ETAPE DU TOUR 2016 - THE STORY!
This year registration took place on an airfield! The runway safely accommodated around 10,000 cars – what a car park!
After registering we were treated to a live large screen presentation of the Tour de France, refreshed by cups of coffee available for sale nearby. Being a large site, and as the weather was fine, registration was quite relaxed, though there were a few complaints about only the women getting a free tee shirt this year!
Advice was readily available from the information point if it was required.
The starting pens were set up along the main road through Megeve, with nominally 1000 riders in each pen. In the early hours of the morning, riders were standing or sitting in the road, chattering away in many languages. Expressions showed determination and a little concern, as riders prepared for the huge challenge ahead of them. The early morning temperatures were moderate, around 19 degrees Centigrade. What would the day bring?
At the allocated times, riders rolled forward, pen by pen. In the huge concentration of riders initial progress was with one foot on the ground. I did not see accidents, but at one point there was a loud bang as a tyre exploded!
We are off!
Eventually we arrived at the starting arch –we were off! Slowly at first, then the bikes thinned out, speeds increased to 22mph and we headed towards the town of Flumet.
The scenery was interesting, as we rode through limestone scenery, with a cliff on our right. The other side of the road there is a dramatic drop into a beautiful wooded river valley, though nobody stopped to admire it! There were even a couple of tunnels through the limestone cliff.
Towards Col des Aravis!
After Flumet there was a water station – wisely placed before the climb of Aravis – as the temperature was already beginning to rise. The initial gradients of 4% rose to 7% as we climbed, punctuated by brief steeper sections. The pace slowed as we reached the steeper sections. The temperature had risen to 22C, and was still very pleasant!
The climb continued
The local population had gone out of their way to decorate the route with a variety of ways, including a bright yellow penny farthing!
Finally we arrived at the col, at 1498m!
After passing the restaurant at Col des Aravis, the descent consisted of a beautiful, thrilling series of hairpin bends.
Descending speed was around 30mph at this stage.
At 43km from the start we reached the all-important Grand Bornand food and water station.
We were not disappointed with the range and quantity of food available!
This is just the banana department!
The crowds at Grand Bornand cheered us on!
Towards Col de Colombiere!
Having completed Aravis, suitably refreshed, we set out to climb Colombiere!
Riders stared to suffer on the upper slopes of Colombiere – maintaining a good speed became more difficult as the temperature rose to 28C, then 30C then 32C
The scenery as we approached the top of Colombiere was magnificent!
We were welcomed with the sounds of cow bells from the herd grazing on the hill side
Then, the Col de Colombiere - a sprint for the line!
After the exciting descent of Colombiere, the plan was for the Etape to tackle the Col de Ramaz. However rock falls made this a dangerous option, so the organisers arranged diversions.
Joux de Plane
For riders tackling Joux de Plane the refreshment stop at Samoens before the ascent was very necessary and much appreciated.
On the ascent of Joux de plane the temperature continued to increase towards body temperature, more and more riders were pushing their bikes in the intense heat as they neared the Col de Joux Plane.
Erick’s account was particularly graphic:
“I struggled so much on Joux Plane that I had to stop a few times, and chatted to the cyclists who were also stopping or even walking. We were all struggling. It was so hot that the tarmac was melting. Breathing was like being in a sauna!! Horrible… the few moment of shade were congested by people stopping to get the strength to carry on…
I also met a couple who were pouring water from the river and showering us cyclists, who told us that last year the weather was the complete opposite. It was freezing!!!
The descent was much better, but someone had a puncture and was begging for an inner tube. Of course no-one stopped. I stopped and I gave him my last one I hope the guy made it to the end…”
Finally the finishing arch came into sight, and competitors collected their well-earned medals.
In third place was the ex-professional cyclist Jeremy Bescond, surprisingly beaten to first place by Tao Quemere, who finished in 3h33’35”, a time which would be a credit even to a professional tour de France rider.
The first woman was Edwige Pitel, the women’s French champion, who finished in 3h56’38”.
Hearty congratulations to all Etappers who completed this arduous course in the blazing heat!