There is nothing like driving past revelers on their way home from a night out as you set off at 5am for a bike race to make you re-evaluate your holiday choices!
Getting an old hand at these European events, but the Etape is still the biggest of them all. The Etape Village is basically a bike show with a lot of bike candy for those with a bulging wallet and money to burn. Sign on all very easy as long as you have your paperwork in order and your medical certificate. You get a rucksack and various bits of tat, this year we got a top tube bag, so if there any triathletes out there who want it let me know 😉
There are 16 start pens for the 15,000 riders, with Pen 0 reserved for the proper racers and the VIP’s and then you are allocated to a start pen on some mysterious French Algorithm. Pen allocation definitely helps to be either French, local or have a previous good time at an Etape. We were all in different pens, so no chance to catch up with anyone on the morning.
It was dark but already 15 degrees at 5:30am when I rode into Pen 1, surrounded by Frenchmen. Then the wait until the start. Bang on 6:30am Pen 0 set off and then we shuffled up and off bang on our allotted 6:37am time as we were waved off by Didi the Devil.
As I predicted, the start was fast, busy and chaotic as we sped out of Annecy and round the lake. There was a lot of street furniture and a lot of riders already jockeying for position and pretty much no group riding discipline! After 2 miles, at 25mph+, there was a traffic island in the middle of the road. The bunch split to avoid it and someone touched the kerb right beside me! How I stayed upright in the melee I will never know, as riders, broken bikes, wheels and contents of pockets spread out over the road with an almighty crash and lots shouting! I came to a stop inches from rolling over the top of someone. The day was already over for a fair few!
So, it was a deep breath and decision to really keep it sensible and safe! The group did split over the next few miles as we swung inland from the lake and over the first two, unnamed, uncategorised hills of the day which were both around 1-2km and 6% long!
Then it was fast blast round to Thones for the first “real” climb of the day.The Col de la Croix Fry is 12Km long and an average of 6.5%, and a climb of 2 halves. A nice steady first section and then a flattish Km through a village before a couple of Kms hit the 9-10% mark before settling down again. Kept it nice and easy, no point blasting it and suffering later. Once over the top, the descent was great (a theme for the day) as we sped down through ski resorts towards Entremont and the next climb. About half way down the descent you pass within 1 mile of the finish, you swing left away from it to start a big hilly loop – just to mess with your mind!
The Montee du Plateau des Glieres is the one all the pre ride chat was about. It is only 6km long but with an average of 11.2%, some ramps way steeper than that and no respite at all. It was brutal and an effort to just slog up without going deep into the red. Again, I tried to keep something back as the last 2 big climbs are not easy. Made it over the top to hit the famous gravel section. Have to say it was nothing to worry about at all. Only 2Kms and surface was not bad at all, the cycle path to Dalwhinnie is way way worse. The descent was pretty technical then opened up before you hit the Col des Fleuries which wasn’t even named on the route map! It is around 5km at 5% average, a bit like Tully and a bit! After what we had just climbed it felt pretty easy and could push on a little. Soon enough it was over and another fast descent into the valley.
Gravel, easy, peasy
There was about 10k of valley up next, so got in a big group as we sped along very nicely. We picked up lots on the way and swelled to 100+ in our peleton. The heat now was building, even though it was still morning! I was now acutely aware I was out of drinks and had not been drinking anywhere near enough! So I stopped at the feed at the end of the valley road, ready for the last 2 climbs.
The Col de Romme was brutal! At 8.8km and 8.9% it was hard going. The Km markers on the road always seemed to say then next Km was 9 or 10%, no respite at all. I was starting to really struggle to keep any kind of pace and ducking across the road to find shade whenever I could. The summit was a long time coming, but we then had a 5km descent to spin the legs out.
As we hit the bottom of the descent, the Col de la Colombiere starts immediately. The last climb of the day, at 7.5km and 8.5% it starts steep and gets steeper as you crawl up it! As soon as it started I got really bad cramp in both quads. I sat up, kneading my thighs as best I could, trying not to stop. It is pretty hard to ease back on a 9% climb, but I tried my best to keep it at bay and after a few minutes it stopped. I kept the pace as slow as I could to try and prevent it coming back. Eventually you hit a straight and you can see the summit, 3Km away in one big soul destroying straight line. It took forever to get there. The last km of climbing and the cramp returned and I pushed through it with gritted teeth to get over the top and the run down to the finish.
The descent to the finish at Grand Bornand was fantastic, fast and not too technical until a few wee switchbacks later on. As you hit the village the road swung to the left and 300 metres to the finish. With the tannoy blaring and the crowd cheering I did my best at a sprint finish! A medal for all my efforts and then wander down to the feed stop to get water and meet up with Lindsay. If you think I had a hard day, try navigating round closed roads and traffic jams to get to the finish to spectate 😊
There was a very neat Etape du Tour tracker app so it was easy to find out where everyone else was on course and catch-up with them once finished. We wandered over to the Pasta Party for some much need food and a celebratory beer and sat in the shade watching the pros ride Le Tour. Caught up with Fraser M, Jamie and Jim F once they were home and tales of suffering aplenty.
Overall another cracking well run event, towns and villages all supportive and cheering you along. If only they ran it in June or September when it’s not as hot, would be much more suitable for us Scots 🙂
The results for Wheelers:
• Graeme C 7:08
• Jerry T 8:18
• Jamie C 8:44
• Jim F 8:47
• Karen K 9:12
• Steve K 10:12
• Friend of the Wheelers, Fraser Millar was also there with a time of 7:30.
The winner was a 22 year old who has signed a contract to ride for Cofidis next season, his time an incomprehensible 5:15!!!
Route from Garmin was 105 miles and 12,700 feet of climbing and the top temperature I recorded was 37 degrees!
My official results certificate, 1746 out of 13,000 who started and 190 in my age category. I’m happy enough with that.