I felt good, I'd slept well, the only thing I was missing was a real breakfast... and a coffee! Too bad... I had some biscuits and fruit, that did the trick. Another day, another hill to climb, and not the least of them! This time, with a four-footed friend!
The accumulated days and distance started to weigh on me during the entire climb... I was slow, and the other racers were passing me. I stopped at least three times to get news from Mário and exchange texts with friends… it gave me more courage to get back in the saddle. At the second checkpoint, I was warmly welcomed by the organisers, particularly the Portuguese in charge of tracking us on DotWatcher. I took advantage of the opportunity to have a good coffee and a pain au chocolat, and to stock up at the supermarket. I swore I wouldn't repeat my mistake; this time, I got some good food.
At this stage of the race, energy bars and gels didn't really work for me any more. I ate about one bar and one tube of gel per day, but went more for real food. I still felt a bit tired... I'd plan for 232 km with around 4,800 m of climbing, knowing that there wouldn't be any lodgings in the last 50 km. It was hot, and the climbs were long. I started having trouble thinking and getting organised.
During the crossing of the col de Salvi, going through Montemaggiore, I stopped at a fountain with another racer to have a drink and take a break. I took out a container of tomatoes and offered him some. He looked at me, shocked, and complimented me: "Did you carry that up all those kilometres? You're a madman! " We had a good laugh! Everyone's got their own strategy. We got back in the saddle, and he ended up pulling ahead. I'd made a note that I could stop at kilometre 130... but when I arrived, it was still too early.
I called my friend Jaime in Barcelona. He told me a number of kilometres to cover, some places to spend the night, and after a brief silence, he asked, "You're not in the middle of digesting, right? " No. So, he said: "You know, there's a big hill to climb not far away, then a place to stay just afterwards! Go there to spend the night! That'll give you one fewer climb for tomorrow." That's the kind of situation when you really appreciate your friends. I got an email confirming my reservation at the Casa Franceschi, and without waiting another minute, I set out to attack the col de Bataille. Since it's one of the worst climbs on the race, I decided to climb it on foot. The beauty of the landscape reminded me of how lucky I was to be there. Plus, I was thrilled with my Triban RC520 shoes, which allowed me to walk comfortably (after that day there was a real avalanche of racers' cleats coming unglued).
Once at the top, I could see the descent. It was time to eat! Next, I arrived at Casa Franceschi, where I had a very nice welcome. At that point, Mário was 30 km behind me, but I was sure that he'd come through like a boss and finish the stage. When I wasn't far from going to bed, I got a call from him. His rear derailleur had broken. What a pain. He needed to go back to Calvi to attempt a repair. Just an hour after going to sleep, I heard a racket… I opened the door, and saw Zoubir and another rider. Happy to see you, guys! The owner of the Casa Franceschi had the immense kindness to make them dinner!