At 10.15am I found myself being awakened by my phone alarm. I had picked a good spot to nap – a park bench in a carpark by the River Drôme in Saillans. The heat was already picking up but I was thankful for the warmth of the sun after riding through the first night.
I had only been dozing for 15 minutes but the night ascent and decent of Ventoux a while ago could have been a dream, such as the way that time is warped to suit the imagination in the dream world. I still had my helmet on (it makes a good head rest). Dream or not it was time to get moving again, but first a quick check of the tracker to see how the race was unfolding. I saw that three of the guys – Slyvere CSS5, Patrick CSS4 and Mikel CSS10 (I think) – had pushed on and were making good progress with little ground between them. I was sitting in fourth position with Anna close by in fifth place.
I had a few minutes to admire a roundabout in Saillans while my Garmin warmed up, giving some slight anxiety that it was taking longer than usual. Usually something productive can be done (cycling/sleeping/eating) while technology does it’s thing but unfortunately not in this case, and I couldn’t help but think that those two minutes could have been better spent! The track loaded, anxiety dissipated and I found the right exit to continue my journey. Crossing the Drôme and leaving Saillans on the D92 the route traced the river for the next 20km to Die. There is a blank in my memory for this 20km section, perhaps I was still half asleep. I certainly remember arriving at Die because this is where the ascent of the Col de Rousset was to start and also the advance into the Alps.
The climb to the Col de Rousset was 20.6km from Die. It didn’t really kick in until I reached Chamaloc and a number of cyclist were congregating to start their day ride. I passed them, but with high spirits, fresh legs and light bikes they whizzed by shortly after. Unable to match their pace I realised how much my power had dropped since starting the race some 490km prior. The fatigue was biting, but I saw that some were on e-bikes which looked efforless and helped to boost morale. Perhaps I shall return to the Col de Rousset and bag the QOM on an e-bike! In fact, e-bikes were quite a common sight in the Alps which I consider a brilliant way to get around, but it did make me question how many QOMs had been the victim of e-doping.
The climb was quite forgiving with a consistent gradient of 4-5% to the tunnel marking the top at 1254m elevation. I hadn’t eaten anything substantial since Mt. Ventoux some 180km prior, it was baking hot and my water was nearly out. I caught the day riders taking in the view, who all wanted to exchange another nod or grin but I wasn’t in the best mood to acknowledge them all and carried on straight into the tunnel. It was 770m of pure cool bliss, enough to forget my thirst momentarily and appreciate where I was.
After a short decent I found a cafe at Vassieux-en-Vercors (514km), stopping to down two menthe de l’eau before smashing the glasses (not intentionally). The owner didn’t speak a word of english but didn’t raise a french fuss, so I thought I had got off lightly and pedalled away quickly before the tables had chance to turn. I was feeling quite revived and focused on reaching Saint-Laurent-en-Royans, which was just 40km down the road and where I had decided to stop for an extended rest. I was in for a treat for this section. There was a short climb to Font d’Urle, a deserted ski station at 1431m which gave way to a magnificent decent, dropping 1100m to the valley floor and village of Saint-Jean-en-Royans. This was the Combe Laval road that I had been looking forward to and it did not disappoint – a spectacular stretch cut into the cliff side of the gorge through a series of tunnels with dizzying views to the valley below.
I reached my accommodation at Saint-Laurent-en-Royans (550km) at 3.30pm, 30 hours into the race. I was feeling fine and didn’t actually want to stop at that moment in time, but I had previously decided to stop to rest just beyond the half way point. In hindsight it was definitely the sensible thing to do considering the mountains to come. The only problem was, it took longer than necessary for a shower and a few hours sleep. I was the only guest and my host lived in a beautiful house with views back to the mountains I had descended from. With some broken french and clock pointing Madame Michel was surprised to learn that I planned to depart at 8.00pm that same evening rather than 8.00am like a normal guest. Without hesitation she set about preparing breakfast while I showered. Feeling totally refreshed I gratefully had the breakfast which was of the hot pasta variety before sleeping soundly for 3 hours.