Thinking back about the Etape, I don't think I would ever have made it to the end, weather or no weather. Today I had a chance to try the final climb, Argeles to Hautacam. Hautacam is relatively short but nervous, twisty and vengeful climb, always ready to surprise the daring rider around the next corner and cut his legs with a surprise ramp. With several changes in grade up to 10% average on the kilometer, I was happy just to see a 8% sign.
All this said, this is a fun ride, if not taken on after 150 kilometers and the Tourmalet. There is always a cyclist to race against: Jurassic era French riders on old Peugeot bikes, solid Germans, Tour enthusiasts in full racing uniform. And this season, hundreds of camping cars (we call them RVs in the US) are already lining the road set up for the Tour arrival on Monday. Local paysans are transforming their grandfather's field into parking lots and refreshment stands for the day of the event. Old ladies are already sitting in camping chairs facing the road a full three days and a half before the the Tour. I can just hope that they are going to feed them until then, or at least remove the bodies from the road afterward.
I climb too fast, excited for the course and perhaps thinking too much about Riccardo Riccò's victory in Super-Besse. The last 3 kilometers are totally immersed in the clouds. I'm blind, I have to take off my (prescription!) sunglasses, with the result of making things even less clear. I pedal avoiding the shadows of bystanders and the occasional maneuvering camping car. One shadow I recognize as a young guy, Bouygues Telecom uniform, carbon Trek Madone. He shifts feverishly hearing me approaching. I follow in his tracks, wait for the right time, then take off fast, too fast. I don't want to give him a chance to respond, and I push as hard as I can and more. I feel have started too far from the finish line, my heart at 180, my lungs explode: I just hope he's nowhere behind me. I finally see Monday's finish line with relief, then I stop to catch my breath and wait for my instant competitor to say bonjour. It's just too much fun.