Gurt Big Hills

Having done my little jaunt across the Pyrenees this summer, I have a renewed respect for mountains. Not the changeable weather, or the twists and turns, but just the sheer bulk of them. They’re just big, hulking brutes that tower into the sky, and the scale of them is hard to appreciate. The first time I did the Etape Du Tour, in about 2001, I wasn’t ready for the scale of it all and thought I could bluff my way through the event – as I do at most mountain bike races. In a mountain bike race, you can be slow and unfit, but you’ll usually still finish – and in good company too. The French mountains though, are more heartless than that and, after blowing myself into little pieces on the 18km long Col De Tourmalet, I was forced to realise that a mountain of such magnitude is usually going to involve two or three hours doing nothing but climbing uphill.

The Tourmalet - conquered in one piece this time (and in much better weather)

The Tourmalet - conquered in one piece this time (and in much better weather)

The following year I returned to the Etape with a new-found humility and respect for the mountains. I finished. Not spectacularly, but I did finish.

In a cloud on the Spanish/French border. Im happier than I look.

In a cloud on the Spanish/French border. I'm happier than I look.

The moment you get to the top of such a climb, though, everything is forgotten about the pain and the sweat as you zip up your jersey, snick the gears into the big ring and hang on – while remembering to keep your grinning teeth shut in case you run into a wasp… Despite the hour or two you’ve spent climbing the other side, the thought is always the same on the descent ‘Ooh, this looks steep, I wouldn’t fancy climbing up this’ – despite having done just that on the other side. It’s funny how quickly you forget.