Stage 2 - Les Arc 1800 - Bourg St Maurice
Climbs- Col du Tra, Col de la Madeleine, Lacets de Monvernier
Time– 5hrs 9 mins
All credit has to go our amazing Chalet, Aguille Grive, for what was a very restful night’s sleep. Owing to mine and Rob’s ahead of schedule finish on the first day we were advised to start late on day two in an effort to keep our group as compact as possible on the road and help maintain logistics for support. I woke up rather lazily to glorious sunshine across the valley and sat with a cup of coffee to take in the view and the cool fresh morning air, which was slowly warming, in the early sunshine.
As per instructions, the whole gang staggered breakfast and start times though harshly enough, those that staggered in were the ones slated to get on the road as soon as possible. As the group dwindled down we started to get our bags packed and bikes prepped.
Since we had somewhat of a summit finish yesterday, we would start our ride this morning with a stunning descent along a back road off Les Arc, rather than the main road we came up the day before.
This then led us onto our first climb of the day, the Col du Tra, which was 8km at around 7% but thankfully never much steeper.
Towards the top of the climb we began to make contact with some of the Le Cure group in the unmistakable pink jersey, lighting up the road and shouting out words of encouragement back and forth. The climb then opened out onto some picture perfect open green pastures that not even Photoshop could have made any more pretty.
A few bigger connecting roads took us to our first main rest stop, which was well placed, at the foot of the climb of the Col de la Madelaine. Time to refuel, fill bottles and apply some SPF before tackling this 24km monster. On a climb of this length, pacing and riding within yourself are perhaps the most important elements. As such, the group fragmented rapidly as everyone searched to find their own sustainable pace as the sun beat down on our backs. For me this meant a solitary climb, albeit punctuated by passing other Curistas and the unwavering presence of our support crew.
The average gradient of the Madeleine, at 6.5%, is misleading as it includes about 2km of descent about half way in. I found I could not resolve my feelings about this section – was I happier to be covering distance quicker for less effort? Or was I demoralised that this meant upcoming sections were going to be even steeper?! I was fixated on the two finite and immovable numbers – the climb was 24km and reached an elevation of 2000m above sea level – either way, I had to tick both of those boxes. The internal dialogue raged on while I turned the pedals over and gradually came into the open planes of the upper slopes, the temperatures were now hitting 33°C. Hey, I thought it was supposed to cool off the higher I got?! The last 5km were unrelenting so just counting them off was my mental distraction, every now and again I passed a mountain stream rushing under the road and you could feel the cool fresh air rolling off, each time revitalizing me just a little bit. Finally I could see the summit and our support legends started to shout and ring the cow bell, this was enough to have me out of the saddle to push for the top. First up was some food and drink to recover, then a quick photo op at the summit monument. The weather was perfect and knowing how grueling I found the climb I joined the gang in cheering every final Curista up the last stretch of road.
Among the euphoria some of us forgot there was in fact one more climb to complete but thankfully it was just an epic climb on a miniature scale – The Lacets (or shoelaces) de Montvernier are the quintessential ribbon of tarmac snaking up a steep façade but with hairpins every hundred or so meters you almost start to get dizzy! This small final climb dispatched we headed for Bourg St Maurice and that favoured Le Cure recovery drink, BEER. That evening there was evidence of a few who had not quite heeded the severity of the sunshine during the day.