There was a lot of chatter about Stage 9 right from the start of the tour. On paper it looks like the toughest stage of the tour this year. Lots of climbing and roads hitting 22% gradient.
We had a transfer from the hotel and as we made our way to the start the weather had not cleared up from yesterday. The prospect of another cold wet day and all the climbing we had ahead of us did have me wondering if it was going to be possible. It was not the bike riding but the cold and the impact this has on energy levels that was making me nervous. We set out into the drizzle and started climbing straight away. On top of the first hill I was already shivering. As we began to descend the clouds cleared and I got my first view of the vistas that may have been there the day before but were shrouded in mist.
My spirits began to lift and when we arrived at the first feedstop to regroup it was actually in a cafe. Hot coffee and some lovely pastries, a quick chat to Robyn who is now if the UK getting ready to come out on Wednesday, and the rest of the day started to feel manageable.
The stage had 3 HC categorised climbs. We set off up the first, the Col de la Biche and the sun came out. This spurred me on and my legs felt good. It took me an hour to climb up to the top and the next feed station. My strategy was to minimise the time at stops and to keep going.
After taking off all my warm weather gear at the bottom of the climb, now I had to put it back on for the decent. I descended with a few others and soon enough we were on the second HC climb of the day, the Grand Colombier. Of the 3 hard climbs, this was the hardest. There was a 900m stretch half way up that was around 20%. All you can do is stand on the pedals and keep spinining. I did think about stopping but something kept me going, probably the thought of not being able to get back on. As I got to the top of the mountain things became more manageable and after another hour or so of climbing I reached the summit. I had ridden into the clouds again, there were no views to enjoy, so it was time to rug up and hit another decent.
The ride down the valley to the start of the third and final climb of the day was stunning. I spent my Sunday afternoon riding through vineyards on quiet roads with the sun on my back. I was riding with a few folk who I hadn’t spent much time with and we chatted away as we made our way to the foot of the final challenge.
The Mount du Chat is another solid climb, 10km at an average of 10%. After 145km of cycling and 3,500m of climbing I found myself alone on the mountain. It was now 6pm on Sunday evening as I plodded on. There were KM markers on the side of the road to let me know that I was progressing. Another solid hour of climbing and I hit the last km marker. The cloud was getting thicker and I managed to get one last view of the valley before arriving at the top on the mist. The place was deserted, so after spending all week surrounded by people, I had been able to ride the last climb of the day lost in my own thoughts. A perfect way to cap off the first part of the tour.
A final 25km decent to the hotel and the day was complete. I had made good time and as the others made their way in the clock ticked on. The last riders arrived at the hotel, in the dark, around 11pm. Each of them got a resounding cheer as we celebrated with a few drinks in the bar.
We have a rest day to enjoy today, then another couple of stages before Robyn arrives and the Tour will take on a different perspective.
Keep going Ben. Great riding I’m sure and that weather will improve. Thanks for the Tea Towel!