Saturday 5pm........last stop of the day, legs have just about had it, struggle to dismount, collapse in a cafe, everyone is shattered but it's Graeme's round and the waitress sure looks pretty, so everyone is smiling, life is sweet. A few minutes later we are back to it, no easy finish to this week. My legs are on fire after beasting the Redoute, Stockeu and the Cote de la Roche aux Faucons earlier in the day. I have already emptied the tank and given everything on those earlier climbs, especially after being inspired by seeing the Schlecks, Contador et al earlier in the week. (Phil certainly knows how to design the perfect training week).
I scrabble for a banana but around the corner, another climb. Choking on the banana, i'm weaving across the road, trying to breathe, trying to force the power out. Tim is getting a gap, got to finish this damn banana and chase him. Got to catch up, come on legs 124 miles done only another 19 miles to go, speed picking up again. Closing, but body is tired after pushing it hard for 7 days through the relentless climbs of the Ardennes, (for the last time - southern belgium is not flat, the climbs are called 'walls' for a reason!). Pushing, pushing, "shut up legs". A woman walks out in front of me, I hit her hard, I can barely speak, she is so sympathetic and sorry but it must of hurt her. Instantly the precious little french I know has gone, all I can mutter is "i'm am sorry, are you ok? are you ok?, merci, merci, merci", but the Belgium people love cyclists, she is ok, she cheers me on. Back to chasing Tim, trying to find power up another gradient, the garmin now reads over 4000m of ascent for today. I pull along side him, he's in severe pain with tooth ache but he's not complaining, it hasn't slowed him down, he's solid as a rock. Suddenly the legs are ok, suddenly the grimace has turned to a smile. We ride the last couple of miles together, I'm so lucky to have a best mate so strong and so loyal.
Our guide and mentor Phil leads the others in, where does he get the power from? . I hardly saw him eat anything all week, I had all the pain au chocolat! It must be his ethos that drives him! It's certainly been a much easier job for us, knowing Claire has been busy all day preparing excellent food required to keep us all on the road. We have been very spoilt! Dave rolls past, he's been carrying an injury but still toughed it all out, he's been keeping the local pharmacies in business and despite the injury it's clear he has improved as a rider since I first met him at last year's cent cols. Graeme's in with his ox like strength and bullet like descending skills (he's dropped like a stone past me on many of the descents). We hear Jo has done 140 miles today also, despite her achilles problems, with that endurance and courage her american/alpine aim for this year is well within her grasp. The relief on Paul's face tells it all, he's been yo-yoing from, stubbornly pushing through an injury, to flooring it at the front with others desperate to keep his wheel. Thoughts turn to Brett and Rob, the group certainly missed them for the last few days, it made sharing the pace that little bit harder! Big Joe weighs in, he's lost a spoke, he doesn't care, he's smiling, he's 'made history', looks like he's had one of the best weeks training of his life. Looks like we all have.