I will post lots of photos of before, during and after when I get back from holiday, here’s the story of my day for now.
This year’s Etape Du Tour is stage 19 of Le Tour, 138K from Saint-Jean de Maurienne to La Toussuire with 4,500m of climbing over 5 cols. Six Wheelers were entered (Ciaran, Jerry, Jamie, Jim Foulis, Joe, Graeme C) and Joe’s nephew James (who some will know from Majorca trips).
We were split across 5 start pens so didn’t really get to see everyone before or after, but here’s my adventure.
Ciaran was staying with Lindsay and myself at the top of the Mollard and so at 4am we got up and ate breakfast and got ready in near silence, had a lot on our minds, not least the weather. Ciaran is a part time meteorologist and had kept me updated every hour on the days forecast – which was thunderstorms from midday (oh how we wished for thunderstorms later…). My fabulous DS, Lindsay 🙂 dropped us off near the start and as we got ready met Jerry on his way down from Le Corbier where he was staying. Then it was off to the start pens.
I was in Pen 0, the first to go and was surrounded by mahogany coloured racing snakes, I have never felt more out of place as a pasty Scots bloke! Lindsay had wandered to the start and as we chatted spotted Jamie in Pen 1 – these Wheelers tops make you very visible. At 7am sharp and with the helicopter overhead, we set off at a frantic pace. I had already decided my pacing and no way was I going to even try to stay with the pace setters, just as well as I don’t think I could have stayed on their wheels even if I had tried! After only 3K we hit the first climb of the Col Du Chaussy (16K @ 6.3%) a very rude awakening. Nice steady pace, weather not too warm yet and it was a stunning climb, especially about 10K in when you cycle under an overhanging cliff with the valley below – stunning. Then it was the first descent of the day, and also where the first casualties of the day were to be found – always pays to descend very very carefully, even in the dry.
At the foot was the flat section, a 30K run up the valley and back to almost where you started. I latched onto a big group that grew as we passed others who tagged on and the pace was fast but comfortable as we flew along and back to Saint Etienne Du Cunnes and the big climb of the day.
The Croix de Fer (via the Glandon) is 22.5K @ 6.9% and is brutal. I managed the first steady half in good time, still not pushing hard, but keeping a good tempo with an eye on what was to come. Once past half way the real fun begins and it is mainly 9-10%+ for 9K. By now it was hot and I got the first warning twinges that cramp was coming so really reigned in the effort and took it nice and slow for the last 5K+. I briefly stopped at the top of the Glandon to fill up my bottles and set off for the last 3K to the top of the Croix de Fer, where the cramps hit for real!
I actually enjoyed the descent, helped by already doing half of it the day before, and made up some lost time as I hit the next climb of the Mollard (6.5K @6.1%). Now I got very very very bad cramp and was in agony trying to turn the pedals. I stood up on the pedals to try and stretch as I went, and after a few minutes the agony subsided to just be uncomfortable and I very gingerly made my way to the top. It took all my effort to not take a left turn at the summit and go the 200m to where we were staying! Strangely for me, I enjoyed the descent here too, again helped as I had already been down once on a bike and several times in the car! So again made up some time and hit the bottom after 5:30 or so with “just” the last climb to the finish!
NEVER have I suffered like I did on the climb of La Toussuire (18K @ 6.1%). I knew the cramp would slow me down as I was in and out the saddle trying to stretch as best I could and could only manage a very slow pace to keep the pain at bay. Crawled along for an eternity with the K to go markers taking an age to pass in baking heat praying for a thunderstorm! Then about half way the blurry vision started and as I have been here before knew it was the end game with heatstroke and I better find some shade, quick. As I reached Villarambert (I think) there was a village water trough with cyclists filling their bottles. I almost fell off my bike, barely able to walk as I was so dizzy and disorientated, but at least I still knew I had to get my core temp down! I sunk my head in the trough, filled my bottles and poured them all over me and then I repeated this! I stumbled to some shade, where others were flat out and sat down trying to get back to some normality, repeat trips to the trough to pour water over myself. Only 9K to go, temp down, I set off, knowing I would have to stop again. I crawled at 4mph most of the way and stopped twice more to briefly curb the dizziness and pour water everywhere.
Eventually I made it to the end, with cheering crowds and I limped over the finish. Cannot wait to see the photos as I don’t think I could lift my head, never mind smile. I collapsed in a heap and sat down for 15 minutes, cramps still shooting through me before I hobbled slowly to the pasta party tent in search of liquids.
So, that was my day, bloody awful and borderline dangerous. On the plus side, the event is superbly organised and an amazing experience as you feel pro for a day.
As for the others, they can tell their own tales, but most of us had a trauma or two. Ciaran had heatstroke too and almost quit at the same point I collapsed in Villarambert (now known as the foamy vomit moment). Jerry got round, amazing as he had been very unwell the days before and wasn’t sure he’d start. Joe had foot problems again and the two Jims had long hard days too. Only Jamie seemed to get by without mishaps and ahead of what he planned to do! We all think it was his week of acclimatising that helped, or his magic Rapha cap 🙂
And a final note, as I sat with Lindsay at the finish, I did do the Steve Redgrave speech, “If I ever suggest doing this again, you have my permission to shoot me!” I am now looking for events in cold, wet countries, sod this warm weather stuff it just doesn’t agree with me!
The results, out of 12,092 who started, 9,877 finished, the fastest was a frankly ridiculous 4:52! It was an achievement just getting round, so well done everyone.
Graeme CARRUTHERS 07:31:40
Jamie COSTELLO 07:45:30
Ciaran HANNON 08:10:25
Jerry TOY 08:14:43
Jim FOULIS 09:24:04
James MCFADYEN 09:56:38
Joe MCFADYEN 10:13:05