Planes, Trains, Automobiles, Slug, and QOM Hunting with GFNY Champ Jill Patterson, — The GFNY Lourdes Tourmalet Experience
Friday — Col du Soulor
We were tapering down over the course of the week. It was Luz Ardiden, an 80km ride, followed by Col du Soulor a 60km or so ride with a little less climbing, and then it would be the mighty Hautacam on Saturday. With a little more confidence, (at least for me), we rolled over to Palais de Congres where the race would start and finish on Sunday. This was also, naturally, the site of the GFNY expo which would likely be open by the time we returned from the climb. Not as far away as Luz Ardiden, the approach to the Col du Soulor would start directly after the green path, and follow through several towns before getting to the difficult bit.
One of our GFNY Ambassadors, Alejandro joined us on this ride (and the next). A cyclist in great form, and with a big smile, he was a very welcome addition to the group.
My first Friday mistake — as we wound our way through the hills of the town at the foot of the climb, was trying to hold the wheels of the other three as we made our way up. Really I was trying tIt o make sure I wouldn’t get lost, and even though I had the route, wanted to make sure that they would be able to find me if they needed me. It was utter folly as they sped up past the more steep bits, and onto what would become a steady climb through a more populated area than we might be used to seeing at this stage in a climb. At 16km and a 4.5% average — this was deceptive. The first 8km of the climb were pretty easy (except for the short steep bits at the beginning), and some even downhillish (but you always pay for that). With about 8km to go, it really kicked up. There were small steep kicks, steady grades, switchbacks, and amazing scenery. With each push of the pedals, I was another stroke closer to the Sun and it was making its presence known. My bike was getting lighter and lighter, as I drained both bidons on the climb.
Before getting to the steeper, more difficult part of the climb, I texted Matthias my location so that he could see where I was the whole time. With about 5km to the top, I stopped and texted again. “5KM to the top, please feel free to descend and stop for a coffee, and I will meet you when I descend”.
Matthias texted back right away. “There is a cafe at the top”. Something to look forward to. The group seemed to have taken it a little slower and weren’t waiting as long for me on this climb, but for whatever reason, I just couldn’t break that 8km per hour average barrier on the steep sections. This would persist in the race on Sunday and has led to some introspection about my training regimen that I am looking forward to proving myself right on.
A relief for anyone that doesn’t have their climbing legs — the Col d’Abisque was closed. Seeing that “Ferme” sign was a helpful portent to knowing the group wouldn’t want to press up further. On my arrival, we met some sheep, took more photos, and dumped two Cokes into my now empty bidons for the ride home. It was at this point, I was considering saying “I think I’ll skip Hautacam tomorrow”, when Jill told me — “we are going to skip climbing tomorrow, it could be too much before the race.”
No argument here.
I hate descending. I don’t hide it. But this descent was the most fun I have EVER had descending. Not as technical as the day before, it offered a wide road and a lot of chances to accelerate, pedal my way, stay warm, and stay close to the group on the way down. It made the ride back on the green path that much more pleasant.
Needless to say, upon our arrival, more souvenirs were revealed for Jill. A tie for the top slot on the QOM.
The VIP reception would be this evening, a chance to connect with the great GFNY France team, and generally just hang out and enjoy the atmosphere of this great hotel.
Saturday — The Slug Hunter
Our Saturday ride, just the four of us out on the green path and back was one of the reasons that I started cycling. A chance to do something truly enjoyable, with people that are truly enjoyable. A light atmosphere, for taking photos, doing intervals, spinning out the two days of climbing before, and enjoying the sunshine. There would be time later for bike prep, pinning on jersey numbers, and all the nattering nervousness of the night before the race. But first — SLUGS! In starting an argument with Matthias about whether there are black bears in the Ardennes (I was wrong, there are not), Jill had decided to do a few fast intervals in search of her favorite animal as a kid. Slugs. I had no idea how she would find slugs along a bike path at 28km per hour, but somehow, as we caught up to her, she was standing on the side of the road, photographing — yes you guessed it — a slug. Prior to this specimen, she had spotted a perfect slug in motion, a slime trail, moving across the green path. But tragedy struck before she could photograph it and another cyclist went right over it. And so the great Pyrenean slug hunt of 2022 was now complete. Who knew. Slugs. But such was the light mood and humor of the ride, a perfect way to unwind before what would be a difficult day on Sunday.