First Etape experience (Act2)

cyclingsheep

Active Member
Location
Twickenham
Settle in with a cuppa and slippers folks as this is a long one.

As far as my first Etape experience goes I'm pretty happy to be honest. This years edition took us from Pau to Bagnes-de-Luchon, covering 201km (that's 120miles in old money) and climbing 5000m over the Aubisque, Tourmalet, Aspin and the Peyresourde. In the days leading up to the event I was keeping a close eye on the weather forecasts and for those of us who'd been training in this years UK summer conditions looked fairly favourable, 22degrees high at the base, 9degrees at the summit of the Tourmalet with a bit of rain thrown in for good measure. Having read about the two extremes of last years Etapes I basically packed for any eventuality so I was prepared.

I was very aware that for me this was not going to be about time (although I very much wanted to stay ahead of the broom wagon) but was more a war of attrition. 'Pace yourself' was my mantra and 'don't get caught up with those going too fast at the start'. I had been given a bib number which had me about mid pack right from the start so as I lined up I was happy to see all the really thin, fit looking guys and girls were in the higher pen next door and that not all the guys in my pen had shaved legs :smile: I got chatting with a guy called Bill from Sheffield before the start and for most of the ride we caught and passed each other so we were fairly evenly matched.

Off we set at 7.36 roughly and as per my instructions to myself I kept a nice easy pace and managed to pop into a little group for the first 25-30kms, surprisingly I when we got to the first hill (note not mountain) I found myself out the front of the pack and on my own. At the base of the Aubisque it became ever man for himself but the roads were very wide so absolutely no congestion, which I had been warned to expect. The great thing about the Pyrenean climbs was the kilometre markers, each one tells you what the avg gradient will be for that next km so you can judge your effort accordingly. As I said earlier I was all about pacing myself so I had a few riders speeding past me but just kept my head down and spun my way up. About half way to the top the mist and rain closed in, many stopped to put rain jackets on but it wasn't cold so I didn't see the point. The one thing all four climbs have in common is the fact that the worst avg gradients are at the end of the climb, not the start so you can't go off too fast. I rode past a guy walking up that first climb, he was going to be in for a very long day. At the top it was pretty cold so arm warmers and jacket on for the descent (this was basically the standard for every descent from there on in as they were all wet at the top) and I was off. I'd been looking forward to having these wide open roads to belt down and I was not disappointed. Despite it being very wet I was flying, passed loads of people grabbing handfulls of brake almost all the way down and looking very nervous. I had a new set of 24mm Conti 4000s on and they were a joy to ride, just stuck to the road like glue in the wet and dry (at one point I was enjoying myself so much I actually burst into song). This was not the case for every one however, as we came down the Soulour a girl went down very hard in front of me. It looked like she grabbed a bit too much front brake and the wheel just went out from under her. I stopped to check she was OK and gave her bike the once over. She was very shaken up and had lost a bit of skin of her elbow but seemed alright so I carried on down. At the base I saw a lot of people in space blankets trying to warm up and apparently there were many still there when the broom wagon came through. If they were they were the lucky ones as the bus from there could take a short cut to the finish and had riders back at the finish point before many others had completed the event, those on the buses after that could expect to be on them for another 9hrs.

The next climb was the Tourmalet, I was fully expecting it to take me 2hrs to get to the top and I think that was pretty much what I managed to do it in. Generally on long rides my archillies heel is food, this time I packed my pockets full of gels and bars that I'd been training with so knew my stomach could handle and thought I had enough with me to not need to use any of the Etape's feed stations. Oh how wrong I was, by the time I got half way up the Tourmalet I had one bar left and three gels which I was saving for the last two climbs. Stopping and loading my pockets with bananas it struck me that feed stations would run a lot more smoothly if we didn't all decide to have our bikes with us as we stand at the tables getting food, just a thought. Anyway, onwards and upwards, as previously stated the worst of the climb was yet to come with the final two kms avg 10%, not as steep as many of our Surrey hills but after 17kms of 7% it does take it out of you. Sadly at the top there were no spectacular views because of the heavy fog so suited up I headed of down the mountain. This was probably the worst descent of the day, purely because of the lack of visibility, at some points I couldn't see more than 20m in front of me and it was bitterly cold. Again at the bottom there were people really suffering, shivering so much they couldn't open wrappers of food, also many of them didn't have any wet weather gear just short sleeved jerseys and shorts.

Thankfully though from the base of the Tourmalet you pretty much head straight back up again towards the top of the Aspin so it was easy to get warm again. This is only a short climb at 12km and the bottom 7kms or so are fairly gentle. I was still feeling well within myself at this point despite having been on the bike for 7hrs already and just ground out a steady tempo to the top with a South African guy for company. We went our separate ways at the top and once again I was barrelling down the descent, which was quite technical near the bottom, and just having a blast.

Three down and one to go. Now at this point I knew I was going to beat the broom wagon and unless I cracked horribly I was going to finish so I stopped and ate everything I had left in my pockets before I started the ascent. The crowds at the base of the Peyresourde were fantastic and spurred me on. This last climb is pretty nasty with the last 7kms averaging 8-9% with 105miles already in the legs but as I'd followed my mantra to the letter I felt pretty strong all the way to the top. Last climb conquered and after photo op at the top it was downhill all the way home. Still had enough in the legs to sprint the last 1km to the finish and as I collected my medal I turned around and my old mate Bill was just receiving his (apparently I'd passed him on the final straight and hadn't even noticed). According to my Garmin I finished in a time of 10.13:22 including all stops and helping damsels in distress with 5164m of climbing. I would have liked to have finished under 10hrs but I wasn't exactly rushing at the tops of climbs so really just happy to have finished. All in all I had a great day am glad all the training didn't go to waste. Thanks to everyone who has offered me advice in the build up to this event as well, your knowledge was invaluable.
 

Fubar

Legendary Member
Nice write up, thanks for sharing. Regards, Mark
 
OP
cyclingsheep

cyclingsheep

Active Member
Location
Twickenham
Cheers Mark. Yeah Kiwiavenger it was great fun and if my other half can be persuaded I'd love to have another crack at it and at posting a better time.
 
Well done mate, I was there too...here's my little write up.

http://www.cyclechat.net/threads/etape-du-tour-acte-2-pau-to-luchon.106677/

I probably took an hour off my time, stopping along the way for a break here and there but, as you say, having not done it before either, you have to do it at your own pace. I got in on 10h 27 and just pleased to have finished.

I personally was gutted about the descents. My friend and I went and had a look at the Aubisque on the Thursday before the 14th and it was a beautiful day, typical eh? But, the best thing for me was the dry descent which was something I missed with all the descents but the last on the day - the Peyresourde, pretty much leading in to Luchon. I didn't find the Tourmalet the worst descent though, that was the little stretch from the Aubisque down to the foot of the Soulor - treacherous.

I probably won't be able to the Etape again until my youngest son starts school sadly, it took a lot of logistical stuff with the kids, but there are others...

Well done.
 
OP
cyclingsheep

cyclingsheep

Active Member
Location
Twickenham
Yes it was a struggle for me as well this year Monsieur Remings as training was mainly done on my turbo trainer as my 1yo daughter slept during the day. Luckily for me my wife (who has zero interest in road racing) took her on holiday for the week I did the Etape but not sure I'd get away with that again. Great write up yourself by the way.
 
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