Day 3 of the 2011 Alpine Challenge promised to be the most difficult yet and with expected temperatures of 30C+ there were a few nerves on show amongst all of the groups. Group 1 riders were still battling it our for the Chazal leaders jersey, Group 2 riders were looking to move themselves up the rankings while Group 3 riders were pondering the steep, hot road ahead.
It was great to find out that wed have Stephen Roche with us in Group 3 for the final stage and I was really looking forward to chatting with him and getting a few descending tips. We once again rolled out of Annecy on closed roads and I felt pretty good up the first two climbs of the day, the Col de la Forclaz and Col de lEpine although with every pedal stroke the temperature was increasing.
At the top of the second climb the group was consuming Science in Sport gels and drinks in vast quantities in an attempt to keep our energy levels up and avoid the risk of dehydration. The hardest and longest climb of the event, the Col de la Croix Fry, was also the final timed section of the Alpine Challenge and the last opportunity for riders to move up the timing sheets.
By the time we rolled over the timing mat at the foot of the climb I was already beginning to suffer so after 2km I decided to pull back and let most of the group ride away from me. At this stage my riding was well under control but as the length and steepness of the climb took its toll the ride turned into a matter of survival.
Throughout the Alpine Challenge the camaraderie amongst the riders has been incredible and it was on display again on the Croix Fry, I was given (and giving) lots of encouragement to the riders I was following and being overtaken by. Wed ridden together for 3 days and suffered together and we all so desperately wanted to get each other to the finish.
After what seemed like an age I finally crested the summit to a big cheer from riders of all groups. Lunchtime entertainment was provided by Stephen Roche who took part in his own crit around the dining room great fun and typical of the atmosphere on this event.
What followed was one of the best cycling experiences I have had in a long time as all groups were brought together for the last 30km run into Annecy a swarming pack of cyclists on a long descent, chatting, congratulating and looking forward to reaching the finish line. As we approached the centre of Annecy we received loud cheers from bystanders and cars beeped their horns. With moto outriders, Mavic neutral service cars and a trailing TV moto its clear why this event is billed as the professional event for amateurs.
Crossing the finish line was emotional, everybody received a bottle of champagne (including the outriders and medical staff nice touch!) and the riders all got medals, there were plenty of hugs and a few tears.
We hadnt really expected the Wattbike Peak Power Challenge to continue after such a long hot day but we were suddenly met with a queue to try to win the prize of a weeks break in Annecy. New records were set and many riders were having 2 or 3 attempts, all very entertaining! Well blog about the challenge later in the week. Stephen Roche also kindly signed my race number which is a great memento of the event.
Finally we were all bussed over to a BBQ right at the side of Lake Annecy where much food and drink was consumed, stories were swapped and final goodbyes were said, there were lots of See you next year including from me.