Evergreen Ireland captain Rory Best has been hailed for producing the best rugby of his career ahead of his 100th cap.The 34-year-old hooker might be Irelands elder statesman but continues to scale new heights, according to flanker Josh van der Flier. Ulster stalwart Best should become just Irelands fifth player to win 100 caps in Saturdays Test with Australia at Dublins Aviva Stadium.Best will join Brian ODriscoll, Ronan OGara, Paul OConnell and John Hayes in the century club, amid a ringing endorsement of his enduring qualities.Van der Flier said: Rorys brilliant. He just seems to be getting better and better with age, it doesnt seem to bother him at all. It looks like hes playing the best rugby of his career. Hes a brilliant leader, a great captain; I love playing under him.You can see in the way we play how much he inspires us. Hes an excellent speaker, hes very good at motivating us as players, and the most important thing is that he delivers on the pitch. Thats what counts most, and hes a great leader.Fast-improving Leinster flanker van der Flier demonstrated his Test suitability with another potent display despite Irelands 21-9 defeat to New Zealand on Saturday. The 23-year-old back-rower slotted in after CJ Stander suffered a head injury, and stood out for his aggressive line-breaking abilities.The four-cap loose forward will be in the frame to start against Australia on Saturday, and expects another canny build-up from captain Best. Best has at times been seen to step back and allow fellow senior stars to produce telling team-talks, to mix up his captaincy approach around his own tub-thumping rhetoric.Van der Flier admitted that flexibility is greatly appreciated among Joe Schmidts Test squad.Sometimes as a captain other senior players will do all the talking and all Rory needs to say is thats it lads, lets go, said Van der Flier. Sometimes its that but also at other times well need a good talking-to. 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But for me, it meant biking through the French Pyrenees in a week-long race, taking in the famous climbs of the Tour de France with 400 others.It was agonizingly difficult, one steep, grueling mountain road after another. But it was also wonderful.The event was part of the Haute Route series, billed as the highest, toughest and most prestigious amateur cycling events in the world. The events take place annually in the French Pyrenees, French Alps and Italian Dolomites. A U.S. event is planned for the Rocky Mountains in June 2017.Haute Route events attract cycling-crazy folks from around the world of all ages and abilities. At the sharp end of the stick are aspiring or retired professionals, in the middle are fit cycling enthusiasts like me and at the bottom are people who signed up on a whim and may be regretting it. Some brave souls do all three European events, back to back, the so-called triple crown.My August trip to southwestern France was a 50th birthday present from my wife. I met up for the race with a friend, Paul ODonnell, also turning 50. Both of us race bikes regularly in the New York area and are, for our ages, very fit. This was to be a stiff test of our abilities: 500 miles (800 kilometers) with 65,000-plus feet (20,000-plus meters) of climbing. Each day wed burn 4,000 to 5,000 calories.The event began in Anglet in rainy weather. Then we hit the first major uphill of the day, the Col dAhusquy, a steep 8-mile (13-kilometer) ascent. Id never been on a climb this long and difficult before and found myself breathless and exhausted halfway up, wondering what Id gotten myself into.A quick pause and it was down the other side toward the days second and final climb, the Pierre St. Martin, a 10-mile (16-kilometer) climb through heavy fog, with visibility dropping to about 20 meters (65 feet), a blessing because you couldnt see the long series of switchbacks coming. It was quiet for long stretches but for the whirring of bikes and the riders breathing, with cowbells softly tinkling in the distance. A car or motorcycle engine would come and go and then you could focus on your own engine again -- heart, lungs, legs.Day two saw four climbs, all hard and long, with the Col DAubisque the killer, on and on (and then on some more) for 10 miles (17 kilometers). Exhausted, rationing water, stuffing down energy gels, controlling the breathing, I tried to focus. Sweat dripped into my eyes, stinging me onto another pedal stroke, and then another.Some might call it suffering, but for me it was cleansing, liberating, nothhing but effort and the road ahead.dddddddddddd The mind? Circling the wheel, wondering what was to come. And then I passed a one-legged, one-handed man on his bike, also making his way up. Hes Christian Haettich, a regular, who lost his leg and hand in a traffic accident as an adolescent and yet hes chugging away on some of the toughest climbs in Europe.At the top, the landscape was astonishing, massive mountains upholstered in green grass and trees like giant sleeping ogres. The Pyrenees, where Iberia smashes slowly into France.Dropping down like a marble, through tunnels bored through the rock, we descended into the valley. Cows lay nonchalantly by the roadside, big metal bells around their necks, a few pigs too and some sheep, guarded by large mountain dogs. We were warned not to approach the sheep lest the dogs mistake us for wolves and attack, as had apparently happened in previous years.And then to the base of the days final climb, the Col de Spandelles, just 6 miles (10 kilometers) long but with steeply graded ramps. Small groups of curious bystanders would form by the road, some clapping, some cheering us on.We went through the legendary Tourmalet climb, scene of epic battles in Tour de France races. Drink, drink, sweat, sweat and drink some more. More switchbacks, focus, OK, half a mile (1 kilometer) to go, pushing a bit harder and onwards, up and then down through majestic scenery, but always keeping an eye on the clock. Each day had a time cut off and if you didnt make it, youd be eliminated from the timed event and escorted to the broom wagon for a ride to the finish. The next day you could continue at your own pace, no longer timed.The final day was a mere 105 miles (169 kilometers), just one major climb and then mostly downhill through rolling farmland into Toulouse. And then it was over. We got our participant medals, then celebrated with pizza, soft drinks and later in Toulouse, a beer or two.Reflecting on the week, each day had seemed as punishing as the next, my whole body a slippery sinew of muscle turning and turning. But Id gradually adjusted to the effort, the fitness kicking in. What seemed like misery in the moment felt like triumph looking back. But would I trade a beach vacation for a week of pushing uphill again?Absolutely.---If You Go...HAUTE ROUTE: http://www.hauteroute.org . Event organizers can handle hotels, meals and other logistics for participants. Punto Tours -- https://puntotours.com/ -- offers a more upscale experience with personalized support. 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