Words: Ian Cleverly Photos: Matthew Alexander
There are 200 or so cyclists of varying abilities milling around at the foot of the Col de Leschaux outside Annecy awaiting instructions. The plan is that we will set off up the mountain in small groups to be seeded, the gently ascending 488 metres being enough to work out which of the four groups we will spend the remaining three stages in.
Looking around, I figure that group three is probably about the right level, group two at a push. There are plenty of younger, fitter-looking riders here, with tanned calves and flashy Pinarellos. I know my place.
But then that age-old problem kicks in. There is a number on my back. Any notion that it would make sense to bumble up the climb in a relaxed style and join a slower moving group for the next three days is forgotten within seconds of leaving the start.
I could blame the two Dutch guys who set off at a reasonable lick, nattering away all the while, a determined Englishman glued to their back wheels. One of them was 6’7” at a guess. Maybe taller. I drafted for all I was worth, eyes fixed on his number, showing his name and the Dutch flag alongside. Jurgen is my new favourite Dutchman. Pacer and sunshade rolled into one.
So I reach the finish in a reasonable time. We await the calling out of names. Group one comes first, so I tune out, then tune in.
Oh bugger. Three more days of suffering with Stephen Roche and Dean Downing, then. Me and my bloody competitive nature.