It felt kind of weird being on the start line of the Etape again. I have done it many times before and it has been my main event of the year. This time I have done about 6 weeks dedicated training and I feel quite relaxed about it.
I am doing it with 3 people who haven’t done it before (one of whom is my wife!) and they are all rightly nervous. I have a slightly different attitude to it; I know I can do it and if I just back off my normal pace and do theirs it will be fine. I hope I’ve not got it all wrong. Having spent 3 hours on a drip in the medical tent I know it can easily go wrong if you push too hard in the heat.
We head out of St Jean de Maurienne along a nice straight road. The pace is comfortable as everyone knows we will immediately hit the first climb.
Through the village at the start of the climb and the cowbells of spectators are already going. This is what makes the Etape enjoyable.
We start to climb out the valley. The road is quite narrow but on the way up it doesn’t matter there is plenty of room to pass people.
Due to past participation in the Etape I had had a start number in the 5000’s (out of 15 this year) but I had dropped back to the 8000’s to be in the same start pen as my friends so it didn’t take long to start going past some people.
As always the first climb feels easy and you get a chance to enjoy the view as you climb. It is also worth remembering there is 4600m of climbing this year so taking it easy is is a good strategy anyway. Half way up the view is comically ruined by 2 people in pants blowing toy trumpets cheering every one on.
The views are stunning up the Col de Chaussy and it is nice to be back climbing in the Alps again. The first summit comes fairly easily. We wait for Andy and Susan at the top. I am torn between getting them all moving and letting them have a breather. I watch as lots of people start the descent and don’t want to get stuck behind them all.
Sure enough on the way down the descent it all comes to a halt on the narrow road. At the bottom the road turns left over a small bridge then goes up a slight rise. People haven’t got their gearing right for the climb and come to a stop and blocked the road. A frustrating delay for no reason.
Once we get through the stoppage it is a good descent down to the feed stop with fast flowing roads.
We wait for Andy at the stop who has had a puncture on the descent though he has managed a fast fix.
We decide we will stay together on the 30km through the valley which takes us to the Glandon. This lasted for about 5km when kirst and I joined a large peleton which Andy and Susan missed. Too late now this is free speed and we’re going to stay with it.
About 15 km through the valley is the sprint marker. I had decided before hand not to try and sprint though as we got to the start line the person next to me went for it….bugger I went after him! I caught him just before the line. Legs are now sore and I hope this doesn’t come back later.
No dramas going through the valley and now onto the Col du Glandon, only 23km of climbing to go. I set a steady pace and just get into that mind zone of spinning the peddles and keep going. Kirst isn’t looking quite as strong as she did but is keeping going nicely and we pass a lot of people.
We stop at the food stop get some water and get moving again. Now the hard bit is coming. We have left the shade of the trees now and it is beginning to feel hot.
Kirst starts to drift off my wheel. On a climb of this length you have to do your own rhythm so I let her go and will see her at the top.
Now into the last 3 km which is 10%+ gradient the whole way. No one wants to have to stop and people who are walking get shouted at the move to the side of the road. One guy gets shouted at who falls in the middle of the road because he can’t keep pedaling!
2km to go and it is hurting a lot. The summit looks a long way away
1km to go and you know you have made it. I think the worst of the day is over.
I stay by the summit finish line and wait on Kirst. After 15mins I’m beginning to get concerned when she hasn’t appeared. The summit has a large food stop and the whole area is packed. Have I missed her?
I wait about another 5 minutes and she appears and promptly bursts into tears. I tell her she needs to food and coke and quickly, an emotional breakdown is a always a good sign your body has suffered. She tells me she isn’t hungry but after I insist she starts eating and begins to feel better.
We head off to climb the final part of the Croix de Feu. It is only 5% and seems easy after what has just been. Then we get the reward, a 20km descent down the mountain at 75km/hr. We are through the worst, the broom wagon is well behind and now I know we will definitely finish bar a disaster.
As we come near the bottom we begin the climb to the Col du Mollard. This was listed as a Cat 2 climb on the route map for only 6km so I hadn’t paid much attention to it. THis was to be my low point of the day.
It was actually about 8% for large sections and by now it was 38 degrees. My feet were starting to get hotspots in my shoes and I felt miserable. no option but to get on with it. As we neared the summit the villagers were out and had a hose to spray you with water which provided a welcome relief.
We passed the chalet where we were staying as we crested the summit and started the descent. From driving up and down this side of the mountain we knew the descent was technical with poor road services. i would laugh at Phil Ligget on the Tour de France commentary criticising some of the riders ability who got one of the same corners wrong a few days later.
12km later and we are at the final food stop back in St Jean de Maurienne. only 18km of La Toussuire to go.
From cycling up here to register the day before I knew it wasn’t too bad. Tap the rhythm again and off we go.
No real drama in the first half of the climb and we arrived at the water station. We filled our bottles and headed off to finish. We then got sent left and the fork though not the right hand route we had taken the day before. This has some steep sections in it and the part where Chris Froome famously “attacked” Wiggins in 2012. It was a lot harder.
Kirst needed a rest with 5km to go. Np point saying, “It’s only 5km, keep going”. i’ve been there before and 5km is a long way at the end of that much climbing.
We keep going and through a nice flat section and then there’s only 2km left. We both start getting our energy back and pick up towards the finish.
Etape is done again and it was a hard one.
Now we have to wait on Susan and Andy. It would be a nightmare that instead of all celebrating together tonight that someone doesn’t make it.
Susan appears and then shortly after Andy as well. everyone has made it and has the T Shirt to prove it.