|the real Alpe D'Huez|
We decided to reconnoitre the last few miles of route 36, as the last time they were under cosntruction. All appeared well, with a good surface and wide shoulder so we parked up and got ready. It was cold enough to wear some extra gear, but as always there's a price to be paid if you overdo it - having to strip off at some point and then lug everything back. I opted for arm warmers, Kevin put on some light tights and off we rolled.
The Mexican Truck lives on, but its days are numbered - Kevin was in Colorado recently and took the opportunity to rent a nice Cervelo carbon bike for a 35 mile spin. He was pleasantly surprised and impressed by the bike's rigidity and sure-footedness on the descents, never his favourite road profile. Won't be long before he comes to the Dark Side with the rest of us fallen road-racer wannabees.
By coincidence there was an organised ride that morning but they had started earlier, and we soon found ourselves riding through the tail-end Charlies. I felt a bit sorry for them - many looked like they had just taken up riding and they had chosen a cold, windy day, hopefully they wouldn't be deterred by the experience.
Kevin was as strong as ever on the climbs. I kept with him on a few but mostly dropped back, but he was good enough to wait for me - and he doesn't quite know the route yet anyway.
We got to San Bernardo and took a quick break by the Feed Store. The organised ride split here, with a short route heading north towards Cat Spring and the longer routes going south to God knows where, I-10 probably. Our route took us straight over into the Back Country, but we took advantage of the Cops patrolling the intersection for the organised ride to get us across.
This part of the ride is the most scenic - large farms, rolling fields, cows and birds. Unfortunately it's also the first time that the route runs north and we began to feel the wind when we made turns, especially when they were at the bottom of climbs.
Somewhere along this stretch we got chased by an evil black dog, who was clearly out for blood. Most dogs start barking when they see you and keep it up during the chase - they're really only looking for a run. This hell-hound kept his mouth shut and was inches away from my left foot when Kevin spotted him and shouted a warning. We hit the gas and left the mutt behind - and then just when my heart rate was getting back to normal a couple of yay-hoos in a truck powered past, half on the road and half on the shoulder.
We reached the intersection with the Cat Spring road, where there was another Cop getting riders across. Once again we were going against the flow and we had a laugh with the Cop about being rebels. The next few miles were dead into the wind and we tried to form a paceline, but Kevin dropped me on the climbs so it was hard to be efficient.
Into Cat Spring and I was feeling pretty good under the circumstances, but a quick break at a country store before the big climbs made sense. We stopped here last time, it's like something out of Mayberry, with cheerful (but incomprehensible!) old codgers having coffee and an irascible lady making chili.
Off again into the hills. The first climb was straight into the wind and I had to get onto my middle chain ring straight away. As we got further into this section, I usually pulled ahead of Kevin on the descents (he's not a great descender) only to have him blow by on the climbs, spinning at about 110 rpm. On one particularly evil double climb I had to go to my granny ring and he pulled well clear, still only on his middle ring.
We got to the end of the hilly section and reached the northernmost point of the ride. I was actually feeling pretty good, considering that I don't usually attempt the Sealy ride until well into the training season. We made the turn onto route 36 and immediately felt the tail wind. Coupled with a much smoother road surface, we had a blissful run all the way back, hitting 30 mph at one point. True to form, Kevin actually rode faster on this flat than he did on any of the descents!