L’Etape du Tour – 8st July 2018
Race Reporters: James & Luca
If after I move away from France, someone were to ask me “what things will you take away with you?” my response would be – appreciation of good bread and cheese, the importance of a decent lunch break and a passion for road cycling. Over the last few years living in Paris, I’ve gone from someone who’d never cycled in lycra or clipless pedals, to one who loves nothing more than a long all-day summer ride, with as much elevation as possible. For anyone like that, the idea of putting yourself in the place of a grand tour professional cyclist becomes irresistible – and taking part in l’étape du tour makes this become a reality. The event had been highly recommended to me for a couple of years, and this time I felt ready to put myself in for the challenge.
This year’s étape was stage 10 of the tour de France (https://www.letour.fr/en/stage-10); the first mountain stage on the tour, where the GC riders would really start to push for their place in the maillot jaune. A parcours of 169km between Annecy and le Grand-Bornand, with 3 category 1 climbs (Cols de la Croix Fry, de Romme & de la Colombiere) and 1 hors-categorie climb at Plateau des Glieres; a 7km stretch at an average gradient of 11%, finishing on a 1.5km gravel section – easy peasy! Well, the distance we knew would be no real problem, but a total of 4000m D+ climbing did, to be totally honest, have me slightly scared.
My training included a couple of other cyclo-sportives – la Provençale St. Victoire (Aix en Provence) and The Smuggler (Exmoor, UK) which I think were very good preparation both physically and mentally. The most important thing in my opinion is to find longer climbs, 5km or more, choose a gear you can continually pedal and get used to riding that for long periods of time. For time-trialling triathletes, getting accustomed to riding slowly but consistently does not necessarily come naturally – to give some idea, on climbs over about 10% gradient, 10km/h became my ‘fast’ pace.
The race day itself went smoothly – we were organised into our starting sas well in advance and at 7.30am we passed the start line. In total about 15000 riders took part, making the opening stretch somewhat crowded. There was about 30 steady kilometres until the first col – pacing the day was also very important with such a big effort, and this we seemed to manage quite well throughout. The descent from la Croix Fry brought us along the gorge until the turn up to the Plateau des Glieres – the climb was hard, but manageable and I was thankful for the 32-tooth cassette I had especially changed over to for this ride. Despite some larger stones, the gravel section itself presented no real difficulties. On the descent from Glieres, as on almost all the descents, there had been a crash. However, this one was being attended to by helicopter, meaning I had to cycle through its down-draft – quite an unnerving feeling to say the least!
Before the last two climbs came around 35km of relatively flat roads; at a pre-race briefing it was advised to cycle in peloton during this section to preserve energy. Luckily we found a small group of similar speed riders doing just this and progressed well over that section feeling more or less ready, after some refuelling, for the final climbs of the day. The cols de Romme and de la Colombiere were somewhat more forgiving in terms of gradient (8.5% average), but with fatigue setting in, felt to grow longer and longer as I went about ascending. The last 2-3km of la Colombiere were particularly hard in that the summit is already visible, but as you pedal away, never seems to get any closer! Yet with some sweat and perseverance, we made it to the top. From that picturesque peak, only a breath-taking 15km downhill section of virages separated us from the sight of the finish line, the cheering crowds and even Didi the Devil (yes – this guy: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Didi_Senft); for those few moments the ‘pro’ feeling was really tangible.
As an event for cycling enthusiasts, I agree this is an incredible, must-do event – it sells out within days so sign up as soon as it opens to avoid disappointment. The organisation was excellent, with plenty of information, ravitaillements, mechanical aid, signage etc. Our total time – 8h31 including about 40 minutes over 5-6 regular stops to refuel and rehydrate. I’ll now be watching with interest to see how quickly Froome, Bardet, Quintana and company can overcome this incredibly tough stage – I simply cannot imagine how those guys do this every day to earn a living!
(Photos CC-BY from https://www.instagram.com/obsessive.creativity/)