15e édition de l'Étape du Tour
Monday 16 July 2007
2007 was the 3rd year that our members have taken on the Etape du Tour - a Cyclo Sportive with a difference - with closed roads and the chance to ride the same stage as the Tour de France professionals will be riding a week later. The Etape has grown to almost mythical status over the years and s not to be under estimated.
In 2005 and 2006 up to 23 i-Team members took part but this year, a lot of guys have decided to try some of the other big european sportives for size, like the Gran Fondo Campagnolo and the LaMarmotte. So this year we had a select bunch of Etape veterans on the start line with 7000 others in Foix ( It took more than 30 minutes for all the riders to cross the starting line.) The event started ideal weather conditions, slightly cloudy for the first half of the event but towards the end of the stage, fierce sun made many suffer.
Here's some stories from our guys that rode this years event:
Steve Smith - Lee-on-Solent, Hampshire
The profile of this Etape was something that led to it being billed as the hardest one ever, but aren't they all, whether that is true or not depends on whether you did the Limoge – St Fleur 3 years ago which was by all accounts quite a hard event.
This year I had done a few long rides, I was confident of finishing but my training was far from structured. Both myself and Andy Purcell (who also helped out on the coach trip) were in a very relaxed mode and tried to pass this through the riders on the coach who where, on the whole, etape virgins.
This years took in 5 cols
Col de Port at 1249m
Col de Portet d'Aspet at 1069m
Col de Mente at 1349m
Port de Bales at 1755m
Col de Peyresourde at 1569m
The total distance was 199km
It all started so well, myself and Andy lined up ready and in position in our start pen by 6:45. The front riders were out of the gate at 7am with us following closely afterwards. We rode along together for the first few miles then my attempt at catching up on the hydration got the better of me and I lost some of the 1.5 litres I had drunk in the previous couple of hours, I did have to ride further that I wanted before I took a leak though as the crowds just went on for ages.
The first climb came and went, I don't really remember too much about it really except the cheering crowds and the view over the valley with the Pyrenees stretched out into the distance and mist in the valley floor, The descent was one of the longest descents seen in etape history and seemed to go on for ever. I would put a section near the top as one of my favourite parts of the ride with just turn after turn of fast sweeping corners. Towards the bottom where the gradient eased off there where peletons containing hundreds of riders forming so I just tucked myself away in one of those and drank most of what I had left in my bottles.
At the end of the descent came St Giron and the first feed station, as always this was a bit of a bun fight, I got my water and moved on to tackle the Portet d'Aspet. One of my main drives for getting over this one was so that I could stop at the Fabio Casartelli monument on the way down the other side. With maximum gradients of 17% this was a particularly difficult hill to get down with so many riders on the road. I was surprised to see no body stopped there, but it was on a fast part and people were really flying by. It was a pretty emotional feeling leaning on the bars and looking at a fantastic monument to someone I had seen die on TV
By the time I started climb 3 I was cramping despite drinking lots and taking on Nuun. I found myself a group of 3 french supporters and borrowed an allen key from them and raised by saddle about 2mm and that did the trick! I was also struggling a bit with some shorts that had a smaller pad than my saddle and were chaffing both of my prime beef buttocks, everytime I sat down after climbing out of the saddle I was in a lot of discomfort and it took a while to get the area ready to take pressure again.
Towards the Port de Bales we had a headwind and there was a lot of reluctance understandably for people to work on the front. I ended up riding with a fit looking guy on a tri bike, we worked well together but as soon as we caught up to a couple of riders in front I decided to call it a day and sit with them to save something for the last 2 hills
The Port De Bales arrived and I realized that I was going to have to pull something out of the bag to be able to get up it. I had to stop numerous times to cool down and recover, each time I thought about what I'd eaten and drank in the hour before to ensure I didn't run out of fuel. Towards the top I almost caught up with Andy again who I could see walking in the distance but it coincided with one of my cool down stops so I eventually saw him at the feed at the top. He told me then that we only had ½ hour until the broom wagon would be there then he disappeared off down the hill while I finished by ham and cheese sandwich
I left the top of the climb and descended like a stone, it was a great feeling to be passing so many people. One of them was a guy from the coach trip that I was working on with Tony and had, only the night before, warned of the perils of descending exactly like I was doing.
The bottom of the descent turned immediately into the climb of the Peyresourde, the change was so pronounced that I nearly scraped my chainring on the ground while pulling 5G's of force in the dip in the bottom, I was on the last climb. As climbs go I didn't find this one too difficult once we were out of the heat. With about 3 Km to go you could see the hairpins rise above you to the top of the climb, I counted 4 of them and then set about getting up to the top. I was really pleased because my finishing strength came back to me and I just pushed it hard up the last 2 k's out of the saddle (to save my bum as much as anything) . I looked back down the hairpins from the top and saw the car with the clock on signifying 'game over', that was all I needed and within just a few minutes I was down the bottom of the hill with only a 500 m long rise to get over.
I was expecting the worst of the rise following the little sting in the tail on the 2005 etape but it came and went. At the top a guy came along side me and asked if I thought we would get to the end in time, the cut off was 7pm and it was 6:55. There was absolutely no way that I was going to miss out an a finish after a day like that so I just knocked it down through the gears and gave it absolute nuts like my life depended on it, it was a gradual down hill and I saw over 60kmh and crossed the line in 11 hours and 57 minutes.
I think my ride time was about 10:30 so I had about 1:30 of stop time at feed stations and time just stood in streams
Highs – Descending the Col de Port and the Peyresourde
Lows - realizing I was knackered with the hardest hills to come still
Would I do it again - who knows!
