2010 ETAPE du TOUR
We had arrived! We were finally at the Welcome Village at the Hippodrome at Pau
After registering and inspecting the latest bikes on display, and stocking up on energy gels, we surveyed the course which lay before us.
18th July - the day of the Etape - 7 am approached. Dawn had broken on the Boulevard de Pyrenees. The mountains were hidden behind light cloud. People from as far away as Iceland, the United Arab Emirates and Australia chattered in many languages.
Of the 10,000 entrants, 3500 were visiting France for the Etape.
What lay ahead of us? Searing sun or rain?
We rolled slowly at first, then after the starting arch where our start times were registered, speeds increased to 18 mph – 20mph – 22mph, slowing on the hills, then accelerating to 30mph on the down hills, we were drawn along by the huge peloton of 10,000! Near Lasseube, the speed dropped as we ascended the first hill of the day, then increased as we descended,
The first 30 miles were enjoyable – with such a large bunch it was easy to achieve speeds which would normally be fatiguing. Were we going too fast? Would we be exhausted on the mountains ahead?
Spectators cheered us on as we sped through the villages.
On two occasions we reached small villages the huge peloton bunched together and slowed as we crossed a “Dos d’Ain” (speed bump) then inched forward again, building up speed….Was this a sign of things to come?
Temperatures began to rise from the low 20s
Finally we arrived at Escot, where the road swung left to the foot of Marie Blanque, with its interesting profile
A cartoon cut out of a famous fable at the foot of Marie Blanque gave me some hope!So – we were on Marie Blanque at last – with its famous increasing gradient – starting at 2%, them 8%, then 11%, 13% ….
Apart from the heat, the humidity of this moist wooded valley was surprising – steam was actually rising from extremely sweaty riders! Those wearing spectacles had trouble seeing where they were going, as their spectacles steamed up! As we ascended, the bunching increased, until officials decided that such was the density of riders, it was safer for them to walk – and ordered us off our bikes!
The last 2km was on foot!
This did not amuse many people, as time was going by…
Finally reached the top, and on our bikes again!
The descent to the feeding station at the Plateau de Benou was a series of sweeping bends – very pleasing cycling.
The feed station offered oranges, apples, bananas, bread, small energy bars, and of course water, carefully dispensed by friendly helpers from 1.5 litre bottles. This prevented the water shortage problems of previous years.
Refreshed, we headed off towards the next section.
After the pleasant Plateau de Benou, the road plunged downwards in a series of fast straight sections, followed by sudden bends. If you knew the road it was fine. If you did not – it was rather hazardous! Several of accidents occurred in this section during the race as riders approached the hairpin bends too fast,
After leaving the Marie Blanque behind, riders grouped into small fast bunches, taking advantage of the slight down hill gradient to bowl along at around 25mph, making up for lost time.
The route passed through a number of small villages.
Lines of riders receded into the far distance
On a number of fast downhill sections in this part of the route, riders reaching 30mph and even 40mph
Eventually we reached the feed station at Ferrieres, just before the climb of over 1000 metres to the Col de Soulor (col altitude 1474 metres)
At this point, 12km of climbing lay ahead of us!
Although the first 9km was shady, temperatures had now risen to around 31 degrees.
Finally, we emerged from the woodland to bare mountain scenery, and were cooled slightly by the breeze.
A welcome water station awaited riders at the top. Very few riders stopped to enjoy one of the two cafés on the col!
The descent from Soulor was fast, winding and steep, with some riders achieving speeds over 70 kph, though the more cautious among us were happy to descend at 50kph!
It was in the Gorge du Luz that I really began to feel the heat, and felt like bathing in the cool river alongside the road! Maybe the humidity was a factor.
Even on the first slopes of Tourmalet, the effects of the heat began to take a toll.
A climb of over 1600 metres, climbing for over 18km in temperatures of 33 degrees is quite a challenge, particularly when you have already ridden around 100 miles!
Young spectators took pity on us, lowering buckets into the river and pouring bottles of water over the struggling riders to cool them! The freezing shock was most welcome! One of our group claimed he would not have reached the top of Tourmalet without it!
After the last water station at Barages, the scenery opened out into bare mountain scenery, and riders struggled up the steep slopes to the finish on top of Tourmalet, and collected their well earned medals, having succeeded in climbing a total of 4500 metres and riding 174 km, before descending a few km to La Mongie, where much needed refreshments awaited them. Those suffering from dehydration were attended to in the medical tents, mild cases being treated with glasses of water, and more severe cases recovering quickly after being put on a saline drip!
Many riders new to the Etape du Tour particularly enjoyed the event – especially those who finished before the cut off time!
A total of 6890 riders successfully crossed the finishing line.
Amongst the entrants were the quadruple formula 1 racing driver Alain Prost, and world class triathlete Paul Belmondo.
The first rider was Jean- Christoph Currit who completed the course in 50 seconds less than 6 hours. The first lady, Magdalena De Saint-Jean took 6 hours, 30 minutes and 35 seconds.
Many thousands of riders were delighted to have completed such an arduous course in extreme conditions.