bike, Bike Life, cycling, Rapha, Ride like a Girl, Women cycling

Bon Courage – climbing the Tourmalet

19th July
Thibaut Pinot delights the French by sprinting away from the remaining GC contenders to win on the Tourmalet! (51 mins and 33 seconds) A summit finish that descends me into a spiral of panic and self doubt! The pros had made it look like hard work, how on earth would I make it to the top?!

Uncle Malcom sends me a WhatsApp message saying “looks straightforward enough”.

I send The Bike Boss a message saying “I won’t make it. There is no way I can pedal up a hill that long or steep”

The Bike Boss replies “it will be a nice day out on the bike Susan”

The battle of the brain 🧠 and the 🦵 legs is on. I send the same message nearly every day with growing catastrophic endings… I will fall off the edge… I will have an asthma attack at altitude. I watch the TDF stage over and over and try to visualise us getting to the top, learning pretty much every corner. Son no1 helpfully points out that in the village that the climb passes through there is a Pharmacy and as a half wit attempting this I will probably need to stop there for assistance!

Same answer comes back to every increasingly stressed message “it will be a nice day out on the bike Susan”

31st August
We climb the Col du Soulor and the Col d’Aubisque. A day of cycling beyond compare and comprehension. Imagine you have only ever drunk water and someone gives you champagne 🍾 that is what our first day in the Pyrenees was like. Whilst there was a lot that was familiar… my slow pedalling, wee stops, Squashie sweet stops, photo stops, they were all in a most unfamiliar setting. After each photo stop there was something more beautiful and stunning around the corner. Landscapes you have only ever scrolled through on Instagram or flicked through the pages of Cyclist magazine were there in front of us. We were doing it! Cycling in the mountains… like proper cyclists! What’s more my legs had kept turning and whilst it was tortoise speed I got to the top of our first two Cols.

1st September
11:30 🕦 “bon courage” the woman at the side of the road shouts as I pass. This one shout will stay in my mind forever “bon courage” 1km to go and I can see the last bend the one where Pinot put the hammer down. For the first time all morning I believe we will make it. There is a smaller crowd than the TDF finish but none the less the assembled group of about 4 plus Jim and Tom seem impressed as we make it round the last hair pin and I pedal furiously towards the top.

7:30am to 11:30 🕢 We ride just over 40km at around 10kmph the slowest but our most memorable hours on a bike. I know it is going to be a long day out for me as the other members of the tour are a lot faster than me, we agree to meet at the top (summit!) and predict that like yesterday they will benefit from the extended coffee stops. Tom has discovered the disadvantage of being our mountain goat – no one at the top to take pictures of him. The reason why there are so many pictures of me you will realise is that I am the slowest and nothing to do with popularity!

So how do you pass the time as you slowly creep up 17km of 7% average to the top of the Tourmalet? (2hours 22 mins)

Chat about the weather we are British after all! The clouds are so low and the temperature is 20 degrees cooler than the day before at just 11 degrees. There is a light drizzle and the visibility is poor. He who laughed at me setting out with lights has now decided it’s a good plan to put the back one on his bike and turn it on… something about cars hitting him first! He pedals next to me the whole way, little red light flashing to warn cars of a slow moving Susan crawling up the inside of the road. The lack of visibility proved a blessing as I can not see what lies ahead and have to focus on just the bit of road I can see! Our worries about how bad the weather would be at the top were unfounded… it’s such a big hill (mountain) you actually ride through the clouds and out the top into the sun!

The French have helpfully put up a sign every 1km. Each one states the distance to go and the gradient of the next 1km section. Due to my poor eyesight I couldn’t read them until very close but each time one came into sight it lifted my spirits. The Bike Boss has better eyes so I would ask “is it good news on the gradient front? Often the answer was “probs best not to know on this one” or “same again” or “easy 7%”

My new game guess the campsite ⛺️ star ⭐️ game was fun. Simply by the state of the chalets and facilities you need to call the number of stars before the sign comes into view. I was very good at this game!

“It looks a bit like” game is the Bike Boss’ fav. Not a fan of the new and different if something can be related to something known then it is better. Deserted ski village = bit like Bridgewater high street, big Pyrenees mountains = a bit like Yorkshire. The clouds on the mountains 🏔 like Gorillas 🦍 in the mist.

We pass the time discussing the fact that surely in the modern age there must be a scientific improvement for the cow bell 🔔 RFID tag? GPS tracker? Bike Boss was sure the cows would be more mobile if every time they moved the ridiculously loud bell didn’t ring. I was happy with the supportive sound of a cow bell even if it was rung by a cow and not a crowd!

When the games run out and it’s eyes down on the road the Bike Boss does the funniest “Landa Super fan” monologue. Based on the fact that the name Landa is written approximately a million times on the road and there are some very cute Panda 🐼 drawings. He muses for quite a few corners about the mental state of the fan and the effort required. If a jobs worth doing then it’s worth doing properly is his mantra and here was a shining example before us! This monologue goes on for so long that I forget about my planned rest stops and just keep going.

When it gets really bad we look for cock and balls drawn on the road as we assume someone… probably British will have done this! We find one.

The battle of the 🧠 brain and the legs 🦵 is won by a healthy dose of distraction techniques and mantras that every time the panic and disbelief started to rise faster than the road in front of me I recited.
“Just me against the road”
“Corner to corner ….just like Zwift! My training on Alpe du Zwift gave me the confidence that I could maintain a constant watts and heart rate for at least half the time I needed. After that time passes I just kept going! “Legs win”

Getting to the summit together we step off the bikes and have the obligatory photo by the sign and the bike statue, drink strong coffee ☕️ eat a croissant 🥐 and reflect on the climb – it was after all “a nice day out on the bike” #Team

Things to note 📝

  • Stava segment has 32,972 men and only 2,535 women. In my age group there are 615 women I am not the slowest! (385th)
  • On his own Rafal would have made it to the top an hour faster but would not have so many lovely pictures of the morning. He was a legend. No words!
  • On the decent the mountain looks completely different and we hit 50kmph
  • Kit choices – we choose to ride in the same kit we did Manchester to London in. We know we can achieve in these outfits. Cycling up the Tourmalet in an Alpe D’Huez kit and a crit kit was in no way meant to be ironic!
  • I make it round every hair pin corner with no screaming (he looks back after every one)
  • The Go pro video recorded sideways due to operator error (me) and took over a week of technical tinkering to sort out and much crossness
  • So enormous was this cycling goal for me that it took three weeks of processing to even think about writing about it…..*its still in the cauldron
  • In our team it will always be called Landa Panda 🐼 Hill – the Tourmalet is actually 2115m of elevation and 17km of climbing
  • ‘Bon courage’ has no English translation, it carries the meaning that a person will succeed purely dependant on his/her own strength and no role for any external factors.
  • ‘Courage’ is derived from “cœur” (heart).Hence wishing somebody bon courage means wishing that person some real strength in heart to go through any ordeal or difficult task .



All picture credits @somerset_cyclist Rafal Robert Hartzhorne.

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