Stage 18 – Bittersweet

Today I climbed the last big mountain of the the tour, the Col d’Isoard, topping out at 2,360 meters. I did it without Robyn, so as enjoyable as it was to get up there, it was actually very unfulfilling. After yesterday’s dramas Robyn’s bike couldn’t be fully fixed, she still had enough gears to ride the day and as a bonus woke up feeling good and ready to go.

To go down them you must first climb them

We set off and descended for the first hour or so covering over 30km. When you add this to the 35km we did the day before to get to our hotel we had descended over 65km. To do that you need to have climbed up that far, which bought home the enormity of what we have been doing. When you spend all day pedalling the distance covered and the meters climbed start to lose a bit of meaning. All you are concerned about is the gradient of any hill you are on, this dictates how hard you have to work,  and how far to the next feedstop.

Robyn had her groove back and we made good time to the first feedstop of the day and then around a beautiful lake and into feedstop 2. We had covered 80km without trying and felt good. Then as we hit about the 100km mark Robyn’s gears failed completely. We rang Sarah who is the backbone of the tour and organises everything and within 10 minutes a van had turned up to try and fix it. Robyn’s bike could not be fixed on the road so she had to jump in the van and go to the next foodstop to see what could be done.

Ian making great coffee at the feedstops

I rode down and was able to ride with Eric, he is a Dutch guy who has been riding the tour route like we have on his own with support from his dad in a car. We have seen him every day, as he normally passes us at top speed,  today we rode along and chatted about the experience. He is a great guy and we were chatting away so much I flew past the feedstop and he had to point it out. Apprantley he is going to see us all in Paris so we will get a photo of him.

Robyn still taking it to the mountains on a spare bike

At the feedstop a spare bike had been arranged for Robyn. Not ideal but at least she could keep riding. The challenge is that on a spare bike the fit can be a little out and that can play havoc with your muscles. When you think how far Robyn has ridden, and up how many climbs, her body was pretty fatigued already. Now sitting in a different position she began to cramp and her knee became very sore. She soildered on up the first big climb of the day but the going was slow as she had to stop and stretch. I felt terrible for her, there is not a lot either of us could do but she just kept grinding away.

Half way up the climb a support van had stopped to help some other cyclists with a puncture. Robyn stopped at the van to get some water and we assessed the situation. I could see how desparetly she wanted to continue but the risk was that she could do some damage that may stop her riding tomorrow and then into Paris at the weekend. Also at the pace we were able to go,  time may have beaten us and we may not have made it up the final climb.

Top of the final climb

She then made the toughest call of our adventure, she put the bike and herself in the van and told me to ride on and enjoy myself. It was the most selfless act she could have done, after 3 weeks of riding and getting so close to the finnish I was desperate to complete the stage. So with mixed feeling I headed off up the rest of the climb to catch up with some other riders. That is how I found myself on top of a stunning mountain feeling a mixture of satisfaction and disappointment.

When I returned to the hotel Robyn had been back a while and had taken care of everything, I walked straight back into a massage and then to dinner. I know she is terribly disappointed to have not completed what she set out to do and what she is more than capable of doing. Hopefully her bike will be fixed for tomorrow’s 220km stage and then the final 2 rides into Paris. The TDF team work tirelessly to keep everybody on the road so let’s see what miracles they can perform overnight. We will find a solution to get her riding somewhow.

Happy people at the start of the day