Grand Raid 2018
Another Saturday, another #bike race. My sports focus this spring and summer has predominantly been on road cycling. As I will be participating in the #theridedolomites mid September, my training is very focused on elevation, elevation and elevation. Although a mountainbike race, the distance and elevation do count as well.
In 2017, I started in the Grand Raid but was taken out at Evolène after 92KM as I just missed the time cut off due to a unfortunately planned coffee stop and lack of speed in general. As I was getting back from a knee injury, my fitness level was a bit modest last year.
This made me extra focused to keep a higher speed and cycle far ahead of the time cut offs this year. Which went really well.
The first climb from the start at Place central in Verbier to the top of Croix de Coeur is a serious warm-up before descending into La Tzoumaz. The traverse to Nendaz, Veysonnaz, Les Collons and Heremence is a beautiful ride including some steep sections on fire roads and single trails. At one point we had to ascend the bottom part of the Piste de L’Ours – which most of us know as quite a steep ski race slope. Sun was out, good bunch of people along the route to support, the sound of the occasional Swiss Alpen horn and volunteers at every stop making this race such a great event.
From Hérémence, the route climbs towards the bottom of the climb to Mandelon. The climb out of Hérémence, is followed by a relatively flat section over a wide gravel road – easy does it, you’d say. It’s here where I lost my concentration for a second and slipped of the handlebar which launched me over my handlebars at 24km/h. I landed straight on my left elbow and hip and for a split second I thought my race – and season were over…Typically a fall where you could easily break a collarbone or worse, an elbow. None of this, just a bruised elbow and hip and back on the bike it went.
The climb to the top of Col de Mandelon is long but nice. First 6 kilometers are tarmac changing into a gravel road past the alpage and ending up in a rather technical single trail. First bit went well until I hit the single trail section and had to get of the bike now and then as I’m not known because of my technical biking skills. The downhill into Evolène is long and brought some relief to certain parts of the body, not being my elbow btw..
I took about 1h30mins of my time from last year when I arrived at Evolène which was exactly according to plan. All good.
And then the remainder of the race started. Consider the last 37 kilometres as a separate race. After having done 92 km and just under 4000m elevation, the climb towards Pas de Lona loomed around the corner. 1700m elevation in one go, including a bike push / carry for the last 400m vertical over a steep and rocky single trail. Before getting to L’A Vieille where the bike carry starts, the climb just keeps on going. You pass through tiny little villages which throws you back 50 years in time. Everywhere you ride, there’s people cheering you on. A huge mental help in this phase of the race. I have to admit that I got off the bike twice for a short break to eat and drink something, as I found it too hard to combine riding steep up and eat/drink. At one point I took over some cyclists who were riding their bikes up which proved to me that my strategy of quickly releasing my back by walking up wasn’t that bad.
Right before hitting the last section from L’A Vieille to the summit of Pas de Lona at 2787m, heaven opened its gates which changed the steep and rocky single trail into a steep and rocky mud slide. This did not make pushing my bike up much easier. As my elbow was pretty bruised from the crash, I couldn’t carry my bike on my back, so had to push it straight up for about an hour. This did not necessarily lead to very dark moments, as I was there with some other cyclists who were all going through the exact same mental and physical phase. Shared suffering is less suffering.
During the race, I thought a lot about my fellow Dutchman, #olympicchampion and #hero @maartenvanderweijden. While I was riding the Grand Raid, he swam (!) 163km in one go to raise money for cancer research. It directly put my internal wining into perspective.
Reaching the top of Pas de Lona was a relief, but did not mean I was already there. At 4 degrees C and being soaking wet, it was hard to hold a cup of bouillon, but boy, drinking it felt like angels were peeing on my tongue. Before the start of the final downhill into Grimentz, there was another short but unwelcome climb to be covered. At the top of that climb, the volunteers at the ravitaillement showed the best of their Swissness by offering me a raclette and glass of white. Which I’d have loved to have, but I would not stop until reaching the finish this year! The last 12 kilometers down into Grimentz were quite technical due to steep and rocky sections and therefore not a lot of fun for my elbow. Realising it was only going down and with the finish line in sight, it was a challenge I could bear with. The sheer beauty of the back country between Pas de Lona and the Moiry Glacier put everything into perspective and made me feel a very happy and fortunate person.
With a net time of 10h:40, I spent a significant part of the day on my bike and it was at the finish line that I felt it had not only drained me on a physical level. I could not recall another event where I was a bit teary after reaching the finish. Yes, boys do cry sometimes.
30 years anniversary of the Grand Raid next year. If they tarmac the whole damn route for this special occasion, I might consider to ride it again.