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Published: March 22nd 2018
Today was our last day of riding hills, and not to be outdone, I ended up adding some extra. Not on purpose.
Leaving Millau proved dirt simple, and involved neither hill climbing nor traffic - in fact we descended again into another beautiful morning. Having decided to do the alternate route - even though it added a mere 5km to the nominal distance - I once again set out on my own, and promptly did some extra climbing by misinterpreting what 'continue straight at the roundabout' meant.
We had been alerted we would travel under the famous (except to me) viaduc de Millau, and I chose to take the optional side trip to its related Information Centre. I hadn't appreciated that would involve several kilometres of very steep climbing, though, but once started felt compelled to continue ("it's just got to be around the next bend!"). When I finally arrived at the Info Centre it was closed, but I did notice a further climb that led to an observation platform, so the effort wasn't a total loss.
With my legs thus fried, I pressed on into the day, cognizant that my constantly stopping for photographs was eating up
precious time. Relatively late in the morning with little to show for it (not even 20km into the day), I was already hungry - so I peeled the top of a banana while riding, and was just about to enjoy it when the notorious French pavement proved too much and sent 1/2 of it tumbling. Still, 1/2 a banana was better than none and semi-refueled I pressed on and soon was surprised to see a group of cyclists ahead, whom I suspected were part of our group. Indeed I caught them just at the point where the herd split into nominal and alternate groups (travelling on either side of the Tarn), and learned they, too, had climbed to the info centre, but had not noticed the trail to the observation centre, which explained how they had come to be in front of me.
I bid them adieu and continued on alone, and somewhat later made another blunder misinterpreting a note on our cue sheet (I think I may have made the same mistake last year,involving the word "back"), which of course resulted in more unnecessary climbing - which I even got to repeat on my way back since I
had gone up a hill and down the other side before figuring out I was off course). But really, the root cause was the French highway numbering system: what's the rationale behind having a highway make an actual 90 degree turn while continuing straight puts you on a different one? To make matters worse, at this point the wind really started whipping up the gorge into my face. So I stopped for lunch and enjoyed a pleasant riverside picnic.
Not long afterwards, as I was checking my directions on-the-fly I was hailed by the 'nominal' group (our routes had converged at that point), who had stopped for some ice cream, and after exchanging some pleasantries with them I again forged on ahead. There soon followed 7-10km of loose, freshly laid chip-and-seal - so fresh that the fumes from the seal were still rising, and I got pelted by stones flung up not only by passing traffic but by my own wheels. Ouch. To break things up there was even a tunnel that not only was not illuminated but that curved as well. Mercifully, it was short, unlike the 357 and 965 meter-long ones that soon followed (but at least
those had some manner of lighting).
To round things out, the weather was also deteriorating, but although I got a bit wet it never rained hard enough for me to want to stop and don rain gear, and soon enough, the sun re-emerged. And then I was in Albi, following urban directions that seemed easy to interpret, and suddenly the hotel appeared across the square, right where it was supposed to be.
Which was a Good Thing, since the trip seems to have become some sort of test of attrition, and I can only hope that things (my tires, cleats,gloves, map case, ...me) hold out to the end, which is tomorrow. Geez, where did it all go?
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