Estimated reading time: 7 minutes, 50 seconds
2010 was a doozy of a trip for VeloNomad. Again, there are some valuable lessons from the 2010 TDF and L’Etape trip.
I, and my equally loony travel partner, the inimitable Michael J Brown, took off around the world to tackle L’Etape, eat croissants, drink (usually bad) coffee, drink some sneaky Heinekens, ride in the warm French summer sun, and revel in the greatest sports spectacle on this awesome planet.
And we did it in under 2 weeks. Insane? Yep. Fun? Hell yes.
If you want to skip the post, and get my whole trip in a 5 minute video, watch below!
And some Etape video is also below.
You’d think after the trials and tribulations of my 2009 trip and the obsessive planning I did, this trip would have gone as smoothly as a 20 year old Scotch goes down the hatch.
I got it wrong.
I was struck by my own ineptitude and conspiring nature of circumstance on this trip. Despite the fact that I’ve previously highlighted that you MUST get to Tour stages early – it’s one of the Key Tips of the Cycling Through France guide, we didn’t. And despite my best efforts to the contrary, I again wracked up an extraordinarily high phone bill (disclaimer: Telstra later wrote off the bill).
We cut costs on flights and paid the price. And lastly, I was hugely underprepared for L’Etape.
So let’s look at the mistakes, and highlight what you can do to avoid them to ensure you have a kick-butt trip.
As we get older, the threshold for getting mucked around and/or slumming it on cheap flights with long layovers into non-hub airports in order to save some money, gets a lot lower. I think I left mine behind in my early 20s.
When we looked to book for 2010 in late 2009, flights were around AUD$2700 into Barcelona or Paris, with no extra baggage. We managed to score an around the world (ATW) fare for around $2300, which gave us 2x23kg all the way ATW as we were flying via the US. A few months before we were due to leave, our fare rules on our Toulouse-Hong Kong leg changed from 2x23kg to 1x20kg (thanks for that, Lufthansa). As I said earlier, we paid the price for being cheaper.
I recommend booking a slightly more flexible fare, and have covered airline options in How to plan a cycling trip to France and the Tour Part 1 as well as extensively in the Cycling Through France guide.
The Tour Stage
As I’ve written before (how to plan a cycling trip to France and the Tour part 5), you absolutely MUST get to your vantage point early. Plan for everything to go wrong. Plan for traffic, overly-judicious gendarmes, rain, flat tyres.
You’ve gone to all this effort to get here, and the worst thing you want is to miss the stage, or to be stuck in a crappy spot. Trust me it happens; read my Stage 13 2009 TDF report, 2010 Stage 16 TDF report and the 2010 Stage 17 TDF report (late to the stage in all cases).
Other key tips for maximising your TDF experience include:
- Be on a steeper uphill to maximise all the free stuff from the caravan. Being on a downhill means you’ll see bugger all – Stage 16 2010.
- Have a back up plan, including a different road/bike route to get you where you need to be.
- Ignore gendarmes (walk your bike slowly and innocently up/down the road, staying well off the road) or go around them. My failure to man-up cost me a ripping downhill hairpin photo spot in 2010’s stage 16, which looked up and down the road. The photos would have been incredible. Same goes for 2009s Stage 17.
- Pack for bad weather (2010 Stage 17). Had I been better prepared (I had a poor quality “wet weather” jacket), I could have been up the road on the Soulor for some epic hairpin photos.
- If the weather looks the least bit sketchy, and you have camera gear, have a back up plan and position for photos. Pack a plastic rain bag/hood that covers all of you. There’s nothing worse than standing in the miserable rain, getting wetter and wetter. Plastic hoods/bags don’t look cool, but they work.
- Be prepared to walk (take note of point about rain gear). Pack food and water in case you can’t find a place that sells food and water, and prepare to be located in a place with no toilets.
