While I was sailing across the Bay of Biscay, spending an evening laughing at the worst, unintentionally hilarious, cabaret ever, and watching dolphins in the morning, the weather gods were doing their best to wash the Pyrenees away. Extensive flooding devastated villages, washed away roads, closed the Tourmalet and Lourdes, and sadly took a few lives with it. Like riding 200km and 4500m+ of mountains in one day wasn’t worrying enough by itself ;).
But the weather gods missed. Four hours after the customs guy picked our heavily laden car to cursorily check over upon debarkment, Chris and I arrived in Jaca, which turned out to be still there. Incidentally you should check it out sometime – it’s a nice place. Comes complete with a Romanesque Cathedral and a Citadel and everything. Still, we weren’t there to sightsee, not really. Checking out such things was just an incidental benefit, a side dish for the main event. Yep, it was finally time to see if the Quebrantahuesos would be sucking the marrow from my bones…
But not just yet… After all, right now it’s only Wednesday night. One thing at a time. Starting with checking into the Hotel Oroel, which is clearly very used to being invaded by cyclists. Not long after we arrived, the Train in Spain airport shuttle arrived and discharged the rest of our party, having been collected from Zaragoza airport. All the bikes disappearing up to rooms in the two very small lifts didn’t even make the receptionist blink. Our rooms were fortuitously on the seventh floor, also known as the top floor, which seems to give you an advantage on getting a lift though…handy! Mine was a nice large room, with velux windows, mountain views and wonder of unexpected wonders, a small kitchen area complete with fridge, sink and microwave! It couldn’t have been more perfect for me if it had tried :). And then when you throw in a bar on the street opposite that stays open late, has friendly staff, and serves really nice cold Spanish white wine for 1,50E a glass…oh me, oh my. Welcome to Spain! ;).
Night time comes around too soon…followed by the inevitable early morning. My buffet breakfast wasn’t sitting well, carefully chosen from the generous and varied offerings though it was, and I felt like I was swaying. I guess twenty four hours on a ferry had installed sea legs, and forgotten to take ’em away again afterwards. And, after a few pain/pill free days, that was making itself felt, so I was in catch up mode again. I’d almost rather have had the hangover I’d probably earnt! After breakfast, the planned morning group ride was postponed to the afternoon, due to the weather forecast. We spent a while re-assembling bikes instead, which essentially means I let Chris do what he does best. And, thanks to some form of obscure bike related OCD, I ended up with an immaculately clean cassette, and (re-oiled afterwards) chain! Well, he seemed to be enjoying himself, it would be rude to stop him, right? ;).
Faffing done, Mr Train in Spain, John Fegan gathered us all together in bonding fashion, and gave us all a thorough riding briefing. Lots of scarily fit looking guys sitting around and looking serious. At least I wasn’t the only girl, this time there were two of us, which made a pleasant change. It was very informative but you know ignorance can be bliss right? Apparently not. Instead why don’t you tell me precisely how hard it’s going to be and what to worry about? A couple of ratchet clicks to wind up my background panic level ;). I suppose forewarned is forearmed? Everyone likes to prepare differently though. Which also applies to pre-event rides. After a bit of a wander around a very quiet town, and a tuna salad in a little bar somewhere, the weather duly improved. Time to see what cycling around here was going to feel like, as the group headed for the top of the first QBH climb – the Col de Somport. Now if you’re me, which apparently I am, you prefer not to know too much about what you’re letting yourself in for on the big day, so I was a little reluctant about the whole thing. However I did need to test out the bike and myself, and not doing any exercise for that many days was kinda doing my head in. Reassuringly John had made it very clear that it was up to us what we did, that we shouldn’t feel the need to keep up, or even to ride if we didn’t want to. So I duly did it my way. We set off as a group, but as the testosterone cut in and the majority headed off into the distance, I sat back and did my own thing at my own speed until I’d had enough, kindly accompanied by he who eats fig rolls. 45 minutes in, somewhere before Canfranc, I decided I’d done enough, did a u-turn, left Chris to hurtle upwards to re-join the TMT posse, and enjoyed gravity demonstrating that I’d gone up a lot more than I thought I had by going “wheeeeeeeeeeeee” all the way back to Jaca. Fun…apart from all the big lorries likewise hurtling down, and past me with very little space to spare…. There’s a reason closed roads are good! After a while I did think maybe I was lost, but since the road only really goes one way, eventually I arrived back where I’d started. Test ride done, fairly successfully. I got back to the hotel, squeezed the bike into the lift once more to take us both back to our room, grabbed a shower, and since I still wasn’t feeling great, opted for a fairly substantial recovery siesta. Sleep is very often a good thing, and it’s a shame to waste a talent, right? :).
At some point the group had reached the top, and come home via coffee. Each to their own. I needed my sleep, they needed the ride. And after all of that, we all needed dinner. John led us into town and, when presented with a couple of dining options, the group split up. One lot somewhere else, one lot to a Spanish restaurant that allegedly does good steak where we all ended up having the mixed grill menu. I swear I’ve never seen so much grilled protein on a platter before. Hey, each platter it came with half a potato, a bit of grilled red pepper, and then there was some iceberg lettuce to share. Balanced diet, right? I couldn’t eat it all – lamb. pork, black pudding, steak, chicken and more…blimey! Still, at least protein is safe, and the included white wine wasn’t horrible either ;). A contingent of both groups ended up back at the friendly bar, and spent a while exchanging cycling tall tales, comparing the size of their…gears, and generally being typical cyclists. Well, we still had 48 hours to go, sobriety could wait, we were on holiday ;).