Howard Plumb - Chichester, West Sussex
This was to be my third Etape and after some reasonable preparation in the form of the Etape du Dales, Polka Dot Challenge and the Dragon Ride I felt reasonable confident of bettering my 1978th finish last year.
I arrived on the Friday before the event and opted to fly to Toulouse after the long coach journey last year. I pick up a rental car and proceeded down to a campsite 2km north of Foix to meet up with Fraser Ellison and his family who has driven down a day or so earlier with their trailer tent.
After reviewing the profile and maps of the route, Fraser and I decided to do a recce of the hardest climb, the Col du Bales on Saturday morning. I thought this would be the pivotal part of the ride and knowing what was coming up at this point would help with our confidence and pacing on the day. Although it was documented as a 19km climb in was in reality about 25km from the valley floor, worth knowing.
The big day…
We rode out from the campsite at around 6am and arrived in the last pen at around 6.20. I was concerned about starting with such a high start number (6634) and whether I would be caught up in traffic for the first half of the ride. The roads were reasonable wide and once you get used to passing on the left hand side instead of the right I started to move through the field as we headed to the first climb of the Col du Port. As mentioned in previous reports (Cycling Plus, Rapha website) this climb was steady and I was able to maintain good rhythm to the summit. I arrived in about 1 hour 20 mins. The descent of the Col du Port had some nice winding turns through the trees. I felt I was making good progress.
I arrived in St Girons and picked up some fruit and water before the valley road to the Col de Portet d'Aspet. I kept in a group to conserve energy before the next climb. One thing that confused me on the day was that Portet d'Aspet is not the Col de Portet d'Aspet which is another few kms after the village and the point where the climb really starts in earnest. I paced up the climb OK and prepared for the decent past the Casatelli memorial (sobering) to the base of the Col de Mente.
The day really started to heat up at this point and as this climb start to steepen near the summit I realised this was not going to be an easy day. I stopped at the spring to collect water before winding my way to the top of the col.
I kept in a group after descending the Col de Mente and prepared for the hardest climb of the day, the Port de Bales. After riding most of the climb on Saturday I knew what to expect but after 140kms in my legs I knew it was going to be much harder. Patience was the key here and just tried to maintain a good pace. The last 6km was very hard and went up to 11% in places according to our neighbor on the campsite, who had a computer that measured gradient. The surface was also very soft due to the fact that it had only recently been tarmaced from a gravel road. After reaching the summit, I refueled at the food stop and then headed off to the Col de Peyresourde. The descent off the Bales was fun but quite precarious in places with a funneling wind up the valley, a narrow road and almost a sheer drop on one side with no crash barriers. The descent was a welcome break for the legs and I took this opportunity to refuel with food and water on the way down.
The climb of the Peyresourde had a fairly steady gradient but I was really beginning to tire at this point and had to stop about three times to rest. I eventually reached the summit knowing that, apart from small incline near the finish, the race was done.
The descent off the Peyresourde was great fun and started to feel the end was in sight. I crawled up the last small climb a couple of km before the finish and sprinted to the line.
I finished in 9 hours 27 mins, 1586th overall, an improvement on last year but on reflection I felt it was harder than last year and the heat played a major factor.
Andy Purcell - Daventry, Northamptonshire
I had a pretty mixed day really,after leaving Steve for his nature break,i pushed on in the knowledge that i needed to get enough miles under my belt early on to hopefully help me later.
The col de port was a nice climb that flattened out a few K's from the top.The decent and the ride into Saint Girons was really quick and before i knew it i was at the first feed.
Howard gave me a shout not long after that on his way through,and shortly after that Fraser came past as i was putting my chain back on,at the start of the climb of the Aspet.Again a fairly steady climb that didn't present any problems,once that was topped i started the decent and was flying until marshals were slowing people down as a rider had come off, and was being seen to by the medics,i also got a puncture there,once fixed i carried on down and started the climb of the Col De Ment.
For me this is where i started to suffer,the heat of the day and the climb combined to make me have a few breathers,and also sow the seeds of doubt as to whether i was up to this challenge.
I heard a rider talking to someone on the phone,saying he was going to jack in at the top,and i thought what a good idea,but plodded on to the top and the second feed station.
I worked out my timings here,and decided i still had loads of time to complete the ride,so pushed on down the decent into the valley, and a bit of a drag along to the start of the Port De Bales.Somewhere around this point there was a sign saying i only had 50k to go and my spirits rose for a short time
The climb of the Bales is one to look out for next week when the Tour goes through,it brings so many emotions to the fore,you never quite know where you are with it,it is steep, flattish,steep and just goes on like that all the way up to the top.
It was also very hot at this point,so much so that parts of Tarmac where melting
I did a lot of walking up this one and by the time i had reached the summit,had worn down my cleats and could only clip in on one pedal,my days where numbered from then on
After a brief chat with Steve,i took the decent and met up with him again at the foot of the Col De Peyresourde.By this time i was pretty fed up and after another brief chat, Steve carried on,i decided to walk for a bit in bare feet to try and save what i had left of my cleats,but by the time i got to the 3k to go sign to the top,i had,had enough and sat down under a tree and waited for the broom wagon
Thoughts of previous days conversations of the Vultures circling made me smile, as i sat watching the world go by,and i sat quite content waiting for the bus to pick me up.
I phoned my wife while i was waiting,and she said to me today i seemed really chilled and at peace with the world,so i'm convinced i made the right decision,the ironic thing is,this was my third Etape,and the one i failed to finish,yet by far the most enjoyable mainly due to the company of Steve and everyone else involved