ETAPE 2015 THE STORY!
Registration took place where the Etape would finish, at the skiing village of La Toussuire. Registration was quite well organised, and I was pleased to be able to obtain a map showing the parking at the start in St Jean de Maurienne, after I had registered.
Finally the long awaited day of the Etape du Tour arrived! Once we found our way to the starting pens, the atmosphere was surprisingly relaxed, with contenders sitting, relaxing and chatting as they waited. As the start time approached, the tension began to increase!
As we waited in the starting pens the temperature was a promising 19 degrees Centigrade, though from previous Etapes we knew that it might soar to high temperatures, or drop close to near zero later in the mountains! The forecast was that there was a 38% chance of storms in the afternoon, though few people seemed to be prepared for this possibility!
Riders in successive starting pens were started at 10 minute intervals, allowing each group of 1000 riders enough room on the road before the next group set off. The drama was increased by a countdown from ten (in French of course!) before riders in each pen started.
Each group slowly wound its way out of their starting pen, gradually speeding up as they approached the starting arch.
Fortunately, despite the rumours, there was a short flat section before we reached the first climb, so the anticipated bunching did not happen. Ahead of us lay 88 miles of hard cycling with over 4000 metres of climbing! A tough ride indeed!
In the early morning light, with modest temperatures, it was impressive to see the start town of St Jean de Maurienne disappearing far below as we steadily climbed.
At the front, people were making a huge effort, standing on their pedals, while further back progress was at a steadier rate. The gradients of 4% to 6% posed little problem, though the occasional 10% to 11% slopes proved more difficult. The temperature of 22 degrees was pleasant, and posed no problem.
As we approached the top of the first climb, Col du Chaussy, the sun blazed down on the huge peloton as it climbed the slopes of the last kilometre.
The drink station at Col de Chaussy was very welcome!
The descent was moderate, with a succession exciting of bends. Then suddenly shouts of stop were heard ahead, and we stopped abruptly, as we reached a wall of stationary riders filling the road ahead of us, presumably due to an accident.
We slowly shuffled forwards for a few minutes, then set off, only to reach a second similar jam, which again eventually dispersed. Fortunately, the stops were orderly, and did not cause further incidents.
Reaching La Chambre gave us a welcome change from climbing and descending the joys of riding on the flat! Peletons formed, racing along at 19mph to 22mph, and then accelerating to 30 mph on a downward section. As we approached St Etiennes-de-Cuines we reached a sprint opportunity, though most people seemed to be ignoring it behaviour copied by the professionals on stage 19! I suspect that the climbs which were to follow reduced the interest in sprinting at this point!
The drink stations were of more interest, with air temperatures rising, and a lot of climbing ahead.
So began the climb of Glandon. It was a long hard climb, with gradients between 4%, 5% to 7% and occasional 10% to 11% sections.
The countryside was attractive, wooded, with mountain streams and occasional frightening drops of many hundreds of metres by the roadside.
Finally, after 1450 metres of continuous climbing, we arrived at the Col de Glandon, with its welcome food and water stop.
Riders did not find the short climb to the Col de Croix de Fer too bad. After a 10K descent began the climb to the Col de Mollard, which some riders found to be easier than expected, although the first and last slopes were steep.
The descent of Mollard was rather spoilt by a poor road surface due to frost damage, though the road surface for the remainder of the descent to St Jean de Maurienne was excellent, with the riders behaving well.
The fittest riders found the climb up to the finish at La Toussuire to be reasonable. The heat of the day was the worst enemy, and one rider were observed collapsing, and another rider was observed apparently falling off in slow motion!
Those that made it to the finish are to be heartily congratulated for completing a ride with around 4500 metres of climbing in high temperatures.
Well done Etappers!
Out of the 15,000 who entered, 13,500 riders started, and 9877 completed the course.
The fastest rider, Jeremy Bescond, finished in 4 hours, 52 minutes and 49 seconds.
In the professional tour, Nibali won the same stage in 4 hours, 22 minutes and 52 seconds (though he did not need to stop for food and water!).