This 2011 Etape du Tour report will demonstrate that even if you train for 48 weeks and turn up ultra-fit, Etape is still hard.
After a lack of sleep I woke at 4.45AM to get ready. I was ready very early and planned to meet VeloNomad reader and all round nice guy Peter H’AC at 5.30AM at the bridge out of of St Michele-de-Maurienne. Alas he was delayed by some no doubt nervous first time Etappers being more punctual by the nature call of other riders at his hotel.
I headed 20k uphill to Modane with a bunch of riders being careful to take it eeeeeasy.
I passed a Frenchman taking a call of nature in a ditch that was not fluid based in full view of the road – he seem unpeturbed so I continued on my way.
I rolled into town around 6.30 without having coffee and croissant. Much disappointment.
Here’s some guy doing Etape on some sort of Frankenbike
My rad Look 586 (thanks to Fitzroy Cycles) was ready to go. Wherespresso? Dig it and find good coffee – web, iPhone, at wherespresso.com.
For all those wondering, my Etape fuelling consisted of Kapai Puku, a banana and a protein shake.
This guy somehow snuck from the back cages to the front.
I was in the second start and headed off around 7.20. And so the smashfest began. 65km/h down into Michele de Maurienne (MdM) for quick pickup from Kate – my Craft mesh base layer.
Then a quick left up the Telegraphe. I began making more time up and bumped into a friendly Scot, Alan Grant. We chatted all the way up the Tele and got told off by a sooky Frenchman we were being too noisy with our chatting. Turns out Alan is a fairly elite cyclist (won Thailands Tour of Friendship, Masters Age Group from memory).
Alan told me I was breathing too hard so we took it easy – me at 160bpm and him at 140!
We basically didn’t get passed by anyone (I was feeling really good) and headed down into Valloire.
And so the up began. I was riding with SRAM Red 52/36 cranks and an 11-28 SRAM Force cassette. I urge all readers to check out the gearing post I wrote here and pay heed. I didn’t follow my own advice so was out of gears.
This, like last year, did not bode well.
Had I blown the gas on the Telegraphe? Had I blown the legs doing the D’Huez twice in the days prior?
My decision to rock non-compacts was looking foolish.
Just after Valloire I got a tinge of cramp. Those familiar with my Etape 2010 story will know I am not a happy partner of cramp.
Fortunately I packed some Hammer Enduralytes which are The Business. Popped 3 of these, kept going, twinges gone.
However I was still toasted as Alan pedalled away leaving me struggling off the back.
I struggled my way up to the final 6km mark and started reeling some busted cats in. One Aussie asked if anyone had any salt tablets. He looked in trouble so I spent some time coaxing him to the top where he could get some help from The Black Doctor (Coke).
At the same time I bumped into a Brit (hi Carl) and we had a chat and turns out he had to ride back to St Michele de Maurienne like me, which added a lazy 90km onto the already 130km day (109km Etape, 20km up to Modane). 1 x Cat 1, 3 HCs. Some sort of Pro ride. Beach Rd crit cats are shocked by this shocking turn of riding.
Carl and I macked it up for 2km when I hit the brakes again as I ran out of gears. Listen well kids. RIDE THE ALPES WITH COMPACTS.
I finally hit the top and smacked the descent. Here’s where I made hundreds of spots up as some very nervous descenders took a lot of time to get down.
Incidentally I think the lack of 1 more technical descent cost me a top 700 or so.
I was doing about 75km/h down into the wind making up lots of spots.
The downhill from the Galibier into Bourg D’Oisans is roughly 40km and is fast. I hooked up with some of the Team Type 1 guys who sardonically observed they had not noticed any of the small little uphills before the final BD’Oisans approach on the profile. Not very good capacity planning, TT1!
We smashed it into BDO and I stopped for some orange quarters and energy drink then took off. I hit every stop this day (I think 3) and that cost me probably a hundred spots or so. I smashed it to the beginning of the ADH and went hard.
POP goes the legs.
Out of gears again and my sub 1 hour ADH ascents of the last few days (and my 49′ fastest time of 2009) was looking in trouble. Big trouble. Almost as much trouble as Tommy Voeckler will be in in the next few days.
It was absolutely shattering to watch people spin past me on compacts – people who looked like they just took up cycling 10 minutes ago. PEOPLE WITH HAIRY LEGS were passing me For Gods Sakes! What on Earth was going on?
I grit my teeth and locked onto the wheel of a guy who looked 90, but who I couldn’t drop.
Shocking it was.
I aso noticed a disconcerting click click from my Look which I noted would warrant further inspection. Sounded like a BB problem. Dammit. I love my Look 586, it is a weapon. More on this later.
In any case, no cramps appeared (again, Hammer Enduralytes), my legs were just cooked. I struggled up and finally reached O Bar where the road flattens. People were going slow here so I took the opportunity to make a few hundred spots up.
