Tuesday, 18 June 2013

SMIDDY FRENCH ALPS TOUR - DAY TWO & HIGH-SPEED CRASH

COLS CLIMBED: Grand Colombier at 1501 metres

STATS FOR THE DAY:

Distance:142 km's
Average: 22.8 km/h
Climbing: 2120 metres
Riding time: 6hr 15min
Temp Min: 21 degrees
Temp Max: 40.8 degrees

The lads and Antonia are looking out for me. I promised them when I finished the first day that I would not start today's stage if I thought it would be detrimental to my health. I awoke at 5:30am feeling like death warmed up. At 6:15am Graeme and Antonia and myself drove ten kilometres to a private lake. These particular lakes are fully fenced off and to use the facilities, or even to have a swim, you need to pay. But we were there for one reason, to use the high-speed wifi. By parking outside and with Graeme knowing the password, we spent the next half hour checking emails and posting my latest blog. Unfortunately the chateau where we are staying has no wifi. So the plan is every morning, prior to the ride, we make the trip to the lake, or to another hotspot Graeme knows outside a cafe in town. The blogs must get through! Anyway the point I am trying to make is that by the time we had done this, returned home and had some breakfast, I was feeling a little better and decided to start. Graeme made me agree to a backup plan. Today's ride was 50 cruisy slightly downhill kilometres to the Grand Columbier, an 18km ball-busting climb at an average of 8.5% gradient. A 20km descent and then 50 slightly uphill kilometres back to home-base. The plan was if I felt crap to ride to the base of the climb, wait in town and then ride home with the group once they had completed the climb. I readily agreed and off we went.

Today was always shaping up to be an epic day, the heat was making its presence felt early and all of us knew it was going to be a suffer-fest day to make yesterdays stage look easy. And the day and the course did not disappoint. So with the intro to this blog out of the way let's get straight to the meaty end of this cabana!

Sharky's top ten dramas from day two on the road in the unforgiving French Alps

Zane crashes out doing 101 km/h!
1. Number one, without any doubt whatsoever, goes to my newfound friend in Zane Williams. Before I share this story let me tell you, here and now, how extremely grateful I am that this story has a good ending, as it nearly could have been quite the opposite. So yesterday you will remember Zane had a high speed puncture and managed to stay upright. The descent down the other side of the Grand Colombier is outright dangerous, in just eight kilometres it drops down 1000 vertical metres. The average gradient is 17 to 19%. The road surface is as rough as a downhill mountain bike track and the switchbacks are downright terrifying. Poor Zane had the misfortune of his carbon fibre handlebars coming loose while braking as hard as he could yet still traveling at 60km/h. As the handlebars dropped his lost his grip on the brakes. He flew past Glen doing 80km/h and was clearly out of control. He was hanging on for dear life and Glen could do nothing but watch.

The Smiddy huddle connection
Now the next part of this story is testament to my mate Adam Smiddy. Yesterday when I did the Smiddy huddle for the first time, I explained why I introduced the huddle back in 2007. I told the group it was my way I entrusting the safety of the group to Adam. Not once has he failed me and it is why I am pedantic and maybe a little superstitious not to break this trend. Zane said to me today that he is now a firm believer in the huddle and its protective powers.

Zane's handlebars failed in preciously the right location
Now back to Zane; if his handlebars had of failed on any other part of the descent he would have either gone over a cliff or slammed into a tree or a guardrail. There was one section of the descent where just before a switchback was an open area of thick piles of loose gravel. Zane said he was so scared and the last thing he recalls is taking one last look at his Garmin and it read 101km/h. Fear saved his life, as prior to crashing into the gravel, he passed out, his body went limp and in its relaxed state Zane came out of it shaken to the core, mild concussion and dusty as all hell, but he was alive and nothing was broken! Unbelievable!

Go pro camera captures the action
Glen said Zane slammed into the gravel so fast that the bike dug in, flicked Zane over the handlebars, landing on his head as the bike did a couple of cartwheels. Antonia meanwhile captured everything, before and after, but not the actual crash, on her Go Pro camera. The footage of Zane pulling away as he hit 100km/h was frightening to watch. We watched the footage tonight and it was disturbing seeing the position Zane landed in, a crumpled confused mess, with Glen rushing to his aid, talking to him, asking his name, date of birth, of which Zane remembers nothing. Meanwhile Graeme, Garath and myself are waiting at the bottom and wondering what was taking the four riders so long. I always worry when there is a longer than normal time lag between the first and last descenders. And in this case the worry was justified. Eventually Eric sent a text to Graeme explaining what had just happened.

Zane's rejoins the group
An hour later the seven strong peloton were back together again. Zane, Glen, Eric and Antonia relayed their story of the crash. It was only when I heard the entire version that I realised what an incredibly lucky man our old mate Zane was to be there telling his side of things. We all felt for the big fella, his confidence was shot, we still had ten kilometres of descending to do and a further 50 kilometres to get back home. To his credit he sucked it up, showed guts and a true fighting spirit belying his age and I silently vowed never to mention my incredibly insignificant flu again!

2. The climb up to the top of the Grand Colombier was taken out by Garath, who at one stage stopped for a rest, saw Glen on a switchback 200 metres back, cursed him for being so close, 'and not that he is competitive' but quickly remounted his trusty steed and kept the gap all the way to the top.

3. I decided to tackle the climb and Eric was to be my guardian for the entire 18 kilometres. Thanks for the great stories and for once again looking after me mate. Also to Graeme; who stopped often to give us lollies and to top up our water bottles as needed. You guys rock!

4. Glen was first on the scene today with Zane's crash and after watching the Go Pro footage he deserves to be recognised for maintaining a cool head under an extremely stressful and worrying situation. Nice work champ!

5. Eric for getting Zane's bike back together again. Unfortunately Zane is now up for a new bike when he gets home as the top tub has a huge crack in it. He also cracked his helmet and smashed his new phone! Broke everything but his body thankfully.

6. The 73 year old French man that came out of his house and offered us cold water as we waited for Zane to rejoin us. He was an old cyclist and proudly showed us his bike. He also sported an afro type jet black hair style that looked out of this world on a 73 year old. But each to their own I say. I was the king of mullets right up until my mid 30's!

7. The heat today was so relentless that everyone spent time in the quiet room. Even Eric showed he was human today when with just a few remaining kilometres he started to drift off the back.

8. Antonia might be the only girl on this trip but boy this girl can ride. Her never say die attitude has earned the respect of all on board this tour. Go you strong girl you!

9. Pizza and eight different flavours of ice-cream was our reward today from Eric and Graeme. Going back for thirds was encouraged as all will be burnt off tomorrow they assure us as we tackle a cold called 'Chat', which is apparently as hard, if not harder than the infamous Alp De Huez.

10. Finally the boys have started a see-how-far-you-can-kick-a-ball-after-your-legs-are-fried-from-riding-all-day-in-oven-like-conditions competition. Where the ball lands is marked by an orange disc. Each night you get a kick and at the end of the week the furtherest kicker of the ball wins a free physiotherapy appointment to treat the injured ball kicking leg!

That's it for now, see you all for the 'Chat' blog.

Take care.

Sharky

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