You know that you’ve had a good day on the bike – or that a bad day is about to come to a blessed end – when you find yourself with a huge smile on your face, letting out some kind of guttural ‘Yeeeeehaaa!’ scream as you head stupidly fast into a hairpin bend… Well, I do anyway.
So, as I careered, probably ever-so-slightly-out-of-control, towards the finish line of this year’s Etape du Tour in the Alpine ski resort of Le Grand-Bornand I had to decide – good day or bad day? Well, it was a bit of both really…
The ride replicated what will be Stage 10 of this year’s Tour de France. A full-on 158.5km between Annecy and Le Grand-Bornard with over 4000m of climbing. It took in three 1st category climbs – the Col de la Croix Fry, Col de Romme and Col de la Colombiere – plus the HC Plateau Glieres and it was a scorchingly hot day. Easy!
Having a team around you is brilliant!
I was riding L’Etape as part of Team Alpecin. If you’re a regular mag reader you’ll know that readers Murray Cox, Laura Cook and Les Pegler were selected to get the pro treatment as part of a multinational team run by the German shampoo purveyors. I was also lucky enough to be part of the team and it was a brilliant experience. After our first team meeting in Bielefeld, Germany and a training camp in Italy, we’d kept in touch using WhatsApp and, of course, seen how much (or how little) each of us had been riding on Strava.
At our base in La Clusaz it was like hooking up with old friends – we all had a shared goal, and similar hopes and fears. Out on the road, there was fantastic camaraderie and seeing another Alpecin jersey up the road was a great spur for some extra effort! (The only downer was when one of our team crashed on a final training ride which forced her to miss the Etape. Get well soon Maddy!)
Following a training plan works. Even when it’s written in German!
Each member of Team Alpecin was provided with a personal training plan by coach Florian Geyer from RadLabor. It was pretty daunting to be presented with what looked like three months of hell – and that was just using Google Translate to work out what he was telling us to do! That said, fitting in as a many of Flo’s sessions as was humanly possible around work and life made a big, big difference to all of us. It’s fair to say that we wouldn’t have found L’Etape half as ‘enjoyable’ if it wasn’t for Flo!
Riding to Watts could be the answer.
Look at those numbers! Yeah, that’s right – low and slow! This shaky cam shot shows my progress up the 1st category Col de Romme, the third major climb of the day after around 75-miles of riding. Florian had given all of us wattage targets for the big climbs. Helpfully he’d set three targets for each climb – good day, normal day, bad day. I ran through all three of those days, usually within a few minutes of each other! It’d be fair to say that, if you’re someone who likes to attack each climb as if it’s your last, riding to a conservative power output feels slow. Especially at the bottom as others shoot off ahead. But…get that target right and by the middle of the ascent you’ll be picking off those fast starters in relative comfort. Just try to not be too Froomey – make sure that you enjoy the scenery and not just the view of your Wahoo head unit!
Nancy-sur-Cluses is my favourite village. Ever.
No, not because I could take a picture of semi-naked Frenchman dousing himself in water (although that’s a plus point in any village, right?). I love Nancy-sur-Cluses because, like the French fella pictured I could also soak myself like a bad Athena poster. Nancy is on the Col de Romme and by the time I started climbing I was hot, so very hot. Temperatures were in the 30s, there was little shade to speak of and next to no cooling breeze. As I climbed I started to fantasise about buckets, waterfalls, even spectators chucking urine at me. Anything to cool me down. As if by magic, a chap was spraying riders with a hose, and I managed to get a sprinkling. It wasn’t enough, so you can imagine my delight when we hit Nancy and there was a village water pump dispensing cool, clear, drinkable water. I filled my bottles, poured water over my head and soaked my cap. Onwards and upwards…
…Every ride has its low point.
Even if you ride sensibly, eat and drink when you should and have a brilliant bike – in our case a SRAM Etap equipped Canyon Endurace CF SLX – a ride of the magnitude of L’Etape will bite you at some point. For me it was 1km from the top of the Col Romme. As I had been following my wattage targets I was feeling pretty, well, okay. But that heat was getting to me and, despite, my water-cooler moment, I started to boil over. I’d noticed more and more riders slowing, stopping and walking as we neared the top of this five-mile-plus, 8% average climb. And then I joined them! At first I thought I had a puncture because the bike suddenly felt really, really heavy. Then the steering started to feel like I had treacle in the headset. And then I just stopped. I took a moment to compose myself and then made the decision to just keep going. On foot – that’s my hand pushing the bike along in the picture. For a couple of minutes I was worried that I’d blown up and that I was going to have to take the broomwagon. (Just as I did at the Marmotte in 2012.) However, after a stern word with myself, I saddled up, crested the summit and went on to tackle the Col de Colombiere…
Motivational signs suck.
Okay, maybe I’m just being grumpy but I hate them! Especially this one… It was placed at the bottom of the HC Plateau Glieres climb and in a case of bad timing this was at exactly the point I got cramp in my legs and shipped my chain…
Gravel is so hot right now…
Had they been minded to Tour organisers ASO probably could have laid asphalt on the gravel track that takes riders over the top of the Plateau Glieres. Hats off to them for keeping this short bit of rough in the race. As far as I could see most Etape riders handled it easily, but at race pace this sketchy surface could lead to some potentially race shaping drama. If a GC contender crashes or punctures here – just before a decent and a fast 20-mile or so transition to the Col de Romme – it’ll be very interesting!
Germans really can do organisation!
It would be remiss of me not to mention the behind-the-scenes team who’ve made the Team Alpecin experience run brilliantly. For the members of the team it really has made for a ‘Pro-lite’ experience. We’ve had a ton of support in the build-up and at the Etape itself we had mechanics, massages, bikes transferred to the start and ready and waiting for us, meals prepared by chefs flown in from Germany and as much expert advice as we needed. As a final flourish each rider was presented with an exclusive Alpecin yellow jersey as a souvenir.
Oh, and we even had a former pro – in the form of our DS Jörg Ludewig – clean up after us!
Want proof that Rob rode the Etape? Here’s his Strava evidence!
Content Director Rob's first proper road bikes were a Raleigh Sprint in the early 1980s and then a Trek 1000 in 1999. Rob – who spent 12 years as editor of our very own Cycling Plus magazine – is a proud MAMIL who commutes by bike and rides sportives slowly. He's completed a number of big rides including the 2018 Etape du Tour, dropped out of quite a few more and refuses to shave his legs unless for money. He's currently riding a Ribble Endurance SL and a CHPT3 Brompton. At 185cm and 80kgs he can't get shorter but he could get leaner.