A Steady Diet of 9% – Part 4

Planes, Trains, Automobiles, Slug, and QOM Hunting with GFNY Champ Jill Patterson, — The GFNY Lourdes Tourmalet Experience

Race Day — Col du Tourmalet

Let me split this for you into two bits. I will go back and forth as my experience was different from my fellow travelers. With an admission of full-body fatigue that started prior to the GFNY NYC World Championship, my work life, personal life, and athletic life — they were all fighting for my attention. The athletic life is the easiest cut in any scenario where a choice needs to be made, and so my training was not where I would have wanted it to be to do the full course. On the train ride from Paris, I received a text from Uli.

“Dialed in for the medium”.

“Yes, until I am filled with false self-confidence during the group rides”. (I wouldn’t be).

Uli took the opportunity to remind me that the medium course in this case was the original full monty for the race. After hearing from many that a longer course was more desirable, the distance and climbing were doubled to include Col d’Aspin, and a lead-in to Col d’Aspin that was described by everyone I talked to as “brutal”. Coming into GFNY La Vaujany in 2021 I was much more fit, much more ready, and it still took me over 8:40 to finish it. The fact is, if you are not climbing like this all the time, there is very little that can get you ready for the mental and physical commitment you need to make to suffering. Given my time at GFNY Cannes (slower than I had hoped), and my cutoff at GFNY NYC World Championship, I had yet to ride a full 160km (100 miles) in 2022. Today would not be the right day to try that. Not with 4000 meters (12,000 feet) of climbing. It was a recipe for disaster, and so I resigned myself to the medium distance with the hope that I could make the best of it.

The last text from Uli simply read “you still get the Tourmalet and 2000+ meters of climbing”. This was no joke. 2000 meters is a lot on a great day in normal cycling terms, and I had not done that since March in Cannes.


Meanwhile, Up the Road

Meanwhile, up the road, Jill and Matthias started out with the front groups and were able to follow the wheels to the course split about 25km into the course. This is where the fun began. With the small and steady Col du Bidalet in the rear view, they started up one of the more challenging pieces of the road on the long course. Jill and Matthias ran into several steep walls and a whole lot of climbing for about 20km before hitting the Col d’Aspin, one of the signature climbs in the race. This is where the field “shattered” to use their words. Staying with Jill for as long as he could, Matthias made sure to let her know that as far as the women’s field was concerned, she was completely alone.

Matthias began his own race against the clock here as Jill commenced her run for the podium. Once again, taking nothing for granted she pressed herself through the most difficult parts and onto Col d’Aspin looking to recover prior to hitting the Tourmalet.

Meanwhile, Off the Back

Confident that I was dead last in the medium field, several riders passed me with wide smiles. For sure, I thought, they are thinking “well at least he is last now”. But somehow I was doing a little better than I thought as I approached the split and then on to where the more subtle climbing began in approaching the Col du Tourmalet. This was a scenic ride through and through, and knowing that I would slow down on the climb I did my best to keep a steady pace and apply a little time trialing know-how to the flat sections. I was passing some riders here and there, and so actually began to regain a little confidence. There was no pressure on, no clock to beat, no sweep vehicle to outrun. It was just me and the Tourmalet. Meeting several friends along the way, I stopped for a photo at the base to mark the occasion. I would do my best to not stop again until the summit, and I do mean the summit.

I was now on to the climb, and feeling great bout it. I knew that when my odometer read 51km I would be at the top, and halfway to the finish, the suffering behind me.


Meanwhile, Up the Road

And so alone, the Champ faced the sheep. Held off from descending the Col du Tourmalet as an entire flock of sheep decided to take their lunchtime constitutional. With no pressure from the field, Jill took her time getting past the sheep (with a fabulous video of the crossing) and began the descent. The storm was rolling in and the first bits of the Tourmalet descent was fairly technical. Getting down to a safe spot would ward off getting cold and allow her to keep her momentum into the finish, working with other racers she met along the way.

Meanwhile, Off the Back

To a champion such as Jill, the climb is the climb. Sometimes it’s a little harder, sometimes it’s a little easier, but it’s always what’s expected. Uphill, until it’s downhill. Back off when you need to, pound it out when you can.

