Words by Kirsten Sjovoll - Day 4 of Women's Week 2017.
Yesterday was not a good day. It started so well – just one mountain to climb, albeit both sides and the mountain is that little HC climb known as Col de l’Iseran. But I felt good, climbing steadily, in the front peloton, ticking off the km markers. The altitude felt bracing but the summit arrived far quicker than I thought it would. We descend. The temperature is creeping up as we fly down. 25, 28, 30, 35 degrees.
Lunch is hastily consumed out of the 1330 cooler box. I’m trying to enjoy the sunshine and relax with the girls. There is an air of excitement and achievement in the air after 4 days of col conquering; smashing expectations and pushing our lungs. But I can’t concentrate. The familiar voice of doubt starts to chatter, quietly at first and then louder, until it’s all I can hear. I decide to push off and start the second – steeper – ascent from the south side. Tim – patience of a saint, jokes of a dad – has volunteered to ride up with me. Oh, my God, it is hotter than hell. And steep. The first few km are relentlessly 9 and 10%. After about 20 minutes of climbing I can bear the sound of my disc brake rubbing no more and we stop to sort the mechanical. I see the other girls ascending, gaining time, and one by one they pass. My doubt-ometer is by this stage off the charts and all I can think is how much less fit and how much fatter I am since my glory* days of stage race mountain climbing two years ago.
“I’m not sure I can do this” I whine anxiously to the ever patient, ever chirpy Tim. “Just see how you go” is his reply. And with that, and a “pro” push to get me started again, we attempt the remaining 10 or so km of the Iseran.
It is at this point in a motivational story that I would like to be able to offer an inspirational montage of good humoured suffering, a second wind, and a glorious push to the summit.
It. Was. A. Sufferfest. There were points I thought I was track-standing I was going so slowly. Doubtometer voice was screaming only marginally louder than Tim’s Rob Brydon impressions and I was in a serious world of pain. The mountain is stunningly beautiful but I couldn’t appreciate it. Even the flatter bit was ruined by a headwind. And then I saw the final 2km sign. Something clicked. I remembered why I ride. I started cycling after my mum died and I found a release from the pain in my head by emptying my legs on the road. It was a way of releasing the loss and it’s taken me to new (literal) heights. It’s brought me new friends, it’s brought me love, and it’s brought me back to life (although sometimes after breaking me right down first). And I ride because I can. Because my legs will carry me wherever my head allows them to and because I am stronger with every pedal stroke.
One km to go. I can do this. My legs felt empty but my head felt strong. There was no way this mountain was going to beat me. Then the summit. There were tears (I take pride in making grown men cry) and there was a new resolve inside.
It wasn’t pretty, and it wasn’t fast and it wasn’t even the longest or the toughest ride I’ve done but the feeling of achievement after those 1 and a half hours of pure suffering was something completely new.
This is why we ride.
*disclaimer – glory is all relative and it wasn’t as if I was Lizzie Deignan or Emma Pooley at any point in my cycling life.