The bottom line is, today was the most miserable day of my life, bar none. It was worse than heartbreak, worse than blizzards in Snowbird or Park City, worse than prelims. Those with time at their hands are invited to read on; but be warned that the following paragraphs are drenched in lachrymosity and self-pity, besides the ubiquitous rain.
This morning at a quarter to six when I woke up, my worst fears that yesterday's weather forecast had sowed had come true. It was still raining outside. I put on plenty of layers, put more into my backpack, remembered to take my neoprene shoe covers and, a sign of increasing despair, even took my LiveStrong wristband along. Its violent yellow on my wrist would remind me that if Lance can survive cancer, I can survive the Challenge Dauphine.
Up in Lans, things didn't look quite as bad as in town. The temperature was close to 10 degrees, and it only drizzled lightly – conditions at the optimistic end of yesterday's forecast, and it was still very early. I decided to leave my thick jacket in the car.
We started at 8:30, and so did the rain. It wouldn't stop for five hours. I didn't know this at that point, obviously, and I was still excited. It wasn't too cold, my legs felt good, and the group I was in moved briskly. After two hours, we had covered 60k.
That's when the suffering started. The first serious mountain rose up into the clouds, and the temperature dropped with every switchback in the road. At the top, I was as wet as a mouse in an aquarium and nearly shivering from the cold. Things got much worse on the 15k descent. My arms started shaking so badly I could hardly steer my bike straight, and my eyes were hurting from the unrelenting assault of raindrops at 60km/h. To top things off, my front brake pads were on their way out. The rear pair had already been filed down to the metal after the first 45k.
At the aid station at the bottom of the descent, I thankfully grabbed a cup of steaming hot tea, immediately spilling half of it over my shaking hands – not a bad thing actually, warmed them up for a moment – and pondered my options. I had close to 70k to go, and I was at the lowest point of the course. A mighty pass lay ahead, but my legs were screaming sofa. I must have been a sorrowful sight. As it happened, an angel flew by and saved my life. A course marshal walked up to me, asked if everything was ok, said that someone had left his rain jacket on another aid station, and asked me if I would be interested in carrying it back to Lans. He even helped me put it on, or rather, put it on, because my stiff fingers were not up to the task of fiddling with sleeves and zippers.
To make a long story short, and the 70 remaining kilometers were indeed incredible long, I made it, I came through, I arrived after seven and a half hours (seven hours riding time according to my bike computer), and even got my hot lunch right before they closed shop. It was a struggle that I was at one point determined to lose (I didn't see the LiveStrong wristband underneath the rain jacket.), but then I didn't find another aid station where a sag wagon would open its door for me, and I didn't want to wait by the side of the road. The going was painful, and I was going painfully slowly. And I was damn cold. Under no circumstances would I have finished the course without this extra rain jacket. Back in Lans, the temperature was still just a nick below 10 degrees.
If you're not calling me an idiot for riding 180k in the wet cold, I readily will. However, looking back from the comfort of my sofa, with the pain a thing of the past and only my palms and the tips of my fingers still numb, I recognize that that's what stories are made from. What a great day it was!