l'Etape du Tour Review
l'Étape du Tour is an opportunity for amateur cyclists to ride the same route segments as the pros on the Tour De France and is a fantastic event.
My ride profile looked like this for the entire event:
Like most people in the UK, I find the hardest thing to train for are long, sustained climbs as they just do not exist in the south of England. Cycling up and down your local hills is great, but they are not as long and you miss out on that constant pressure of a long uphill climb. If you have not cycled up a mountain before, then imagine alternate one-legged squats for an hour. That is very close to how it feels!
If nothing else, completing this year’s Étape has given me a new level of respect for the pros out there. Not only are they racing the stages and powering up the climbs, they do it for over 3 weeks in a row.
Cycling The Étape
Like the previous year, when I set off I rode fast and hard, but this year this stage was straight into a mountain and so I managed to put down my biggest ever sustained Watts for 20 minutes. So it that the best strategy? Ride the hardest you ever have straight out the gate? Probably not, but it felt great overtaking so many riders, especially as I was in the second pen that set-off that day. Riders are put in groups of about 1000 and typically the lower number pens are for riders who have previously proved themselves. So there I am thinking, "well this is great. Look how fast I am.”
At the top of that first mountain, there were people there clapping and cheering in true French style. Then it was time for a descent. When it comes to descending you can certainly say I’m an amateur. I did see a few accidents on the way downhill, but it’s mostly people being careless, and I made sure to be courteous and careful while cycling down the mountain. The downhill was manageable and mostly very fun and leads right into the flat section of the course.
Col de Glandon was an epic mountain by all proportions. It went on, and on, and on. No thought about racing up this, and every few minutes I was checking to see if there were any more cogs left that I could drop down to. Unfortunately, no more easy gears are left. I found myself running low on water and because of that I took the opportunity to stop 5 or 10km from the peak for a quick water refill. The food and drink stations are fine; not too overcrowded, the drinking water was not too hot, and there was plenty of food to go round. Some of the riders who started near the back said that there were so many people queuing it took quite a while to get drinks; I guess that is the benefit starting nearer the front. For my quick drink refill I didn’t even get off the bike; there is plenty of staff to help give you water and various other energy-based gels and drinks.
At the top of the mountain there were so many people clapping and cheering, but I really did feel that if the race had ended at this point I would have been very happy for it to end there.
The ride went on, the temperature picked up, and it got hotter and hotter. But this is where a Sportif in the United Kingdom and one in France differ. The spectators are amazing, and you will find people getting bottles of river water to throw over your back, non-official drink stations with lines of people handing out ice cold water, and kids singing and dancing with big clapping hands.
The last 10 km of this ride was the toughest riding I have ever done. The temperature, the tired legs, and the pure amount of altitude covered. But it levels off for the last few kilometres and it was great to have a sprint finish. Through the finish line there are people there to hand out medals, give you your finish T-shirt, and then it’s time for the pasta party.
I’m sure many times during that day I was telling myself never again; it really is a tough challenge. But once you get back to the UK and everyone is exchanging their war stories you find yourself keeping an eye on the official website for next year's tour. I would definitely recommend signing up for this event, but if you do, train hard!
This is a very well-run event with plenty of marshals, plenty of support, more food and drink stations than you’ll need and everyone will end up with their own story to tell.
Top Tips To Survive l'Étape du Tour
- Do not underestimate this event. If you are a weekend warrior and haven’t been training in the week it is going to be tough.
- Psychologically carrying any extra weight will play mind games with you, but don’t empty your water bottle out too early
- Try to get accommodation close to the start but even better near the finish.
- Pay attention to the weather, prepare yourself with appropriate apparel, but also be prepared for it to be the exact opposite of what you expect.