Ronde Alienor d’Aquitaine 1200

Ride report from Dave Thompson:

Such variety!  Scenery, organization, sustenance — I was asked whether mentally I wanted to saddle up again after Bulgaria and Spain — the variety alone does it.
This time I had enough sleep between rides. Albeit just another four days break, I stayed put the day after Spain, snoozed and generally doing nothing, drove to France, a 6-or-so hour drive (beautiful through the Pyrenees) and then did nothing for another couple of days.
The Aquitaine ride started at 8pm.  That was my choice.  5am was the other choice.  It made the Col de Soulor a day climb (1300 metres / 2.5 hours) but kind of locked those of us doing the night start (160 vs 80 day starters), riding a lot at night.  Or perhaps that’s because of my choice of hotels … hmmm.
Being very conservative and taking the advice of others, I only planned 430 km that first day.  We could have gone further but we had a hotel and I was ready to stop.  400 km is always longer than my sweet spot.
Days 2 & 3 were around 300 km; day 4 around 185.  We finished Day 1 around 6pm – Hamid a little ahead of me and me a little after that – and planned a start around 2am.  The next two nights were later finishes and we headed out at 12:30 am for the last day – with a 2pm cutoff, we needed to leave some margin for what would likely be a 12 hour ride.
It’s worth mentioning that Hamid, riding ahead of me, had the company of a Spanish rider until said rider didn’t stop at a stop sign and was hit by a car.  Eventually carried away by air ambulance, the last word that we had was that he was in a coma.  We don’t know if he will recover.  Hamid, initially thinking that he was dead at the scene, was pretty broken up by that occurrence.  I came on the scene just afterward and a while later, checked Spotwalla to ensure that Hamid was still ahead of me — yes — as I couldn’t tell who the rider was.
The rolling French countryside is always interesting.  Various Bordeaux Chateaux and into other wine regions sure made me wish that I was on a tasting, rather than a cycling, mission.  With all the night riding … but of course full day riding too … we did get to see a lot of grape vines, endless grape vines!
The ride started out on a bike trail into Bordeaux and then crossed back across the river on a signature bridge, one of the main sights planned into the ride.  From there through St. Emilion, it was starting to get dark and I was riding alone, as usual.  The staged start, a few dozen at a time, meant that those groups passed me and I was, as always, the Lanterne Rouge at that part of the ride.  The first Control wasn’t until km 167, still dark at that point, time for a quick coffee and coke and roll on. Many others were still at that Control.
All through this ride you purchased food.  A few controls had some gratuitous items – mainly fruit – but most everything else had a price.  There was always Coca Cola (Coka), coffee, sparkling water, beer and wine.  Those items all cost the same price at each control although how much you were poured and how much it cost, varied from control to control – there was no standardization.  Food, likewise, varied hugely.  There was pasta available at most, sometimes tomato sauce, sometimes chicken, once duck, usually bread, water was always free.  At an early control they were cooking up a full English Breakfast.  I didn’t realize that until I’d already purchased some other items.
Between Controls there were options as well although some were far apart.  Through one night we had carried some pizza from the night before and stopped at a bench in a town and ate that.  I moved to another bench and took a 15 minute power nap.  Three other riders sat down for a time and then rolled on.
Rolling, rolling, rolling – the countryside goes on.  We dropped down to sea level at one point and were treated to a couple of hours of Atlantic Ocean views.  I guess that if you tried to cover the signature items, those would be the chateaux, the aforementioned bridge, all the rolling farm countryside and towns, the ocean views and the Col de Soulor.  About a 1300 metre climb, the Tour de France will be on that climb on July 27 while we’re doing the Stelvio in the Italian ride … but let’s not get ahead of ourselves!  We were lucky that it was cloudy for the Col.  It could have been brutal.  As it was, that climb took us 2.5 hours.
Shab, Hamid’s wife, supported us from overnight to overnight.  She would check in, move drop bags into the pre-arranged hotels, pick up some food and beer and then we would drink our beer, eat some food and crash for a couple/few hours.   When we left, we would carry our bags downstairs so that she could get them into the car, then she’d go back to sleep (well, maybe, as she’s been known to pay attention to our trackers!).
We stretched it out, using up most of our time.  With that 2pm drop-dead finish time, we left the last overnight at 12:30 am and finished up at noon.  We could have pushed harder but didn’t need to.  We set a cushion time of two hours and kept that cushion time.
Mostly the roads were ok other than 50-60 km late afternoon on the third day when we had rough chip seal that was enough to drive you crazy and uses up a whole lot of energy.  That area cost us at least an hour, perhaps more, which subtracted from our sleep time that last night.
The final day spent at least half our time on bike paths and through some national park closed to cars.  It ended up back among the grape vines of the Bordeaux Chateaux and into St. Medard.  Shab and Sandy were there to greet us!  It’s always great to have cheering fans :).
As an aside, I was looking at the amount of climbing on the rides.  Brazil was about 21,000 metres; DCR BRB 13,000 metres; Sofia 15,000; Leida 8,300 metres; Aquitaine 11,000.  These numbers all come from RideWithGps, so they’re comparable if not totally accurate. BRB probably had the most high grade hills; the Virginia countryside.  Sofia climbs were gentle for the most part, long climbs at 4%, plus or minus.  Aquitaine had the consistently steep Col, ranging mostly from 7-9% with the occasional spike to 12%.

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