No rest for the courageous participants! At the starting line in Pau, the sky is overcast. The weather forecast is favorable though, and no one can imagine what is ahead. The bikers climb the first slopes of the Aubisque before realizing that a tenacious humidity is present throughout the course in the Pyrenees.
The bikers, still in a group, enter the fog at 1,500 meters of altitude. At the summit of the first difficult climb of the day, the racers attack a ferocious duel with their main enemy of the day, the cold. In the space of a few kilometers, the silhouettes are glued to the bikes. Up ahead, the police try to convince some cows to get off the roads. Visibility is not even at 50 meters!
Argelès-Gazost is located at the bottom of a long descent and has the second complete refreshment area of the race. There is news of further difficulty. Thierry is the first to sound the alarm, “It is cold up there, really cold!” Phillipe is resigned to the situation. A few seconds later he states, “I won’t go any further.” He abandons the race, “It would be dangerous for me to continue.” A few other participants follow his example, but the large majority of them take a short break before continuing on their way. “I can hardly move, but it will be OK,” assures Alain. “Give up? No way. I’m getting a recharge here so I can continue.”
Le Tourmalet is there, immense, almost menacing. Before attacking the first slopes, some of the racers take the time to reassure their loved ones with a phone call. The sky remains low, and it’s time to climb up to 2,115 meters of altitude. Foggy skies again. A few dozen supporters are clapping at the summit. Two policemen are making faces in their truck. “It’s 5°C, but with this humidity, the cold is really intense.”
There is another descent, long and tiring. The bikers trace impeccable trajectories on the wet asphalt and assume the continuation. In Sainte-Marie-de-Campan, the bikers are frozen. They stop, hoping to recuperate at the refreshment area. In the space of just a few minutes, the first aid tent fills up. “They are so cold,” remarks one of the doctors from the medical service, “nothing more, just cold.” Some volunteers lend their fleece jackets or cut up plastic bags to improvise some ponchos. Brigitte feels sorry for them, “They are so tired and really very brave. I wish I could help some more.” A little further on, Jérôme is sitting on a wall shivering. His family is energetically massaging his arms and legs. A little boy says to him, “Daddy, I love you.”
Afterwards, the bikers reach Aspin with its gentle slopes in the pines. The noise settles down a little bit. Suddenly, faces relax a bit, as if the stress of the first half of the race has dissipated. Now, one must advance with courage. The second half of the pass is more difficult, and the fog arrives again in small packages that form throughout the kilometers. One must continue, give in to nothing. Some of the participants even manage to smile. One must admire their courage. Then there is another descent. Is the hardest part behind them? “No, the hardest part is always ahead,” sighs Claude, “Especially today.”
There are still another 30 kilometers before the finish line, and another climb at Peyresourde. A beating sound of pedaling sets itself into rhythm. There is another climb and a last cloud of fog. There is some more rain during the last hairpins of the descent. It suffices to just coast, but is it possible to just coast after 200km of such effort? Arriving in Bagnères-de-Luchon, the racers straighten themselves up. The feeling of euphoria is palpable. Can the bikers perceive the French flags that have accompanied them throughout their day? It’s Bastille Day, and the Etape du Tour is a rendez-vous for the sturdy!