Last Sunday I took on the L’Etape du tour which this year run from Albertville to Val Thorens. It is Stage 20 of this years Tour de France and it had been labelled as a “tough one”. Although it was only 135km in length there was 4,563m of climbing to negotiate, which included 3 categorised climbs.
First the 1st Cat “Cormet de Roselund” at 19km 1203m Then the 2nd cat “Cote de Longefoy” at 6km 457m and finishing with the HC, the “Montee de Val Thorens” at 35km 1840m
This is the first time I have ridden in the high mountains so I was a bit anxious about the ride and had asked for advice from a few of the guys. Andrew McAinshs advice of “ride the climbs full gas and attack the decents” was ignored.
I was staying in a hotel in Les Menuires which is 10km from the finish at Val Thorens. To get to the start I had to get up at 4am to take a shuttle bus down the mountain with a bunch of French cyclists to the start which for me was at 7.30am.
I rolled out of Albertville in perfect weather to much fanfare with Didi the devil jumping around the start line. I was taking it easy warming up nicely with 20km to the start of the Cormet de Roselund. However, as soon as you get out of Albertville you are climbing all the way to the start of the climb and had already about 500m climbing done by the time I reached the foot. Got onto the first climb and I find myself going really well, going past 100s of riders, beautiful scenery, no problems, took me 1 hour 26 minutes.
After a fast decent, I stopped at the feed station at the bottom of the climb in Bourg-Saint-Maurice, after a few km of up and down I was onto the second climb. By this time the temperature was rising and I didnt feel as “fresh” on this climb as the road went up, also I could tell riders around me were starting to struggle with a few riders stopping on the hairpins for a breather. But still, I had no issues went past 100s of riders, making good progress feeling quite happy with myself. Down the other side of the second climb was very technical descent with loads of switchbacks which took us down to the bottom of the last climb into Moutiers.
By the time I arrived in Moutiers the temperature was about 35 degrees and I was well aware I had already climbed around 3000m, but I was loving it. I stopped in the feed station in Moutiers and it was like war. Although it was all friendly it was a fight to get water/coke/food, people going through it like piranhas.
Onto the last climb, 35Km to go to the finish, feed station at halfway. And the bottom of this climb is steep and relentless and I start to see casualties, people lying at the side of the road, riders coming back down the hill. It is tough, riders getting off their bikes to get water from the mountain streams, stopping to cool down from spectators hose pipes, I’m in the bottom gear for about 10 km, progress is really slow and I’m just grinding it out.
The feed station at halfway couldn’t come quick enough, I stopped lay the bike on the ground and rest for about 10 minutes, I was cooked as was everyone else around me.
Back on the bike and it flattened out for a few kilometres up to Les Menuires and then it kicks up again for the final 10Km up to Val Thorens. By now I am seeing riders really struggling, people pushing their bikes, throwing up on the side of the road, one guy had keeled over and was lying in the road, ambulances were running around. I recall thinking to myself “im never doing this again this is crazy, I work in IT” but I knew I had broken the back of it at this point.
I finally make it to Val Thorens, the finish line was at the other side of town and just to add a little sting the last 500m is a gravel section that kicks up to about 15%.
It took me 2 hours 53 minutes to do the last climb with about 10 minutes at the feed station and about 7 hours total in the saddle.
It’s the toughest ride I have ever done. I read that around 12500 people started and 10134 finished, I finished 3216th place. The is event is very well organised and the people at the side of the road are genuinly enthusiastic. I really enjoyed it and very happy I did it, and I would do it again in a h eartbeat.