- And, the number 1 tip: GET THERE EARLY. You can usually find the expected arrival time of the caravan and the lead group to key areas, which lets you plan. Allow for traffic. This means if your vantage point is up a Col/climb, and you are climbing from the other side that the Tour ascends allow 6 hours. I promise you won’t regret it. Once the caravan is on the climb, you’ll be pulled off the road. If you’re climbing up the same way as the riders, you have a bit more leeway, as you can walk you bike up the road.
L’Etape is a beast of a ride worthy deserving of its own specific training and preparation, and of it’s own Etape du Tour Guide. However, I’ll quickly cover what went wrong for me briefly.
Preparation: I was hugely underprepared for the 2010 Etape. I was laid low for several months with an illness, and was unable to train or race. This affected me hugely, and the difference between my 2009 Etape ride and 2010 ride is glaring.
Regardless of my under-preparedness though, the around the world flight did both Mike and I no favours. That long in the air (Mel-Syd/stop 1 hour/LA/stop 7 hours/Frankfurt stop 2 hours/Toulouse) dehydrated us immensely, and we arrived on the ground with about 48 hours to rehydrate and acclimatise. In 2009 we flew in about 10 days before hand so had ample time to build energy and hydrate, get our body clocks into the EU time zone, and get some riding into our legs.
I wrote a lengthy Etape du Tour Guide on preparing for L’Etape properly, but briefly:
- Arrive in Europe at least 1 week before L’Etape.
- Spend some time riding, drinking loads of water, sleeping and eating properly.
- In the 6 months prior to L’Etape, train your bum off. Unless you ride a lot already, you’re going to have spend hours and hours riding, including in the hills.
- During the ride, you’ll need to hydrate and feed effectively. Don’t drink too much water (as you dilute the salt in your blood, then start cramping) and eat enough. There’s been a lot written on feeding properly in long races, and I’ll save this for another time.
- Make sure you get enough sleep leading up to L’Etape.
- Make sure you stretch before L’Etape (and after).
In the Etape du Tour Guide, I also discuss Etape du Tour training with a specific training program (which you can also get here), nutrition and stretching routines specifically designed to help you do L’Etape.
At the Airport
These may be obvious, but:
- Get to the airport early, or your bike may get left behind. This happened to us in 2010, but it was fortuitous, as it meant our bikes were shipped all the way to my front door, which made getting to/from the airport in Hong Kong much easier (and cheaper).
- Lufthansa (and others) sometimes don’t weigh bike bags (certainly not when you’re late to Toulouse airport). I’m told this is common practise at airports that service the cycling areas.
Some people don’t mind missing flights, but I hate it. You don’t want to be doing 160km/h up the freeway to make the flight. And then find there isn’t a petrol station at the airport. And then get stung 90 Euros for them to refill the tank with 10 litres.
These are really important, pay attention!
- Pack your bike carefully. How to pack your bike: Polaris Bike Pod, EVOC Bike travel bag. The VeloNomad Bike Bag Reviews page contains all my bike bag reviews.
- Pack light! Don’t be like me and have 3 Packing Lists for camera gear, bike gear, casual gear and miscellaneous debris like laptop, chargers, books etc.
- Get a helmet pod or bag. Read my Giro Helmet Pod and EVOC Helmet Bag review. Take it onto the plane, preferably in a helmet bag.
Seriously, head straight to the Overseas Prepaid Mobile Internet information page. It’ll save you a load of money on data roaming bills or a data roaming cap plan.
What went right?!
So, after all that, what went right?
I had a ball doing L’Etape. Yes it hurt, yes it was a terrible result, but boy was it fun.
Downtime. The last year has been a mental and physical overload, and it was good to ride with a chilled out group of friends, read some books, watch some Tour, eat croissants and get on the bike in the warm French sunshine.
I learnt that staying in one place for a couple of weeks is the best way to see the Tour, do Etape, see a lot of sights. Staying in and cycling the Atlantic Pyrenees and the Pyrenees in general is a great place to do this from.
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