's prepared for over 14 hours of riding across the Pyrenees.
This coming Wednesday, four amateur riders will pay tribute to the brave men whom, 100 years ago, rode the first Tour de France stage across the high cols of the Pyrenees. Graeme Raeburn, Ultan Coyle (both of Rapha), Matt Bret (Cycling Plus) and myself will endeavour to ride the full 326km of the original 1910 stage, from Bagneres-de-Luchon to Bayonne, in a time close to that of the stage’s winner, Octave Lapize. Equipped with a bike far heavier than a contemporary tourer (including loaded panniers), with just two gears and frequently reduced to walking on mountain roads that were often little more than goat tracks, Lapize managed it in 14.5 hours. The previous day he had completed a stage of 400km.
We will begin our stage at 3.30am, just as Lapize and his counterparts did a century ago. Riding it will tell us much about those pioneering heroes. Covering a distance well in excess of the average sportive, we’ll also have to climb more than 6,000 metres, something not a lot of people do in one ride. All pretty mad, all extremely challenging. That, I suppose, is why Rapha CEO Simon Mottram came up with the idea a few months ago. Also why, never one to shy away from a chance to ride a long way in the mountains, I accepted the challenge.
If only to build confidence rather than form, I thought I had better try out my legs on a ride of similarly scary stats. One of my favourite local loops here in Belgium is exactly 100km long with 2,000m of climbing. Perfect. I would need to ride it three times and then add on a bit at the end to make up the distance. Since I would ride unsupported, I could stop at home twice to refuel. I just had to choose the best day to do it. A congested diary left a shrinking window: four; then three; and finally two days to choose from. The weather forecast meant, ordinarily, I would have chosen neither. So when I got up at 4.30am on that Wednesday morning, I was less than buoyant.
After my usual pre-ride, bear-size bowl of porridge, I stuck my nose outside to test the temperature. Rain was forecast, as was sleet. And wind. Oh, and it wouldn’t be warm. To be honest, it didn’t feel that bad, so I dressed to avoid overheating on the first 100km lap, including two pairs of ‘mid-season’ gloves. At 6am sharp, the Garmin beeped and I was rolling. My time schedule was based on a reasonable 25kph per lap, plus thirty minutes for each of the two stops.
The profile of the 1910 tribute ride consists of a long, jagged section preceded by four tall pyramids. My practice ride couldn’t begin to imitate those illustrious shapes but it was suitably divided into periods of serious effort, followed by essential recovery sections: three 5km climbs, two of 7km and one 10km climb. It also included the “No.1 Col de Belgique”, a climb which, though only 4km long, has some very nasty 20% bits which were likely to prove painful third time round.
The weather didn’t bother to wait for the final lap. At just 50km into the ride, the rain started. At 60km, the rain turned to sleet. At 65km, the highest section, the sleet turned to snow. I can usually put up with this sort of thing but with 230km still to come, I wasn’t feeling that brave. The cold inevitably worked its way slowly through me and by the last climb of the first lap, I could no longer change gears. No way would I have been able to operate my phone for help, let alone mend a puncture. My feet too, seemed like they were elsewhere, but were at least held in place by shoes and cleats.
Thankfully, the first of my two thirty-minute stops at home gave me time to resuscitate those vital body parts. I pulled my gloves off with my teeth; Claire, my wife, managed to get my shoes and socks off. I huddled by the wood fire for ten minutes until life, painfully, found my limbs again. Looking on the bright side, I had done a third of the ride and had checked in at 10am, 30 minutes ahead of schedule.
After a quick sandwich and a full change of clothing (long sleeve Winter Jersey, a Rain Jacket replacing the Softshell, and ¾ Bibs over Winter Tights), I set off again, enjoying the few minutes it took for the water in my shoes to work its way through my fresh dry socks. It was time to say goodbye to my feet again. At least I now had a pair of heavy duty winter gloves that looked after my hands for the rest of the ride. Apart from the odd pot hole, I had no complaints about the road surface but the brutal weather was making up for it, a dose of suffering close to 1910 proportions. So far, with nearly half the ride behind me, I felt strong enough to take more and the pedals were still turning smoothly.
The climbs second time allowed me to see how I was doing. I was OK. Heavy cloud cover gave away little about the time of day – my Garmin was feeding me four different sets of data but not the time. Distance was how I measured the day now. I love this state of mind on a long ride, the fleeting moments of happiness, even if you don’t smile at the time.
Twenty minutes longer for the second lap, (average speed down from 26 to 25kph, thanks to a phone call and a few extra pee stops). A steaming bowl of hot, spicy soup with a piece of home-baked bread (very 1910, albeit without the wine) helped me tear myself away from the cosy fire to face those climbs again. It was 15.30. Another four hours in the saddle before I got off again. If it sounds a long time, believe me it was.
Each climb, even the smallest, forced me to dig deep. I desperately fought the Garmin’s crumbling speed data as I tried to cling to the previous pace I’d set on each climb. Sometimes it worked; sometimes I had to accept that I was running on empty, even if I had stuck to my fuelling plan. It had been difficult to drink enough, with the numbing cold still biting but I’d forced myself. I had eaten one bar per lap (probably not enough, but I never eat a lot in the saddle), and sunk two gels on the two latter laps.
By the time I reached it on the third circuit, my fears over the No.1 Col de Belgique proved well founded. Contemplating honouring Lapize, I came close to getting off at one point but just couldn’t bring myself to do it. By the time I reached the highest section of the ride – the temperature was still only 3°C - I probably wasn’t the most stylish rider to watch. My head hovered just above the bars as my back bobbed up and down with each pedal stroke. At least I kept a straight line. Slowly but surely I ate up the last few metres of ascent and the magic 6,000m appeared on the Garmin.
I gave some comfort to my ailing body by adding a mini loop of 19.5km at the end but this was just a training ride and there is little glory in training. I had cycled 319.5km, climbed 6,200m, at an average 24.8kph. The whole ride, from door-to-door, had taken 14 hours 37 minutes (seven minutes slower than Lapize’s time 100 years ago). The pay off will, I hope, arrive in the mountains next week. Then again, if those Pyrenean giants have any say in the matter, it may not.
Look out for the feature and short film on the 1910 ride coming very soon.
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