If ever there is a climb that is synonymous with pain and suffering, the Col du Tourmalet is it. At 6,939ft it is the highest road in the central Pyrenees and I wish I could say that it felt like it as I crested the summit this morning, sweat dripping off my face and arms onto the carpet.
The Tourmalet has been included in the Tour de France more than any other climb over the years. In 2010 it was crossed twice in fact, once as a stage finish (Stage 17) won by Andy Schleck. So in total now the summit has been crossed a total of 75 times in the TdF, as well as being used a couple of times in the Vuelta. Not bad for a Pyrenean pass!
The pass also featured in last year’s tour, and although it was not a stage ending summit, the leader over the summit was none other than our friend Thomas Voeckler!
Yes, once again I enjoyed the climb but cannot help but be left with an empty feeling. What does it actually feel like to breathe the thinning air? How does the descending air temperature affect your performance? Does anyone have any answers for me? I have done some big climbs in Colorado and so I do know what thin air feels like. I remember my legs feeling quite weak and a tingling sensation in my lips. I also remember the lads in the support van following who kept encouraging me to keep going whatever happened. If I stopped, they said, I’d never start off again. I was inclined to believe them.
Clearly riding on a simulator is not going to live up to the real deal, but it is still giving me one hell of a work out. I started off once again with a 5 km warm up that I feel is a good distance to spin the legs before they suddenly and brutally hit ‘the wall’ when the climb starts. Interestingly, the first few kilometres of this climb and a little all over the place. There are a few hundred metres of minus gradient which allows you to spin out the legs, but then it’s pretty much uphill all the way to the top. The scenery is stunning, as with all these mountain passes, and it is providing some terrific motivation to save for a Tour de France of my own in the next few years.
For the next few months though it is onward in the basement. New climb coming……haven’t decided which yet, so it’ll be a surprise for all of us.