1. The bloke with one leg. No prosthesis, just the one leg. Pedalling away merrily up the climbs, in his Credit Mutuel-sponsored kit, and telling his mate not to got too hard. His mate’s reply was that he’d only catch him later because he descended “like a madman”. He certainly did from what I saw as I tried to follow him down one of the mountains.
2. Melted asphalt like black treacle. Smeared all over the Port de Bales road on the way up, sticking me to the road, making a mess of my front tyre to the point that it wouldn’t roll properly at low speed.
3. My front wheel rubbing. It was fine before I went out to France but as soon as I assembled the bike there were problems that I thought were fixed until the start. I might have gone a bit quicker without the drag it caused and my front fork might be in a better state still.
4. The descent of Port de Bales. Narrow at the top with no barriers on the corners. Because what you really need as you hurtle into a corner at speed is the knowledge that if it goes tits up there’s only the horizon to stop your fall down the mountain.
5. Time disappearing in the turn of a pedal stroke. Minutes to drag the bike a matter of a few hundred metres. Climbing so slowly I was barely moving.
6. The cowbells. Either being rung old-skool style by roadside fans or clanking on yer actual cows. The latter went from being “soothing alpine sounds” to “death march to the summit” over the course of at least two of the climbs.