|I had to borrow a Trek 6.9SSL for the Etape, it did a fine job too!|
As did the desk in the hotel room!
Heading down on Thursday afternoon, we took the Tunnel with no issues, then found ourselves stuck on the Paris interior ring-road for several hours trying to get to our mid-way hotel. Arriving late, we soon found out that nothing, not even McDonalds or KFC stay open in France after 11pm, after a while trawling round, dinner consisted of three cereal bars... the straight to bed!
The nightclub until 4am with the Trek guys was thankfully avoided though, early night for me!
So the Etape starts at 7am. Yep, 7am. Luckily you have to sign on before the morning, we pushed it fine only getting back to Albertville at 6.20am, half changed and in the pouring rain! I'd somehow managed to find myself in the first pen of 500 riders, still a bigger bunch than anything I've ever ridden in, yet there was another 6000 riders still behind!
As we set off the group went off hell for leather through the streets of Albertville; squeezed through the timing mat, I was already pretty far back! With greasy roads and spray, the bunch was a bit twitchy and after about 20minutes I was eventually able to see the front of the bunch.. but I was still about 200 riders back!
Hitting the top of Madelaine in the front group, I was happy, I was in the top 50 or so riders. Pulling my damp armwarmers back up, it was time for the wet descent back down to the valley floor. A quick stop for a call of nature had quite a few Frenchmen shooting past down the hill and then back on the bike I soon realised that they take their brains out when descending! Losing a fair amount of time with my complete lack of ability downhill, I grabbed a drink off Trek Travel on the valley floor before crossing a gap to a group of French nutters who could descent, but didn't have any gas on the flat.
Now my version of through-and-off is that everyone works, the French version was "lets go through and then leave the rosbeef on the front." This didn't go down too well with me, so once we hit the bottom of the Glandon, I'd clipped off the front. I found a new skill of mixing up a sachet of GO powder while riding along and quite enjoyed the lower slopes of the climb, though they were a little steep!
By now the sun had shown it's head and it was warming up nicely and I hit the tough upper slopes of the Glandon. A stiff headwind didn't make things easy and just as I thought we were nearly there, the climb kicks again to around 10% for the final couple of km. Ouch.
Nipping quickly across to the top of Croix du Fer, I was much more at home on the dry descent, but still more riders passed me! As soon as the descent was done, it was straight back up the Col du Mollard, I was starting to suffer! Despite the poor surface, the Mollard descent was great fun, but again I was being overtaken! Back on a nice straight road and I'm back in the group that had just overtaken me - I'd better find some hairpins to practice on!
Foolishly seeing the 20km to go sign I thought I was home free, missing the next drinks stop. 2km later we turned the corner and I realised I'd made a bad mistake - it was 17.6km up hill to the finish - that's over 10miles and there wasn't any shade! Trying to conserve what little water I had left, I knew it wasn't going to be easy. Not far up the climb I had to stop, I had so much sweat in my eyes I couldn't keep them open - it was excruciating!
I plodded away, mostly in the 39x28, knowing that I'd have been much better off having had more to drink! I was starting to become a bit delirious, spending time converting kilometers in to miles, working out how long it would take me at my 7mph pace. This was between staring at the ground 6inches ahead of my front wheel and trying to decide whether to climb off. I'm never going to mock someone for riding with a compact ever again!
Perhaps the only thing that kept me going was the fact there was riders 30s ahead of me and the same behind. I knew I was still in the top 60 riders and I knew there was drink at the finish. 2km to go couldn't come sooner. The last 500m I'm sure went on forever, but I was there! I'd done the first 4hours at 250w, the final 2.5hrs this had dropped to 228w, I'd definitely been suffering!
Thankfully Trek Travel had a tent right next to the finish, well stocked with food and drink, I was in need of a good sit down after 6.5hrs on the bike, 4hrs 23min spent going uphill! Despite my best efforts, I was still an hour down on the fastest rider; coming in 59th place and 45th fastest climber. My descending skills lost a few places then!
The route was so tough that they'd even delayed the broomwagon by a couple of hours, with hundreds of riders taking over 10hours to complete the epic route!
I vowed that I never want to see another mountain again, but I'm not now so sure, what a fantastic weekend!
A big thanks to Trek UK for letting me tag along!