Report of the Forest’Cime, a 3 days ultra cycling challenge: 450km with 9000m of climbing, with each day a timed climb for the ranking.
Day 1. 90km down, 40km to go. I’m just taking a bite of a potato and Morbier cheese – local products that the French organization serves us 👌 – in an attempt to repatriate my legs when the American girl with the bleeched teeth comes up to me. I have to put on my sunglasses when she smiles. She says: “Hey you! Aah are you a girl?! I thought you were a man!”
It’s OK if you don’t recognize me at first sight as a girl. To be honest I’m kind of proud of my muscled legs. But there is no need to explicitly mention it into my face. I’m doing my best to look elegant; I pulled my pony tail carefully through the hole at the back of my helmet, I polished my nails and I’m even wearing a pink jersey.
I laugh a like a farmer with a sore mouth and I dont know what to say. She seems to interpret my silence as a request for further explanation 🤷🏼♀️. So she continues: “You know. It’s like. When you passed me on the climb I thought like: ‘Okay I can let go of him, its not a female competitor anyway’ .”
My prayers are heard when Bram rescues me from this awkward conversation. He is about to leave the aid station, trying to catch up with the men who just dropped him on the climb.
The teeth keep on talking. “I think it was because of your height, and also your …”. “Speed? Bike? Lack of cellulite as opposed to your legs?” – some bright replies occur to me now but at that time I just wanted to leave. So before she finishes her sentence I’m already back on the saddle. Trying to hold on to Bram. His pace is uncomfortably fast but I’m willing to blow up my legs as long as the bleeched teeth dont steal my slipstream.
Before he disappears at the horizon, Taxi Bram delivers me at another cycling group, led by a French woman. She directly recognises me as a fellow female, we chat about cycle gear and compliment each other‘s legs and pace. There is space for female friendships here 🙏🏻.
Without making it to the podium today, the bleeched teeth, my french friend and myself receive an applause at the awards ceremony, as all women are giving an applause for participating. Again I smile like a farmer with a sore mouth. I dont know whether I’m happy or insulted with this form of positive discrimination.
Day 2. 165km with 3400m of climbing. Stunning hot conditions.
The reason I personally went to the mechanicers of the Canyon Factor in Koblenz, to let them put 34/50* on my bike, is on the agenda: the Col du Grand Colombier. It’s one of the spectacular climbs of the Tour de France.
The last time we did this climb, my Strava switched to auto pauze and I had to cry. Partially because I was one of last ones reaching the summit.
I clearly remember what fellow Ironman Klaas screamed to me here while passing me on his TT bike: “You should have brought lighter gear”. Back then, I didnt even had enough oxygen to confirm that.
This year, with cadence 90, I take over Klaas. Klaas wouldn’t be Klaas if he didn’t had something to comment on again. “What a choice of wheels! Way too heavy”. I know he is right but I try to not look annoyed. I just bought this set of FFWD carbon wheels with 6cm rims, which are slightly heavy for climbing. But I think they look very cool and I just want to use them for the sake of it.
Klaas sticks to my rear wheel. Ow men. I dont want to make this a race. But even more so I do not want Klaas to be right again. So I shift up. By now, I must be pedaling on the same heavyness like my 39 front and 25 back gear like last time**. And it hurts. But my GPS doesn’t auto pauze and after a few km’s Klaas is left behind. I catch up on Gerard and I even dont have to cry at the summit 🤙🏻.
The downside of going flat out on the Grand Colombier with 33 degrees Celcius is that my intestines switch to Ironman mode. As in: the cheese and potatos don’t make it to my blood. They take a shortcut upwards towards the asphalt instead.
Meanwhile, artistic patterns of salt crystals accumulate on my clothes. After 6 hours I’ve got a Van Gogh landscape of salts on my bib shorts. But it still doesnt ring a bell. Only when I reach the finish, dismount my bike and have a fainting Kona-feeling again I realize I’m dehydrated whilst not noting it. And this may have been happening at some of my Ironmans too. Lessons are better learned late than never.
The last competitors reach the finish line 4 hours later. Some need to be taken for medical examination. So for safety reasons the organization decides to shorten the course of the last day.
Day 3. 120km with 1800m climbing but also 2200m descending.
Starting with a long descent on ‘gravillons’ roads, my brake pads scream like hungry babies when they hit the rims. It scares the shit out of me so I stop to see what the problem is. The brakes and brake pads look fine though. I dont want to die so I continue turtle-style downhill waking up the entire departement of the Jura, including the Swiss neighbouring region, towards the Col de Faucille, which is the last challenge waiting for us.
By its name I expect it to be easy. After 2k Matty Matintho passes me. It is impressive to see the ease with which he pedals through this event: he just finished Ironman Nice 6 days earlier. “Come girl, stick along”. This works likes a red flag for me and so I shift up and tell my legs to shut up and push.
I’ve never seen so little of the views during a climb. I don’t allow myself to leave more than 20cm between Matty and me. I think I may apply for a PhD in outer tubes as I know every micrometer of the rubber by now. Matty’s pace is above what I would consider do-able for me. Although I still dont make the climb ranking today, the satisfaction at the summit is huge. It is excellent for my “failing is better than what if” mindset Ive been focusing on lately.
At the top I really want to check my brakes again. There is a Belgium/Dutch train of men waiting for me and it would be a pity to miss this downhill experience due to poor brakes. I take off one shoe, pull out my sock, push it against the rim and spin the wheel. A black syrup of dirt draws a couple of stripes on the white cotton. 🧐
I dont know where that mucus came from on these new wheels, but I do know that removing it just saved my day. If not my life. I mount the train and fly to the finish, where showers and meals are waiting for us.
Together with all the other participants we give a standing ovation for the volunteers. This adorable group of french pensionado’s have thought of every detail you can imagine, making it one of the best organized event I ever attended.
We plan on leaving to our next destination after our friend Meindert received the 3rd prize – a bag full of local products, such as the cheeses that were handed out at the aid stations, sunglasses, a jumper and a locally brewed beer👌- when I hear something like “Ploeny Oisjtman”. Huh!? 🤔
Apparently sticking to Bram and Matty pays off and gives me a third place overall. Nice! All supermarchés are closed but we have food at the campsite tonight!
*This is the amount of “tandjes”/“teeth” on your front blade and impacts on how tough it is to spin your wheels. The smaller the number, the lighter.
** 39 as smallest blade at front is pretty common for pro cyclists. Here, 25 denotes the number of tandjes on the rear cassette. The higher the number here, the lighter. This year I put 28 as lightest gear.