The day from Orcines started off damp - snails out in force again - but soon the sun would burn through and at last there would be some real climbs to test ourselves on. It proved to be another hard day, the previous four days' efforts catching up with all of us, and unsurprisingly we were all feeling a little battered and bruised after yesterday's crash.
The Sautarelles climb from Sauxillanges was a tough one, with a couple of surprising 20% sections in it to really test the legs. Made extra challenging - as if it were really needed - by massive steak-eating rabid guard dogs (didn't your mother always warn you about rabies across the Channel?) roaming free by a farm near the summit lake - L'Etang du Fagonnet - to knock you off as you hauled yourself up the last ramps, or worse, bite you. My mouth was already foaming, but thankfully from the effort of trying to hold Mike and Dave's rear wheels rather than any kind of zoonotic viral neuroinvasive disease. The prospect of a gleeful fast descent was quashed by some major public works: the whole of the 10km-plus road down was being resurfaced, so we spent a good half-hour riding cagily over loose gravel that tunefully played in our spokes, and cursing the small gobbits of black tar that were getting flicked up onto tyres, bar tape, frame and shorts.
A route mess-up meant we rode a few more miles than planned, and this seemed to tell on Les as we neared the end of the ride. As the heat built up as we travelled further south, he gave us his best 'Tommy Simpson on the Ventoux' impression, unable to hold his head up to see where he was going, made worse by the fact that it meant he was looking over the top of his glasses and so was effectively riding blind. We all waited to chivvy him along, but nearing the finish I slipped away - just to be able to ride on my own for a moment - but ended up excitedly riding to an imagined victory. Jamesy had been doing it all week, so why not?
Left to right: Andy, Dave, Trevor and Paul prepare to leave. It's still not exactly the weather we were expecting in France in July.
Soon to be a French RTA victim? We all managed to miss him: see the video below:
Decision time: left over the Sautarelles climb with 20%+ sections, or straight on for a (slightly) easier ride? Meanwhile Graham does his best to get us arrested again.
Mike breaks away in the last three kilometres for the 'win' - having berated Mike and Dave for not waiting for Les - to take the chequered flag courtesy of Graham.
Ah - post-ride recovery drink of choice in Saint-Hostien's evening sunshine.
Belgian Bracket: Elite Eight
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