Many people wrote to say how much they had enjoyed the Etape. Here is an excerpt from one such letter. Martin wrote:

It was my first such event-and what an event!! It was a fantastic experience in an awesome, beautiful setting. My official time was 8hrs53mins,and although I went through a few bad moments, I also took the opportunity on several occasions to just take in the beautiful scenery. I now cannot wait until next years event, and am even considering Paris-Roubaix, though I know this would be a completely different challenge!


Some competitors had to overcome mechanical problems.

Joe wrote:

I broke a spoke at about 25 km and my wheel buckled quite badly, eventually being unrideable, but just as I was about to sit on the roadside and give up a Mavic van came around the corner and they had me back up and running in about 5 minutes... they wouldn't accept any payment. I am definitely a Mavic customer for life now!

I was surprise at the amount of people who had wheel problems during the stage. It seems to be the single biggest area of difficulty. I am 15 st. 8 lbs in weight and was riding a 32 spoke rear wheel. Since I got the wheel in February (a Mavic open pro rim on an Ultegra hub) I have broken 2 spokes (incuding the Etape) I have since changed it for a 36 spoke wheel (Same spec). I was certainly close to despair at the thought of having to quit over something as simple as a broken spoke.

He went on to say:

The toughest day ever spent on a bike. The last 4 km up t the Col de la Colombiere were the hardest 4 k I have ever ridden..... but seeing the legendary cross at the top as I went around the last bend certainly helped!

You just couldn't get off and walk at that stage.

I met Paul Oak at the finish (didn't know his name until now!) we ate the contents of our goodie bag together in the shade .... and his trike was definitely attracting attention!

He also says that he hopes to do the Etape again next year, and would like to get more Irish people involved. Any Irish riders out there – let me know, and I may be able to put you in contact with Joe!

 


Were you puzzled by those traffic jams on the ascent of Roseland? I certainly was until I heard from Trevor. He wrote:

I had guessed that there could be trouble after Bourg St Maurice as the road narrowed drastically at the start of the climb, so I tried to go as quickly as possible without overdoing it. Part of the reason for the holdup was the number of riders, but what happened to cause a jam was that a motorcycle passed me and got about 20yds in front and then crashed bringing down about 6 cyclists with him and his passenger. I managed to get by and saw one poor rider with his saddle in his hand! This was about 2kms up the Roselend

Then about 1/2km on after a hairpin bend there was a lot of shouting and noise behind me, I looked around and saw a big heap of bikes, legs and arms on the floor. I was just glad to keep out of trouble. The rest of the ride was trouble free and really enjoyable, especially the descents.


Many of us were pleased to finish successfully this year. Jonathan was particularly pleased. Having achieved a bronze last year, he went on to achieve a gold this year - helped by his support team!

Jonathan strikes Gold!

 

After a bronze medal last year (quite an achievement in itself given the severity of the course) Jonathan went on to achieve a gold medal this year. Here is his story.

This was the second time I had done l'etape and standing at the start I could not believe the difference between the two years. Last year in the Pyrenees I was cold, wet, had cycled 10 miles in the rain from Lourdes to the start and had been at the line for a good 45 minutes. This year I got a lift to the start from our holiday flat at Les Saisies. We had stayed there for the week prior to l'etape during which I had been climbing the nearby cols and passes with other friends. During the drive we had to clear a rock fall on the Cormet de Roseland at 5.30 am with a French cyclist who was also heading to the start. However, once at Aime I was warm, relaxed and ready to start rather than ready to finish! The first climb of the day, as everyone will know, was the hardest by a long way. The fact that I was held back by the numbers was a blessing in disguise since it forced me to take it easy. Only as things opened out towards the top of the Roseland could I stretch the legs and put into practice the preparation of the previous week. The Col des Saisies was a nice climb, never really rearing up in front of you. I managed to stick with a bald French guy and we chatted about our etape experiences in rather patchy French - interrupted by the occasional gasping gap to catch ones breath. I had a 10 second pit stop at the top to pick up fresh bottles from my family. Then the descent of Saises. This I had practiced many times and the sweeping corners on the way down to Notre Dame de Bellcombe seemed faster that ever before. Through Flumet and on to les Aravis. This was where I saw the first casualty of the day - a cyclist who seemed to have lost it on a corner approaching a bridge. The summit quickly approached although I noted that the rate at which I had been passing people was now considerably slower and the occasional 7000+ number would come past looking extremely fit.