I tried to take the “pound it out when you can” approach to the early kilometers on the Tourmalet. Fairly easy until about 13 kilometers to go, and it allowed me to make a little time, and maybe get a little ahead of myself in predicting how fast I could finish. At 18km and 8.5% on average, the East side of the Col du Tourmalet was as difficult a climb as I have ever experienced. Long enough, steep enough, technical enough. The elements played a role here as I got into the steady diet of 9–9.5%. At one point so frustrated by the grade continually being reported by the road signs as 9.5%, I finally thought “why do you have these damn signs, why not one big sign that says “hey Langsamer — it’s 9.5% the WHOLE WAY”. But it wasn’t. After 5km — 6km of 9% it finally began to relent.

But as it relented two distinct senses arrived. The beauty, and the approaching weather. While difficult, Col du Tourmalet near the top was also one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen. Pushing past the ski stations and hotels at Mongie, the raw beauty of the Pyrenees was suddenly on full display in cinemascope. I could see the GFNY banners at the summit. I wasn’t far. As experienced on past climbing adventures, seeing the top means you are closer than you think, even though it appears to be light-years away.

But with the wind in my face, it was hard to believe. I had to finally, reluctantly, put a foot down to zip the vest. The wind was aggressive and fighting me in my battle to the top, and then, as fast as it came, the wind was at my back via the next turn. Pushing me up the next segment, I realized it would be to my side next, and then my back, and then my side. With 500 meters to the summit, the names of pros scrawled and painted on the road provided some entertainment to keep my legs motivated. I was finally approaching the banners when I asked one of the team. “Ou es le sommet?” (Where is the summit — I was thinking this was maybe a little short). “Voila” he replied as he pointed. I stood up and took the last 80 meters to the summit. Stopping at the sign, I took a few photos. The sign was small, covered in stickers. I went back to the aid station for a Coke before descending.


Meanwhile, Up the Road

At this point because of the course differences, I didn’t realize, that Jill was actually behind me coming up the climb. As if watching a Christopher Nolan movie we were in parallel flashback scenes. But I didn’t realize it until I descended. As I descended, I got to the second or third turn hearing a moto with a siren. He passed me and waved a flag. The lead rider then passed me as if I were standing still. I expected more, and so hugged the right side of the road fearing that I would be interfering with the race. But the field, as reported earlier, was shattered. I finally reached a bend with parked cars, and thought about pulling off. Just then I looked up the mountain and didn’t see a large field coming, so I pressed on. Shortly thereafter, Cedric passed in the director’s car “Allez, Allez” — as he passed. Along with, I think, two more riders vying for top spots.

Jill was likely about to get started on the battle of the sheep.

Meanwhile, Off the Back

The clouds were getting darker, the roads wider, me faster. I was gaining confidence, and as I was soaked with welcome rain (now that I was at the foot of the descent), I tried to make up time on the long road back to Lourdes. With some twists and turns, some kickers, and some very anxious riders passing me for placement in the long course, I finally arrived at the finish line.

Meanwhile, Up the Road

About 15 minutes later, Jill rolled in. The undisputed champ of GFNY Lourdes Tourmalet she had earned another jersey and another top step. She came prepared, respected the field, did the work, and earned the finish. It was a joy to watch!




It was time to pack and leave France. On Monday morning the three of us had breakfast and discussed the race. It was time to make a fast exit to the fast train. On to Paris. It would be a long day of trains, finding hotels, and making arrangements to get to the airport the next day. The Fear of Missing Out growing with each step toward Paris was quickly eclipsed by the joy of knowing I would soon be sleeping in my own bed for the first time in roughly three weeks. Whatever GFNY La Vaujany might have held, it was better to be home. And soon, I hope, back to Florida, running and cycling, and next year, France again if all goes well, and who knows what else. By making it to GFNY Cannes, and combining it with GFNY Lourdes Tourmalet, I filled my French soul for now and created a custom GFNY French Double.





Worth noting that Jill managed a clean sweep of both of her French races. We are so proud of you champ! Thanks for taking me along for the ride!

And to all on the amazing GFNY France team — MERCI BEAUCOUP!