Journey to the Tour de France Part 6: Day 3 in the Mountains

Today’s instalment of Andy’s Tour de France blog features a surprise appearance from Team Sky boss and cycling legend Sir Dave Brailsford. Read on to discover more.

Today’s Tour de France Plan

This was to be a short but brutal stage for the Tour riders, featuring such climbs of the Col du P.e – 12.6km at an average of 7.7% and Les Saisies, with the latter being done by nearly all the team.

The plan was to have a few cars at the bottom of our mountain, just in case after a hard day in the saddle, to help give rest to some tired legs. Over the last few days, temperatures had hovered the early- to mid-30s, with little vegetation around – especially as we got higher up the mountains – to give cover meant we had to be cautious.

Early in the day, one of our number’s brakes had started to fade – after heavy use over the previous few days on the perilous descents. Craig, our trusty mechanic went with him to offer support and together they plotted a route to the local bike shop. It was, however, a mountain bike shop, rather than road bike repair shop, so they didn’t have the parts we needed.

We decided to head to the start of that day’s stage in Albertville, a pleasant 21km ride away, although the temperature was already hitting 25 degrees. As we entered the town, police were at each junction, directing traffic and manning the road closures. On the way there, I made great use of the slipstream offered up by the guys in front of me. This ‘drafting’ technique can, they say, reduce the amount of effort you have to put in by 30% – a significant reduction and a blessing in a head wind.

Scouting Team Sky

The plan was to get to near the Team Sky bus and find George – the PR boss – who had promised us some access the previous day.

We could see the other coaches all lined up awaiting to enter holding pens and we found a good spot opposite the bus, out came the Sky support crews with four cars loaded with spare bikes and spare parts to be along the route and following the riders, ready to help if required.

They off-loaded their bikes and set them up on the turbo trainers, we could see them clearly enough, but not get much closer, this was an area for VIP guests and sponsors (with whom we’d had a run-in the day before). Riders still came over to socialise with the fans, however.

We spotted George, who gladly took my phone and took a few photos of the Team Sky riders warming up for us. Suddenly, Sir Dave Brailsford – head of Team Sky and the man who catapulted British Cycling into the highest echelons of the sport across the globe – came over asking where we were from (presuming a media outlet) and laughed when we replied “Surrey”. He gladly gave us an interview, which you can see below.

The riders came out to warm up and fulfil their media and sponsor obligations and half of our crew managed to get some time with Niki Terpstra of the Quick-Step Floors team. Meanwhile, a few had moved towards the Wanty-Group Gobert team, Belgium’s biggest Pro-continental outfit last year. Two of our number were chatting away and jokingly asked a mechanic if they had spare carbon brake pads.

Niki Terpstra stops for a chat

Amazingly, he said yes, shuffling off and returning a short time later with the pads.

With the brakes fixed, we convened a group meeting. Some wanted to follow the Tour out and climb Les Saisies, with Mark and myself wanting to save our legs for the next day and a gentle ride back.

A Refreshing Dip

We got back to the car, thinking we would ride up the mountain back to our base, as we got to the car it was 35 degrees so, needing to cool down, I jumped into the river – flowing with fresh Alpine water. It was lovely!

At 6pm the phone rang, one of our number was on his way home, on the right road but in the wrong direction. I headed off in our ‘support vehicle’ to collect him when, stuck in traffic I spotted him and picked him up.

We eventually managed to pick everyone up – including those who had taken on Les Saises – who said it was the most difficult climb they had ever done and, not being the best climber myself, I felt that perhaps I’d made the right decision there.

Apparently, it’s all about having the right proportion of fast- and slow-twitch muscle fibres. Sprinters, apparently, have the fast-twitch fibres for quick energy release, while endurance riders and climbers have a higher proportion of slow-twitch fibres. I consoled myself that perhaps I was more of a sprinter…

Come back tomorrow for the next update, or follow the links below to read all the other instalments.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5