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A fast section in the valley followed, which we rode as a tight group spread across the road - we all preferred a bit of headwind to a faceful of wheel spray - and we arrived too soon at Ste Marie de Campan. The Tourmalet jumped out at us and it wasn’t even seven in the morning. We humbly bowed our heads, gritted our teeth and prepared to suffer. We stayed together as far as the little hamlet of Gripp, whereafter each rider settled into his own bubble to deal with the Giant of the Pyrenees. By now my left butt bone was doing serious battle with the Brooks saddle, which we were all riding without having broken them in. I made up my mind to change it in Argeles, our first stop point. Once at Argeles, however, I’d come through the pain so decided to stick with the Brooks.
Maybe the pain in my butt distracted me from any pain in my legs. Once again, I was the back marker over the top but I felt I rode the climb well. Compared to both of the other times I’d ridden it the previous week, I could feel more life in my legs at the summmit. After a quick photo stop by the statue in our Tourmalet jerseys, we then had to deal with the guy fixing a “Road Closed” sign across our path. Explaining why we were there, he let both us and our van through (on condition we had not seen or spoken to him). A couple of bends down and we met a herd of road-digging machines about to bite into the battered remnants of the road after the harsh winter. Let through once more, had we arrived even a few minutes later there would have been no road to follow.
Descending most of the 17km on the brakes did nothing to help our overall average speed. It did, however, give us time to reflect once again on the heroes of 100 years ago. The brakes on their were bikes designed only to slow them down, not to actually stop them. They were brave dudes. Back in 1910, their first control stop was in Argeles-Gazost, so I had planned for us to do the same. It was a welcome break, 110km into the ride and with three cols done. Over coffee and more pains au chocolat, we felt buoyant, still amazed to have come through our Peyresourde descent unharmed.