Down to La Clusaz and I forced myself to eat and drink as I had that feeling of tiredness and my mind started to lose focus. I knew that the wall was just around the corner. With 12km to go on the Col de la Colombiere I started to feel bad for the first time all day. I had not blown yet but I could not change pace I was stuck at 9 mph and soon this became 8 and then 7 and then just as the legs began to burn, and that horrible feeling of helplessness was spreading through my consciousness, the road reared up and there was just 500 meters to the summit. I refocused, climbed out of the saddle and soon the rush of wind through the hair meant that I had effectively completed l'etape. Just the final descent and then home. The only "fly in the ointment" was a malicious wasp that decided to fly into my mouth and sting me on the upper lip at 45 mph on the decent. Apart from the wasp the etape was perfect, but thoughts of stings were side lined as we swept into the finishing straight for a final sprint to the line to finish in 5 hrs 19 minutes. I cannot tell you how elated I felt to have done a much improved time and to see friends there with a banner to welcome me.

This year showed me that preparation is the key to l'etape. Hopefully I will ride again next year and be able to go as well as I did this year. I think that the other people who cycled with me before l'etape really wished they had been participants. What an experience!


Richard was pleased with his performance. He took 5 hrs 55 mins and was ecstatic at getting a silver medal.

He wrote:


I'm glad I missed the traffic jam on the Roseland. It was slow when I went up it, but moving, which I think was a good thing as it prevented me going off too fast.

Richard’s food intake was impressive!

I remember stuffing myself with raisins & apricots on the top of the Roseland, plus eating some fruit cake-like bar things provided by Decathalon (that were tricky to open at 40 mph, I recall) on the descent. Then more of the same cake on the top of the Saisies, + some banana halves, then another 2 Decathalon cake bars, this time orange sponge ones on the descent. I tried the Decathalon honey energy bars when I got back to the UK, and they are very good for a quick hit. The strawberry jam ones were good I was told. I did not try the Decathalon energy gels in the white plastic tube (at least I assume that's what they were, not antiseptic cream or something)

Otherwise, I ate 4 energy bars of my own, plus lots of fluid and an energy gel. After the Aravis, it was fluid only, my stomach couldn't take anymore. But apart from thinking that the energy gel I took on the false flat after Flumet before the Aravis would take (as it should normally) 10 minutes to kick in when it took over half an hour, my food and fluid plan worked perfectly. I think I spent approx. 6 - 7 mins stopping on the summits to cape up and refill

Gears

My 39/53 - 12-27 was easily sufficient, only the last 500m of the Colombiere causing me to stand on the pedals on the 27.

Highlights

The ascent & descent of the Colombiere overtaking dozens of locals and feeling fresh, seeing Mont Blanc towards the top of the Roseland, and the Mexican waves in Flumet.

Lowlights
The crashes, and being overtaken by a guy wearing a Santa Claus hat on the Roseland (but I beat him to the finish).

The Crowd
How many people lined the route -100,000? Their support was magnificent and it made a real difference, much more enthusiastic than last year I thought.

Next Year
Back next year? I reckon so. A new set of lightweight wheels to get the bike to 15Ibs, some quality cyclosportives in Spain & Italy in May & June (Raid Pyrenean at the end of June), plus the usual Audaxes and we'll see if that gold is obtainable

Unfinished Business!
Lets hope next year's goes over the Tourmalet - last year it hurt so much I've blocked it from my memory, so there is "unfinished business" with that climb to resolve.

Good Luck with the Gold, Richard!