Back in August, BikeRadar Training member Kirsty took on the Rapha Cent Cols Challenge, which involves climbing 100 cols in 10 days. That’s approximately 200km per day with an average of 4,500m of ascension on each stage.
Here, we catch up with her to see how she found the experience. If she leaves you feeling inspired, why not sign up for a similar challenge? BikeRadar Training is designed to help you prepare for trials just like the Cent Cols, so sign up for free and read on…
Saddle sore survivor
“Now, I didn’t have any misconceptions about how hard this challenge was going to be. Heck, that’s one of the reasons I signed up for it. But it was the mental challenge I wasn’t prepared for, and how exhausting it was going to be. Little did I know that the biggest trial of my trip wasn’t going to be my fitness letting me down but a little matter of a blister the size of a milk bottle top, on my bottom. It developed on the second day, and it was the blight of my week.
After I met the guys (I was the only woman) we all settled into a daily routine with ease, and all seemed to be enjoying ourselves. Up until day seven, when it all became more about mind over matter for me, and went a bit ‘Pete Tong’.
After taking a tumble and fighting savage winds, I finally dribbled into Bédoin from Palud sur Verdon – a 233km, 3,498m climbing stage – with a by-now open sore on one bottom cheek, road rash on the other and a pulled hamstring. Not the best state to be in for the biggest day of the trip – day eight.
Day eight is the day that sticks in my mind the most. It was wonderful and harrowing at the same time. Riding from Bédoin to Vassieux en Vercors, we took in 14 cols, 205km and 4,800m of climbing.
This was Mont Ventoux day! Although it’s nicknamed the ‘windy mountain’, the weather was perfect. The beginning of this climb goes through beautiful woodlands before you’re exposed to the magnificent, moon-like landscape, reach the summit and are rewarded with the most breathtaking views. The mountain doesn’t disappoint.
Sommet mont ventoux: sommet mont ventoux Kirsty Harries
After riding through stunning valleys and covering several peaks before reaching the Col de Pennes, my now very sore hamstring was starting to seize up. The climb was hot and relentless, with temperatures reaching over 41 degrees (I found out later). By the time I’dd reached the top I’d pretty much smashed my left hamstring. I could bear no weight on the pedal, making descending difficult, and on the flats I had no speed to make up the distance between climbs.
I knew then that the last 50km was going to take me a very long time. I reached the last ascent of the day, a 15km climb up the Col de Rousset with a gradient averaging five or six percent, and found myself with event organiser Phil Deeker and four other members of the gang.
It was getting dark as we were reaching the top, and the boys could have ridden ahead to the hotel, but instead they stuck by me and got me through to the end. By the time we reached the hotel, I couldn’t stand on my left leg. It was looking very unlikely that I was going to be able to continue the remaining two days, but by the next morning I managed to get into my kit and head down to breakfast.
After treatment, kinetic tape, drugs and a few encouraging words from Phil, I somehow got back on my bike, dug very, very deep and pulled it off. The remaining days weren’t about the riding but gritting my teeth and managing the pain to get through it. I’m very proud to say I did it!
I don’t think words can truly reflect how intoxicating this event is. It was born of Phil’s vision and passion for the mountains, and his desire to share that love with like-minded cyclists. I feel honoured to have been part of it and will do the Cent Cols again. I’ve come away feeling stronger, wiser and, yes, newly aware of how stubborn I am. But best of all I’ve made some great friends who I know I’ll ride with again.”