words:Mike Chick photos: Mike Chick and Jo Burt
Leaving the hotel in Geneva for the start of the inaugural Haute Route I realised my front tyre had punctured, probably during the ride back from registration the night before.
A part of me was hoping this small offering would appease the gods and spare me the trouble of another flat during the week to come. But I wasn’t to know that far more testing challenges lay along the road ahead. The Queen stage on day three featuring the cols of La Madelaine, Télégraphe and Galibier over 160km was to be a marathon in ways I could not have foreseen.
The first climb of La Madelaine was a long and tough one but I rode it well, and descended to the valley of La Maurienne, famed for its head winds and stroppy truck drivers. You’re well advised to find a group to ride with during this 25km transfer to the base of the Télégraphe and that’s exactly what I did. Making good progress in blustery conditions I was just thinking to myself how well things were going when in a split second my wheel clipped the one in front and I was hurtling towards the tarmac. One of the ever present escort motorbike riders was instantly on hand and asked me how I was as I peeled myself off the deck, a gash to my arm and nasty road rash to the leg and backside. “You need a doctor,” he said, wincing as he caught sight of the wound. I insisted on continuing and asked for them to find me on the road. Jo Burt, my room-mate of the last couple of days, stepped in as super domestique and towed me to the start of the climb by which time the doctor had seen and cleaned my wounds. I could continue but needed stitches at the end.
Things took a turn for the worse when I realised that my rear mech was damaged and wouldn’t shift up to the climbing gears but some brute force and ignorance dealt with that. I let Jo carry on at his own pace, and set about the climb from the valley alone. It was hard, more psychologically than anything else, as the adrenalin left me and my spirits fell. I knew that I had to get my head together so I pulled over and sat in the shade for a few minutes. ‘Make a plan’ I thought. I knew I had time in the bank so I decided to ride easy and stop a couple more times, once at the top of the Télégraphe, and again on the ascent of the Galibier, making sure I took on board plenty of food and water. It worked and I soon found myself on the final push to the summit. It’s rare that I look forward to seeing a man with a van when on my bike, especially if it’s in the lanes of Essex, but here on the slopes of the Galibier, the man with the white Europcar van offered cups of coke, cake and much needed words of encouragement. Before long and despite some dark moments I reached the summit of the Galibier well within the time limit. A huge relief.
Stitched up by the medics and with my bike miraculously repaired by the men from Mavic I received a round of applause at dinner that night as “Hero of the day”. It was an accolade I would have rather foregone, but I took my minute of fame with good humour. If I had been in any doubt this race would be a tough one, I certainly wasn’t now.