By Shaun Beevor
It’s 9am on a cool, clear, crisp Spanish September morning, and I’m wondering what the hell I’ve got myself into. In fact, I’ve been wondering that for the last month or so.
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I had an absolute moment of delusion, whilst watching repeats of Chris Froome and Nairo Quintana battling it out on Mont Ventoux, and decided to sign up for my first ever sportive. And I have to say, I’m more than a little worried.
It’s the second edition of the 100% Tondo sportive, a 116km ride which twists it way up through the Pyrenees from the valley town of Sant Joan les Fonts, to the ski resort of Vallter 2000, and it’s got a naughty little 2800 metres of climbing, with a max gradient of 15%. And no those are not typo’s for all you imperialists out there, that’s metres not feet.
I can hear a lot of you saying, “that’s no big deal” and I know that there are much more demanding sportives out there, but the thing is I’ve only really been riding for the last year or so, and only really put the hammer down on the training these last two months, so for me it’s a big deal. To date, my biggest single ride has been 70km, with around 1000m of elevation gain, so what lies before me is a far more serious affair.
This could possibly be the greatest physical challenge of my 42 years on this rock, and I’ll be honest with you, I don’t exactly have a good track record when it comes to completing challenges. But the way I see it is, every day is a new day and everybody has the ability to move forward with their lives and accomplish things that they never dreamed they could, or in my case, attempt something that I would have previously been too scared to, for fear of failure.
But the day is here now, and I’ve made such a big fuss about it over the last month, that really there is no backing out, I’m committed, and anyway I’ve gotten the wife and dogs, that’s the Salvarani support team (another story for another day), out of bed at 6am in the morning to drive the hour to the start point in Sant Joan les Fonts.
Seven am and breakfast is an even lighter than usual affair for me, but I try to force feed myself a banana and a yogurt, as I know it’s the way forward and could possible save my life, but I’m almost throwing up my hoop with nervousness, so I barley manage half of the banana, and well the yogurt, is kind of like drinking my own vomit. I can’t imagine Sir Bradley or Mr Froome experience the same sickening feeling before a big day in the Tour, but who knows, maybe they make regular calls on the big white telephone.
Yeah I know, I really am in trouble here aren’t I, and I’m asking myself “what the hell was I thinking”.
Start time is 9am, but of course we arrive early after an overly-eager departure from the house. Who knows how long it takes to register and pick up my freebie goodie bag and number, god I hope they have zip ties available and a toilet. And then I’ve got to decide what to take in the way of supplies, this all takes time you know, especially when you really don’t have a clue what’s coming up, I guess I’ve only had around five hours of restless sleep last night.
I was up till midnight packing everything from power gels to the kitchen sink but obviously forgot the zip ties, and going over the route and my bike like some geek at NASA prepping the space shuttle, so it’s safe to say that I’m a little tired. Oh and of course, I had to shave my legs.
Then there’s the dilemma of what to wear, there is a definite chill in the air and were going to be in the mountains all day but I know the forecast is for temps up in the mid-20s. So what’s it going to be? I’m confused, inferno summer shorts, normal shorts, arm warmers, long sleeve? I settle for my regular shorts and my aero top and throw on my freebie 100% Tondo vest over the top. That’s not bad, but the most important thing is how do I feel and how do I look. I know that sounds a little vain, but “look like a pro feel like a pro” that’s my motto with every sport I’ve ever tried. And I have to say it seems to produce the best results.
Nine am arrives and it’s wheels up as they say (I think I heard that in Apollo 13). Click Click and off we go, wow what a blast, roads closed, a full police escort, sirens howling as we set out through the cheering crowd of spectators that line the road, and I’m slap bang in the middle of a 700-rider peloton.
This a highlight in my life for sure. I normally only ride by myself, and have only ever once, been out on a ride with one other person, so this is out of this world, sucked along in the slipstream of a multi-coloured mass of Lycra. It’s a magic moment, one that you truly have to experience to understand.
I take it easy for the first 20km or so, the fresh cool mountain air waking my arse up for sure. Or maybe it’s the pure thrill of the event, and the rush of some unknown hormones pulsing through my system. But anyway it matters not, because I’m here, and I’m loving every second of it, every turn of the crank, and my bike – a 2013 Moda Stretto – is surely one of the best-looking around!
It’s quite a mixed bunch of riders but I’m definitely not the slowest which is a big relief, and as we reach the first small climb of 500m, I find that I’m passing some of those riders who had already zipped past me on the flat, I guess most of my training has been in the mountains and its paying off. The problem is now its pee time, and as I stand there on the road side I’m starting to see those same riders that I’d just passed and I’m not happy about it.
I’m very lucky when it comes to the opportunity to train on big climbs, living in Catalonia, Spain, in the foothills of the Pyrenees I can ride pretty much all year around. It’s a popular area for pro teams and riders to train and live, with David Millar living just a stone’s throw away from me, and in fact my favourite climb out the back of my house, is the one shown in the new Garmin 810 video. Cool or what.
