Alex Dowsett said climbing the Tourmalet was “like nothing I’ve ever experienced,” describing his emotions as he rose to the summit of the iconic mountain.
The Brit has returned to the Tour de France with his Katusha-Alpecin team after a four-year absence, and says he was inspired by the roaring fans as he climbed to the mountain-top finish on stage 14.
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As Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) fired away from his general classification rivals at the top of the 19km climb, Dowsett was one of the dozens of non-climbers fighting to make through the stage in the grupetto.
Dowsett, the newly-crowned national time trial champion, told Cycling Weekly: “It was epic, like nothing I’ve ever experienced. We were just riding up a wall of screaming people.
“I was in the grupetto obviously but they seemed to be as enthusiastic for me as they were for anyone else. It was absolutely mad.”
While the threat of elimination looms on any relentless mountain stage, Dowsett said he was bolstered by the support at the side of the road.
“We knew we had to be pressing on to make the time-cut but we could take it all in as well.
“From 3km to 1km to go I wasn’t thinking about how much it was hurting, I was just thinking ‘this is mental’.
“The atmosphere, the views from the top above the clouds, you’re riding through this happy, enthusiastic mob.
“It’s quite amazing.”
Dowsett, 30, is riding the Tour de France for the first time since his debut 2015, when he abandoned on stage 12 after suffering through an early crash.
But the Essex-born pro is riding a different race this year: “[In 2015] I went up the Tourmalet but I was last man on the road, I was really struggling. I’m definitely in a better place this Tour. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still brutally hard, but there I was fighting to survive.
“[I’m grateful] for a whole host of different reasons – the journey to being a professional athlete is not a normal one, and it’s pretty surreal being on arguably the world’s biggest sporting stage.”