2015 Etape du Tour

Courtesy of Andrew Rice:

The Etape du Tour is an organised event somewhat like a British sportive except that it has far more entrants - about 15000 and goes to a different location in France every year.  That place being a selected stage of the year's Tour de France.  This year it was Stage 19 and it was a lumpy one!  Whilst the mileage wasn't huge, about 86 miles the height climbed was a staggering 4600m and given the heat during the day staggering is no exaggeration for many riders.  Hazel Davies and Andrew Rice booked onto the event via Sports Tours International which meant that apart from booking a flight everything else, including getting the bikes to the event, was taken care of for us which makes for a very relaxing experience.  Now, having entered months ahead of the event you would have thought that there was plenty of time to develop a training programme and be fully prepared for all those metres of climbing.  However, apart from a couple of evening rides on top of the normal Club runs and some mountain biking we found ourselves preparing for the Etape by cycling the Croix de Fer two days before the event.  The weather forecast wasn't that great either so it was with some trepidation we went to bed early the night before the usual 5.00am start.  A generous portion of porridge, fruit and hard boiled eggs set us up for the 10 mile roll down the hill to St Jean de Maurienne with jersey pockets stuff with spare clothing and bars to cover all eventualities!  With 15000 riders to get through the start it takes a lot of organisation so there were cohorts of 1000 riders spread around the main drag waiting to be called forward in number order - we were in the 6000 number group and got away at 7.58.  The start of the route was mostly downhill but it didn't last long before we hit the the ascent of the Cat 2 Col du Chaussy a 15K ride to a height of 1533m.  The descent that followed was a mixture of technical cycling and walking as obstacles and crashes caused severe bunching but soon the road opened out and there was a great descent out onto the valley floor and 25k of mostly flat riding - the only flat road on the whole route.  Even though it was flat we were still held up for some time due to an accident needing a helicopter evacuation from the road.  It was whilst waiting we came across Craig Stewart who told us Jon Sutcliffe was also on the route somewhere.  It didn't seem long before the flat was over and the 25k climb to the Col du Glandon and the Col de la Croix de Fer (Hors Cat climb) just beyond started.  By this time it was clear that the forecast rain wasn't going to happen and it was going to be a long hot ride!  It is hard enough to drink enough when cycling at 5mph but when surrounded by hundreds of riders barely a wheel apart you dare not take a hand off the brakes!  The result was cyclists keeling over all the way up to the Col.  There was at least a water station halfway that served as a break; here we met another VCC member - Mike Burr.  The last half of the climb was a long hard, hot road.  However, we managed to keep hydrated by actually stopping and drinking then cycling some more until after 3 hours (from the bottom) we reached the feed station at the Glandon.  A bit of a scrum to say the least!  Suitably refreshed the 3k to the summit of the Col de la Croix de Fer didn't seem to hard so there was no hesitation in going straight over the top and making up some time on the descent.  It is amazing no matter how good you feel on the descent the next climb is  still a 5mph struggle against gravity; in this case the Col du Mollard, a Cat 2 climb.  More liquid intake then another even more technical descent into St Jean de Maurienne and the last feed station before the 19k climb to the finish at La Toussuire.  By this time we were just inside the cut-off time and it looked like we would do it if we could just keep going - easier said than done!  With a steady pace, another water stop and some small relief on a downhill section the final flat straight appeared after a couple of hours and it was time to show the Frenchman on my wheel what a sprint to the line was.  So that was it, all over after 11 hours from the start.  A mix of tiredness, relief and satisfaction of having completed a major ride that we were far from sure we would manage!  Later we checked the results for  the others and found that Mike Burr had completed the ride as well but both Craig and Jon retired due to heat and hydration problems but will be back to complete 'some unfinished business on the mountain'.