On July 8 2018, Team Alpecin, along with 13,000 other riders, took on L’Étape du Tour – 159km and 4000m of climbing on the route of stage 10 of the Tour de France between Annecy and Le Grand-Bornand. Here’s what Cycling Plus readers Les Pegler, Murray Cox and Laura Cook learned. And if you like what you read and fancy joining Team Alpecin for this year’s Etape du Tour then sign up for you chance right here!
Team Alpecin really did provide a ‘pro’ experience
Murray: “Alpecin and Cycling Plus promised that riders would look, train and ride like a pro – riding the course of a stage of the Tour de France with throngs of people lining the route is about as pro as it will get for me!”
Les: “When I arrived in France my bike was in bits, the rear derailleur was off and I needed to replace my chain. Then we were told we’d be heading straight out for a leg-loosening ride. The pro treatment kicked in as Canyon master mechanic, Jens, had my bike sorted in under 15 minutes! The day before the Étape, we rode our Enduraces down into Annecy and left them with our mechanics to prep them for the morning.”
Best laid plans…
Laura: “At 5am on the Friday I was due to fly out to France I received some bad news – the person who was to fly with my 10-year old son couldn’t make it. Sarah, Alpecin’s organiser extraordinaire, was desperately trying to find me a different flight so I could get to France and meet up with my dad and his partner who were already there and could look after Will. I thought it was all over for me until Sarah called with a solution and my Alpecin dream was back on track!”
Les: “As we made our way from our base in La Clusaz to Annecy on Saturday I was heading round a roundabout and heard a noise behind me and knew there had been a crash. Maddy, one of our German teammates, was lying on the floor, with her face cut and swollen already. Luckily medical attention arrived quickly, but I knew she wouldn’t be riding on Sunday. It was painful to see as, like everyone on the team, she’d worked so hard and was in the shape of her life.”
The Étape is special and the French really love cycling…
Laura: “I’ve never seen so many cyclists in one place. Team Alpecin was in start pen 2, so Les and I decided to stick together and hung out at the back. As we set off I was filled with excitement. As we started out on the flat around Lake Annecy we were pushing 18mph, the views were outstanding, as they were for the entire ride. They made all the climbing that came later worthwhile.”
Murray: “Allez, allez, allez, bravo, bravo, bravo!’ I think it will be a long time before I stop smiling whenever I think of these words, having heard them chanted so many times along the route. I knew the French took their cycling seriously, but I had no idea so many would turn out for the amateur event. The spectators seemed to have boundless energy and it really did help in some of the darker moments on the big climbs that elevate this above your average sportive. Painted names on the road, cow bells, handmade signs, synchronised chants, seemingly endless water supplies and amazing joie de vivre among the roadside supporters have made a stronger mental impression upon me than the pain I felt in my legs.”
Don’t ride L’Étape expecting 100 miles of #bants!
Murray: “There wasn’t a lot of chat or banter, but it was friendly. There was a noticeable focus as everyone pushed to get to the end in one piece.”
Les: “I certainly noticed that no-one was talking on the climbs! The only things I could hear were creaking bottom brackets and desperate gulps of air.”
Nothing can prepare Brits for Alpine climbs, like Alpine climbs…
Laura: “As I approached the top of the first ‘proper’ climb – Col de la Croix Fry – I had lost Les. He’s faster on the climbs than me and I was sticking to the watt values our coach Florian Geyer had set for us. Dare I say it, but I found it easy going even at 11km and seven per cent average gradient! The second climb was the toughest, I just sat within my comfortable watts. At times I was moving at only 3mph but I found myself passing those who had flown past me at the start. Once I got over the top and started to descend I knew I had just cracked the toughest climb of the day, now just two ‘easier’ ones to get through and I was home and dry!
“All I remember about Col de Romme are the views. I think I was still on cloud nine having not had to stop and get off the bike! The miles were genuinely flying by and I was enjoying the whole ride.
