Yes, you’d be right in thinking “those guys look nervous”. This photo was taken at the start of Grand Raid Cristalp in 2005. With 121 hard kilometers and 5,430m of climbing ahead that was the least of our worries. The forecast was not good. In the valley it was an acceptable 8 degrees and, despite the rain, the course was still rideable.
With the hardest parts of the course completed, and leading the charge for the English contingent, the weather was deteriorating much faster than I was riding on the final climb to the summit of the Pas de Lona. At that point it stopped being a race, it turned into survival. The race was cancelled at the summit as the descent to Grimentz was too dangerous in what were now sub-zero arctic conditions. After a short stop at the top of the climb to work out exactly what was going on, we were told by race officials to ride back to the valley where we’d be able to catch a bus to Grimentz. All sounded pretty straight forward and typically well organised considering the ‘on the fly’ arrangements that were being made, we were in Switzerland after all so I expected no less.
The problems came early on into the descent. Freezing is not the word for it, although the word I had in mind did begin with “F”. You know you’re in real trouble when your quads are cramping just trying to turn your legs on a downhill. To negotiate the multiple hairpin bends was a challenge and it got to the point where I needed to stop as I was drifting in and out of realism. Trying to regain some feeling in any part of my body, I asked a spectator how far it was to the town in the valley where the bus would be. The reply came like a cricket bat to the back of the head, it was a knock-out blow. “About 7km of descending and then about 20km in the valley…” I was expecting the reply to be “oh about 3km”, morale was already at an all time low, now it was dead and buried. I needed anti-freeze in my bottles, my blood felt like it was icing up inside. Yeah, it was painful.
At the bottom of the descent I saw a Cannondale car flash past and suddenly there was a glimmer of hope, although with a non-descript rain cape on I thought it’d be hard to be identified. As I went around the corner indeed they’d pulled over. Joy. Clambering into the back of the car it was good to finally be in the shelter after a long hard day in the mountains. Trying to bring my body temperature back to a normal level wasn’t a particularly pleasant experience and I’m sure anyone that’s gone from cold to warm can appreciate this. Shivering uncontrollably for well over an hour before we made it back to the hotel, the first place I was heading was the shower. Like a corpse, I turned on the taps and slumped to the bottom, still trying to get warm. What a state, exhausted, it was too much effort to actually try and wash. I thought I’d try and do that as soon as I stopped feeling nauseous. I didn’t want to get out of the shower and have the feeling of cold air hit me, but the hot water started to run out so it was time to move on. I made it as far as my bed, flicked on the TV and found the Tour of Germany to watch. Those guys were suffering, it was a miserable day there too.
With legs like lead, I went to reception to see if I could get something to eat. Not good, it was Sunday and dinner was not until 8pm (and with the Swiss being Swiss they wouldn’t budge on it). So I put some more clothes on and went to see if there was a shop close by. Admittedly, Sunday should be a day of rest (and bike riding) and I found that absolutely nothing was open, even the garage was shut! So it was back to the hotel, I took the lift to my room and quietly died until my alarm went for dinner.
What a day. If I’d known exactly what was in store then in reality I should have been looking a whole lot more nervous at the start.