As Andrew Evans watched Andre Griepel sprint to victory in the final stage in Paris this afternoon he was casting his mind back a week to his experience of riding what was to become Friday’s stage of the Tour.
ETAPE DU TOUR 2015.
I’m sitting at home one Sunday evening flicking through social media, I see a post that someone has just completed the Etape du Tour. After reading about it and seeing the pictures I think that might be a bit of craic! Fast forward one year and I find myself in France registered and raring to go (well kind of) for the 2015 Etape du Tour. This year’s race deemed to be one of the hardest in years. 138km 4600 metres of climbing and very little flat.
After travelling out a few days early, the morning of the Etape finally arrives. It follows a night of very little sleep – slept in car due to mis-calculation of distance from my hotel to start! (Doh!)
It was time to get ready, I’m amazed at how quiet it is. It’s 5am around the finish area of the race and I expected to see people milling about on bikes getting ready but nothing, I find myself thinking have I missed the boat! After parking at the finish line I had a nice 14km descent into the start town of Saint Jean De Maurienne. First order of the day find the free breakfast; coffee and croissants – I wasn’t going to miss that! Next; find my start pen. There were 15 pens of 1000 cyclists per pen, I’m in #4, fastest first then back to slowest. I hadn’t to long to wait thankfully till my start time of 07.32.
As I say this is one of the hardest Etape’s in years with the first big climb starting after a mere 2km! Col Du Chaussy 15.4km long 1533 meters assent with an average gradient of 6.3%. I just try and get into a rhythm and tap it out. This proved not to be easy- it is still very congested being so close to the start with people everywhere, going slow or speeding past and cutting in front! Slowly but surely I make my way up round the hairpins, feeling a bit tougher than I’d like at this stage with it being only the first climb, I looked round and some are really struggling, not good this early I think to myself.
Over the top of the climb and time to fuel up and get ready for the nice 15km descent, Gilet on I think I don’t need arm warmers – after all its high teens early twenty’s & I’m already roasting here. Turned out a mistake as it got very chilly going down hill. Some guys were rushing like crazy and couldn’t get ready and away fast enough, what’s an extra few minute’s going to matter really I think?
And I’m off! Less than 1km in and we’re all stopped. Doesn’t take long for hundreds of bikes to back up, bikes as far as you can see, it turns out there’s been a nasty crash, one guy is taken away in Ambulance the other guy is lying at side of the road clearly hurt but talking with a bike that’s snapped in half beside him. On down a bit the helicopter lands and takes him away. A harsh reminder that these are very steep dangerous descents and if not treated with respect will bite you hard. Next problem, picking your line is tricky enough on your own but throw hundreds of bikes into the mix and it makes for a nervous not so enjoyable descent. Once down there’s a nicely timed food stop, coke, water, iso drinks, savoury treats, fruit, biscuits, cake anything you could ask for was there!
The next 20km are the flattest, well, rolling hills – flat compared to the Cols! We pass through a few towns. A big group forms by this stage, it must be 60+ riders and the pace is high but with the smooth roads it feels effortless. Beautiful scenery, sunshine, crowds shouting and cheering, this is the closest i’ll ever get to feeling like a pro! it gives you quite a buzz.
Before long I find myself at the foot of the second and hardest climb of the day, the Col du Glandon, 19km long 1924 metres assent 8% average and ramping up to 10/12% in last 2km! Surprisingly I get into a good wee rhythm pretty quick, nice pace & cadence; I’m actually overtaking quite a few and it feels OK. Counting down the markers eventually I get to around 2km to summit. Then I go round a hairpin and think oh s**t I’m looking at what looks like a wall not a road! I make the mistake of looking up as well, bikes way way up the road, it twists up at an incredible gradient. I stand up, dig in and after the slowest, longest 2km of my life I’m at the top. I avoided the walk of shame 🙂 Another quick food stop and it’s another 3km gradual climb to the top of the Col de la Croix 2097 metres, followed by a 13km descent, quite technical and not a great surface.
The next climb looks easy, on paper anyway and compared to the rest is short at only 6km, but its no less steep at 6/7%. Throw the fact it’s now low thirty’s it all makes for a tough wee climb.
Onto the last descent and by far the best. Best surface, stunning views, unreal hairpin corners and less people, I’m able to pick my line, brake, off the brakes and roll through the corner then accelerate out then repeat for 16km! Just as I think i’m going well I hit a wee bump, the back wheel lifts and I see myself going towards a wall with quite a drop on other side! It’s like the mountain’s way of saying “calm it down son your getting carried away there”
Back in Saint Jean de Maurienne where we started 6odd hours ago and it’s the final food stop, quick bite, drink, spray with hose (prob starting to smell pretty rank by now), and away I go for the last 18km climb. The crowds are amazing, I’m sure the weather also helped bring them out. I’m treating this as two climbs as there’s a water stop half way. It starts off steep enough 6/8% again! steeper at start then gets easier towards the end, Mmm we shall see about that. Even though it feels that I’m so close to the end I realise I’ve still over an hour’s worth of climbing to do. The temp is rising I see 35-36-37! even peaks at 38 degrees for a short time. I’m starting to struggle, my legs feel fine it’s the heat actually making me feel sick and drinking warm water doesn’t help. I persevere but this feels the slowest I’ve been all day. The shouts of encouragement help, the soaking really helps, and slowly but surely I reach 2km to finish, albeit a very slow long 2km! I had walked the finish the night before so I know it levels out a lot – that keeps me going, then I see 200 metres; 100 metres; 50 metres; I can see the finish line and I find a wee sprint from somewhere (no much though) and I’ve done it. The big screen says 3400 odd finishers so far out of 15000 – that’s not to shabby.
Official time 8hrs 24 min,
Amount of finishers 9942
A bowl of cold pasta with dish water and under cooked sausage awaits me, I’m starving so I eat it while I let the scale of what I’ve just done/achieved. I find myself thinking what’s next…Stelvio perhaps…