“Colombière took a lot more mental strength. The last kilometre seemed to take forever and there were a lot of people who looked exhausted. I can’t really put into words how it felt to crest the summit of Colombière, knowing that all of the hard work
Murray: “Although I was as fit as I’ve been in years, nothing prepared me for the climbs and just how tough they would be on a hot day [temperatures were in the 30s for most of the ride]. The action proper started with the Col del la Croix Fry – a first category climb, longish, winding, but not that steep. I managed to get over that okay, but I realised that my unstated target of seven hours might have been ambitious, as I ground my way over the first mountain at a sedate 11kph or so. The descent was sublime, but all too quickly it was on to the Hors Categorie Montee du plateau des Glieres. Hors Categorie means above categorisation, in other words barbaric. This isn’t a well-known climb, but it will have left an indelible impression upon the 13,000 riders who tackled the Étape.
“With 130 or so kilometres in my legs, not to mention two big mountain passes, it was time to start up the Col de Romme. At the feed station at the foot of this climb I bumped into the Team Alpecin camera man who asked to film me going up this hill – and for me to look serious, like it was taking a toll. Easiest acting job ever! The Col de Romme might not be as famous as the Colombière, but it should be more feared. It’s long, steepish and seemed to be the undoing of many. This is where I saw many people get off and start to walk – CP editor Rob, also riding with Team Alpecin, admitted to having a bit of a moment a kilometre from the top.”
Les: “Having looked at the profile of the Glieres – 6km at an average 11 per cent with some parts at 16 per cent-plus – I knew it was going to be tough. The road was quite narrow and a lot of riders were walking. Many who stayed on the bike were veering all over the road, and I came to an abrupt halt when one stopped in front of me and fell over. My only solace was that I was passing others, and I ground my way towards the top. I’m not sure if the kilometre markers counting down to the summit were a good thing or not!
“By the Col de Romme the temperature had risen even higher and it started to get tough. Roadside hosepipes and water bottles were very welcome. Once again the kilometre markers were toying with me, I know I didn’t see some as I was looking down at my front wheel. When the summit finally came it was a relief.
“After the previous climbs, with the temperature still rising and no shade at all, Colombière was as much a mental as a physical battle. I looked up and could see a stream of riders looking like ants leading the way to the top. I thought it would be easy to stop and walk, but I had been lucky enough to be given this amazing opportunity so I thought about all the support I’d received, dug deeper and pushed on.”
Finishing a huge event like L’Étape is the sweetest feeling
Murray: “The summit of the Colombière came at 157km, which meant there were 12 glorious kilometres of downhill to get to the finish in Le Grand-Bornand. I crossed the line with 8.04.46 of riding time, and an overall time of 8.44.52. The first finisher crossed the line in about 5.15, so I was miles off the pace – but for a MADJIL (middle-aged-desk-jockey-in-Lycra), I was delighted to have had such an epic day out. Friends had told me the Étape was special, but I had no idea quite how much. I rode well, and was the first Brit in Team Alpecin to finish, but that is secondary to the scenery, the route and the atmosphere.”
Les: “When I entered the outskirts of Le Grand-Bornand the pain washed away, the crowds were cheering and banging placards, Didi the Devil was waiting on the line and all the hard work had been worth it. I found my Alpecin teammates and we swapped stories, other members were still out on the course and some I must have passed without noticing, but all of us who started had completed the ride.
“I had ridden up all the climbs and achieved my goal; I had ridden L’Étape du Tour! I’ve since had time to reflect and this really was the hardest physical activity I’d ever done, but I’m proud of myself and my teammates. I’ve made some great friends, had a wonderful experience, lived every emotion possible and was privileged to have been chosen. I was even mistaken for an ex-pro on the way home!”
Laura: “Knowing that I just had to descend down into Le Grand-Bornand was an incredible feeling, and I did well up knowing my son would be waiting for me and that I was going to complete this epic challenge. The fact I didn’t have to stop was such an achievement for me. When I crossed the line after nine hours and 46 minutes I was thrilled and proud! I would never have believed that just nine months after I started cycling I would have completed any sportive, let alone one of the toughest on the cycling calendar!”
Images: Bengt Stiller