Fortunately there were only a few people from the wave that left after mine, plenty from my cage, and a lot from the first cage so I was well placed. I smacked it under the tunnel and up around the final few bends.
Hitting the final 1 km flag I noticed guys who I’d seen on the Telegraphe so I was pretty happy that I hadn’t lost too much time.
Rounding the final bend for the uphill 300m sprint I gritted my teeth and went harder than Gilbert in the Big Ring. Smashed it. Rolled a couple of people who passed me near the base so that was gratifying.
I waved off my finishing medal, really, who has time for such meaningless objets d’art. I had eye camera’d (Hall Pass reference! Dig it!) the ride so didn’t need a medal. What I didn’t realise was with my medal came my food pass and this food consisted of an apple, banana, water and salad.
The ladies in the food hall didn’t want to know about this ridiculous Australian with no food pass, regardless of the THOUSANDS (yes, it is literal) of food bags behind them, so I waved them off with a flick of the hand. Much like the Germans when they realised all France was good for was delightful Alpine climbing, croissants, baguettes, cheese and a strange penchant for impractical cars.
I went to the free pasta feed, got my pasta, had one mouthful and nearly vomited. This did not bode well for the remaining 80km.
I went to O Bar and necked a delicious Heineken and Coke and watched some battered souls struggle up.
Fair dinkum it was dinky di carnage.
The Brit Carl didn’t message me so I left to get back to Kate. The time was around 1.40 (I finished in 5’15”) and I’d posited to Kate I might be finished by 10? Hmmm.
I of course missed my turn off at a little village just down from the summit which spits you out at Allemond and had to descend past thousands of people into BDO then hightail it to Allemond.
Here friends is where my own personal hell began.
Remembering I was utterly baked, I now had an epic 40km ascent in humid, 30 degree weather, up an unrelenting 10% or so incline.
Serves me right for my French jokes, non?
I was in severe trouble and the mind games duly began. I had images of being found 2 weeks later still ascending. I was even tempted to walk, something I’ve never done and refuse to do.
I passed one French guy who yelled bravo and was passed by plenty of near empty minivans. Where was the lift you clowns?
A German called Jan caught me. He was even hardier than I, riding with 53/39×25. What a monster. Truly a candidate for the big ring Hall of Fame. Jan was a very serious chap and sounded like The Terminator. Not sure if its a German thing but I could have been on the set of Terminator France.
We were both smashed. Jan entertained me with stories of his colleagues that were coming past in a car, which always seemed 30 minutes away.
We waxed lyrical about life and got into the high alpine plains where the wind provided small relief from the stifling heat of the forest below. We stopped for water at streams and passed the Skil Shimano team who were out for a lark but quite honestly looked like they were taking it easy.
Being a pro looks super easy.
We eventually got to the Glandon/Croix de Fer intersection and I necked a Fanta and Coke from the cafe. People were shocked at our Epic Alpine Assault. I knew the Glandon descent took us 20km completely downhill but I wanted to do the Croix de Fer and was sure it spat us out at St Michele de Maurienne.
I asked Jan to take a photo of me at the top for the TDFTIps site and he responded “No, It does not make seeense” in his Arnie voice. I convinced him and we had some French dudes take a photo
I am baked.
We rolled downhill as I began to have a very bad feeling we should have taken the Glandon descent. My fears were soon realised as we saw a sign that said Jean de Maurienne NOT Michele De Maurienne…distance? 20km.
BUT NOT DOWNHILL.
No friends. The cruelty was undiminished as we had more uphill pitches on our way down.
The road eventually went downhill and we got to JdM and headed toward MdM. Jan was TOTALLY buggered so I rolled on the front to give him a rest. We stopped 6km from MdM so he could message his friends, and we parted ways. Jan, you got me up that hill mate, my sincere thanks. I would have fallen apart without your wheel.
I smashed it into MdM at circa 35-40km/h (not sure how) bad eventually got back absolutely stuffed. Kate was super glad to see me as I had told her over an hour before I was only 20mins away. Kate, you’re THE BEST.
I went and showered but was dazed. I was mentally stuffed. A Kate-made baguette and 2065 cokes got me back on track as we headed off toward the south of France.
So, another Etape done. Disappointing result again (2009, 2010 results) but I will be back for the next Pyrenean one. WITH COMPACTS.
I don’t think I’ve done a ride over 180km since October 2010, so it wasn’t too bad a result.
Any Velonomad readers who did Etape, send me your photos so I can add to this post. I know there are half a dozen of you out there.
If you’re reading this and want to tackle Etape, I strongly urge you to do so, it’s an epic experience. If you don’t know where to start, the tdftips mailing list is a great place to start with a 26 part series on planning a trip to France. You can also check out the Tackling Etape guide and Cycling Through France guides.