And now it’s Friday morning. It’s been raining all night, and it hasn’t stopped. Sleeping had happened, but maybe not enough. And I was still swaying. Maybe I was hungover? I decided to stint on the hotel breakfast and opt for my own supplies instead, it being safer that way. So it was gluten free cereal and lactofree milk for me before I even got downstairs. I added the usual strong, slightly too bitter, Spanish coffee once there, but little else, and thanks to the weather, all plans for further riding went out of the window. Hey, the bike is white, I didn’t want to get it dirty before the big day, right? 😉 To be honest I was feeling weirdly ropey…and I pretty much spent the whole morning on the bed, half dozing, half asleep, half just not quite with it. Three halves don’t add up, but then I didn’t feel like I added up either. Sometime around the middle of the day, Chris knocked on the door, waking me up from a patch of actual sleep but probably saving me from myself, and suggested we hit the town. Which translated to walking around it in that very irritating not very heavy but actually extremely wet rain. We checked out the citadel, bought supplies, visited the odd shop, and explored the city walls…well, what’s left of them. They got bored with them around 1916 and knocked most of them down to allow for city expansion, which seems a tad harsh. Can’t stop progress right? ;). Getting wet was losing its appeal so we went and had some food in the Pilgrim Cafe, which was a slightly surreal place. Yet another tuna salad for me, high on the iceberg level, low on the appealing front but hey, safe and needs must. Shame wine was out, the countdown having begun, maybe that would have made it more appetising. But hey, a girl has to eat to ride. So I ate. And then I went and had another siesta, as thanks to the pills I was in space cadet mode, and the world was still moving under my feet.
Now although we didn’t have to, as John was able to collect everything for us, we had the option to go down to registration at 4.00pm. Since there was nothing else to do, the weather had improved, and it’s all part of the experience, we pretty much all went down there, in two mini buses. Finding somewhere to park up in Sabiñánigo, the start town, was chaotic, but in a fairly aimable way as everyone was doing the same thing for the same reasons. There were hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of bikes, on the back or top of cars, just left parked up everywhere. Talk about bike porn. Put it this way, I could have left mine out unguarded and unlocked in the street for days, and compared to all that around, it would have been as safe as houses. Plus mine would have been way too small for anyone there, even if they’d taken a fancy to it ;).
It felt like the whole town had gone cycling mad. We walked back to the start village, which was much the same as they always are…but I think because this is my third such trip I may have gotten a little blasé about them. It’s the first time you realise how big the event is. And considering that 10,000 riders do the main event alone, without counting those doing the shorter ride, I’m actually surprised it wasn’t a lot more insane. There were lots of people milling around in the sun, stands full of cheap kit, special offers, promotions for trips, shiny bikes and high tech geek fodder. I bought some QBH mitts and socks to match the free jersey that I knew we were due to get. John collected and handed out all our rider packs, saving us from the queue, and we walked through the little checking tent just to make sure our chips were working. That done, there wasn’t really much else to do. We did a couple more circuits, Chris drank various assorted colourful free energy drinks which I decided t’were best to avoid, and we were all back at the van to return to Jaca by 6:00pm.
Time was passing. Running out. The bike was ready, the kit laid out, supplies ready to be stashed… Time for the last supper, for which John had booked us all into a local Italian to make sure we could eat as by now Jaca was overflowing with hungry cyclists. The day before an event like this, even when I’m feeling good (which I wasn’t), I get a little weird. I’m stressed, nervous, distracted… I don’t want to talk about it any more. Not the arrangements, the route, the kit options, nothing. I am just counting down, marking time. I want to eat, sleep, and most of all, I just want to get on with it, to be out there doing it. And there’s where I mentally was as we sat at our two tables, debating the menu, and ordering what clearly turned out to be pretty nice pasta, pizza, and the carbohydrate like. There were actually some “recommended for coeliac” options, but the chances are that wasn’t going to include lactose free, before you even start on no garlic/onion/etc… Man, my IBS sucks! I hate putting people out, and explaining myself – it’s so embarrassing. I thought maybe the tuna lasagne would be the lesser of the many possible evils but was informed that as it was cooked from scratch, I’d be looking at at least a 30 minute wait. No thank you. I didn’t want to be hanging around any longer than necessary. So, if you’ve been paying attention, this is your time to shine, by guessing what I ended up having for dinner. Well? Your time is up…but points to you if you guessed at an unappetising tuna salad though *grin*. I did my best to eat it, but it wasn’t really cutting it. My appetite had gone walkabout, I’d had enough, and I couldn’t banter anymore, I just needed to be somewhere else.
So I left them all to extra orders of bread and pizza, and to not having to worry about me which, to give them credit, they were, being keen that I should also be fed properly. I’m sure we were all happier all ’round. I went back to my hotel room, for my microwave golden syrup porridge with added banana and sultanas. In other words, my standard, follow the ritual, pre-sportive nighttime meal :). OK, so I had to force it down, but such things are important for mental preparation as well as physical. If you believe it works, you’re half way there. Placebo porridge? To be honest, I was pretty worried about what was to come. After a day of being oddly dopey, sleeping, pain, swaying…my PMA was on a ferry back to the UK. But I guess I was as ready and prepared as I could be…and it was way too late to do anything about it even if I wasn’t. Alarm set for 4:45, time to Enter Sandman.