There are two courses available, a short “curta” and a long ”llarga”. The short route is a fairly flat loop of 68km with 500m of climb, which ends back at the start point in Sant Joan les Fonts, and a long, 116km with 2800m of climb.
So I’ve got the option to bail out early, if I feel the chicken inside me clucking away. Problem is, I’ve sent my clothes up to the ski resort in Vallter. I guess I’ve intentionally put myself in a position where I have to go for broke. Even if I have told the Salvarani team car that I might bin it after the short route. There’s no shame in that, or is there?
The first 68km seem to fly by and as I head back into Sant Joan les Fonts and hit the roundabout of no return, it’s a right turn back to the start point or hang a left up to the ski resort and the final two climbs. There’s no sign of the wife and team car, and I’m feeling great, better than I could have imagined, so I make the decision to go for the full distance, It’s man up time buddy.
I’m happy with the clothing choice, it’s definitely warmed up to say the least, and my vest has already been stuffed in my jersey pocket along with the half dozen gels. There are food stations along the route, four to be exact but by the time I arrive at each of them, there mobbed, and the food supplies seem a little limited, and I’m glad I’ve loaded up with my own.
The road back out of Sant Joan Les Fonts is fairly flat, and believe it or not I’m getting a little bored with it, plus something has gone to sleep in my shorts, I’m actually looking forward to getting to the last two big climbs up to the finish. I’m an out of the saddle kind of climber so it’s going to relive that numbness and hopefully give me back my manhood.
I manage to tag onto the back of a group of 15 or so riders for the last 10km of the flat before the climbing starts, to get a little slipstreaming break, that’s when I first spot my support vehicle dogs barking and wife cheering me on, it’s great to have some moral support, but my easy ride is soon ended as I have a dilemma, to pee or not to pee? AGAIN. Five times, I kid you not, five times in five hours I have to stop for a pee. Really, what the hell is going on?
I’ll tell you what’s going on, it’s called taking on too many fluids, and as I start up the penultimate climb , my right legs starts to spasm with cramp, and I make the connection between the peeing and the cramp. Too much water, not enough minerals. Well that’s what I’m guessing, and by the amount of white salty crystals that are growing on my shirt, I’d have to say that’s confirmed.
Are we there yet?
With the penultimate climb done I hit the village of Setcases, and the final climb and food station, where I’m handed a drink and bar by a friendly volunteer, well actually its was forced upon me “thanks guys, it saved the day”.
I must have looked like I needed it, oh and it’s another pee stop, that’s number four. I can see the road before me and it’s a monster which twists and winds its way up into the sky. I know it’s the final climb, but by now I’m really starting to feel those km’s. But off I go, there’s no way I’m stopping now.
Not far up the hill I spot my support vehicle again, cheering me on and giving me that little extra boost, but this is the biggest hill I’ve ever faced, 11kms of pure unadulterated pain. Bring it on, I love this. Did I really just say that? Yeah I guess so, but half way up I’m starting to look at the km markers by the road side to see how much pain is still to come.
But none of them make any sense to me anymore, I think I’ve cooked my noggin in the sun, and I’ve got that “are we there yet” question running through my head over and over again. The road climbs and climbs, hairpin after hairpin but I can almost taste the finish now, or maybe it’s the sweat cascading down from my forehead. It must have been the sweat because the next sign I spot reads 1km, but it’s a cruel joke as it reads Vallter 2000 1km, and the ski resort is another 200m higher than the town, but by now I know I’ve got it licked and I find a little something extra and push on harder to the finish.
I can see up ahead the last few hairpins, wife and dogs standing there waiting for my arrival, are they off their leashes? That’s not good! I’m guessing you’ve all see those clips from the Tour where a single dog manages to take out the entire peloton. Well, I’m about to re-enact that scene. Oh no, here we go I’m about run over one of my own dogs. Wife screaming, it’s a close call but bless their cotton socks, I guess they were just happy to see their daddy. Disaster averted I smash out the final 500m.
Yes yes yes! That’s it, I’ve done it. The biggest physical challenge of my life, bar none, and I’ll be back for more next year to smash my time (another delusional moment).
Thinking of challenging yourself? Go ahead life is short, and maybe I’ll see you there next year.
Here’s where I’ve got to say a big thanks to my wife, for supporting me through all my crazy arsed ideas that I’ve ever had, and also to a friend for introducing me to cycling “thanks Big T ”
What to know
100% Tondo sportive in memory of the late Xavier Tondo, a climbing specialist for team Movistar who passed away in an accident in 2011. www.100x100tondo.com
Bike: 2013 Moda Stretto, compact (thank God!)
Official time from timing chip: 5:53:53, mapmyride time with auto pause on: 5:27:51
Official cut off time: 6hr:30