Well, the day is upon me. All registered, and bag drop off complete. Now it’s up to me to survive the stage, and ascertain whether or not I’ve done enough training.
I’m on the start line with the Fins, Lauri, Tuomas, and Saku, and my roommate Mark. Mark has just completed the Pyrenees week of the event. He’s going to be a useful ally throughout the next two weeks. My first challenge is just completing the first stage. I haven’t done a multi-stage event before. This will test me to the max.
My first obstacle is Col de Nice. It’s a pimple on the stage profile, yet it is equivalent to the highest hill around Auckland. It’s only 414 metres but leads straight into the Col de Turini. Turin was made famous in the Monte Carlo Rally. It’s full of switchbacks/hairpins, depending on where you come from. It’s a nice climb, and I’m with Saku until he finds his form and gathers pace that I’m unable/unwilling to hold.
The Turini descent is great, not steep, but beautiful. The climb wasn’t bad either. A steady 5+% gradient. A leg warmer, and it certainly did that. I was feeling good, just not as good as I should have been. I managed a decent time on the Turini, but then on the Col de St Martin, my world came undone. A puncture! I should’ve changed tyres after all. See, I’d punctured riding to catch up with an old school mate, Brian Ebury, just a couple of days before. Fark!
I saw Lauri and Tuomas scoot on by. Regardless of ability, it still takes a good 5+ minutes to fix a puncture. Thankfully the scenery is beautiful, albeit roasting hot. It felt like I’d lost 5 litres of sweat just fixing that fricking puncture. I still had the climb up to Auron to go. And what a climb that was. Forget what the guide book tells you. That climb really starts way back. It’s more than a false flat, it’s all uphill and feels like it, and looks like it.
The climb takes you to a ski station with some basic accommodation. Although the accommodation was basic, you don’t really have to worry as it’s full on the moment you finish the ride. You have just enough time to shower, massage and get to the briefing, before crashing some joint for food and then bed. Fortunately, the triple s Fins had booked a restaurant and invited me to eat with them. Bloody decent chaps.
Overall position after stage 1: 284