Stage 18 – 222.5km from Blagnac to Brive-la-Gaillarde (2012, stage 18)
Today has been the second longest stage of the tour at 225.5 km (equivalent of driving from Dorchester to just south of Birmingham), it doesn’t help that I had a few detours today, bringing the total distance up to 230km. Once you start riding over 200km you really do separate the men from the boys and you can never be 100% certain how your body will react.
From my perspective, today seemed to go on forever, it’s probably not helped by the rolling hills in the second half of the stage and the fact that I’m also in the home straight having already had 17 days in the saddle – the Pyrenees are now behind me and from now on I’ll be heading north each day, ending up in Paris on Friday 26 September.
After a 160km transfer from the Pyrenees yesterday evening, the stage started off in Blagnac. The area we’ve stayed in is very built up as it’s near to the airport, it was also quite busy on the roads, so the first hour this morning wasn’t pleasant. Having got the first hour out of the way, the following 90km were in very picturesque, relatively flat, countryside and there was very little traffic about, the highlight was the L’Église St-Martin at Castelnau-Montratier.
I much prefer it with minimal traffic and I’ve been blessed with numerous days like this, particular in northern France and the high mountains. Riding in September was a bit of a lottery, I chose the month to avoid all the holiday makers, as the schools returned the week I came out, but had to balance that against the increased likelihood of having bad weather – the gamble has so far paid off as I’ve only had 2 bad days so far. Although it has been a shame that I’ve missed the sunflower fields in bloom. They’re all over France, but unfortunately the bright yellows have gone, as the plants are withering and the seeds drying out for harvest – I can imagine it would have looked stunning in July and early August.
The biggest town I passed on route was Cahors, principal city in the Department of Lot. It’ main landmark is the spectacular Pont Valentre – a 14th-century fortified stone arch bridge crossing the Lot River. It is known locally as the Devils Bridge as the builder, who wanted to save his soul, bet the devil that he couldn’t supply him with water using a sieve to make the last batch of mortar. The devil lost the bet and as means of revenge broke a stone from a corner of the center tower every night that had to replaced every day. Well this is the story told to the architect responsible for restoring the bridge some years later – I’ve heard a lot of workman excuses but this has to be the best yet. Anyway the architect commissioned a sculptor to make a stone sculpture of the devil pulling a stone out of the wall. That sculpture was then placed where the stone was missing – hence the name!
The end stage town of Brive la Gaillard seems like a really nice place, I most associate Brive with it’s rugby team who were a very successful side in the late nineties winning the Heineken Cup in 1997. Although the main reason I wanted to include this stage, is I remember the Tour de France stage very well as it had a nail biting finish. There were a few breakaway riders who’d been out on there own for the majority of the stage and were being chased down by the peleton (the main bunch of riders) in the last 20km. Only in the last 500 metres did Mark Cavendish emerge from the pack and go zooming past the breakaway group winning the stage by quite a large margin. Checkout the video of the finish, it’s very impressive.
I really do like Cavendish as he’s a born winner and like me has the attitude that second place isn’t worth bothering with, unfortunately I’m just not that good. I would add that after playing sport competitively for the last 27 years, it has been great to take on the Tour Challenge without having to worry about competing – those front runners in the Tour must be seriously tough guys, particularly the lead riders in the mountain stages.
Instead of the competitiveness angle, my real pressure is that of failing and letting people down – hence why I’ve been meticulous in my planning and management of risks.
Here’s todays stats:
- Distance: 230 km
- Time: 8 hours 41 minutes
- Average Moving Speed: 26.8 kmph
- Total Ascent: 2,488 metres
Anyway, my speed over the finishing line today was a touch more pedestrian than Mark Cavendish’s but I did put in an extra few turns of the cranks for good measure.