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L’Étape du Tour 2018 ride report: A game of two halves

Hannah Troop
16 Jul 2018

'There are more hyper-steep kilometres than I can think of in any major sportive'

There’s a three-year-old’s tantrum wanting to escape from me. To throw myself down onto the ground with theatrics to rival Neymar, stamp my feet and whine, 'I don’t want to climb Colombière, I don’t want to climb it.' But on you go.

There’s not enough energy to keep pedalling, but too much willpower to stop. Your brain is in meltdown, it can’t calculate this type of survival mode you’ve switched to.

One side fighting the other, cajoling it with the promise of the sweet taste of beer at the end. This was L’Étape du Tour, 2018.

L’Étape du Tour in 2018

Every year Tour de France organiser, ASO, hold an amateur event that anyone can sign up to, which mimics one of the stages of that year's race.

This year it was held over the same route that the Tour de France will race on Stage 10, Tuesday 17th July. The route comprised of 169km and ran from Annecy to Le Grand-Bornand, taking in four categorised climbs.

These were: Col de la Croix Fry (1477 m), Montée du plateau des Gliéres (1390 m), Col de Romme (1297 m) and Colombière (1618 m).

A few weeks prior to the event I finally decided doing some research on this year’s Étape du Tour route would be a good thing... I came across a review by website, Cycling Challenge, here’s how the first sentence read.

'This course should have a warning,' the preview read. 'There are more hyper-steep kilometres than I can think of in any major sportive. There will be riders walking certain stretches. Tough.'

I stopped reading and walked away.

How it panned out...

Nine hours, twelve minutes and seven seconds was how long this battle of body, mind and topography played out. Those nine hours, just to clarify, because my ego needs to, does include feed stops.

But a battle it was from start to finish. It wasn’t one of those days where you feel like the wind is on your back, it was one of those days where from the first climb I was teetering on the edge of metaphorically falling into a dark black hole.

L’Étape can at times feel overcrowded, there are 15,000 people who sign up to the event so it’s understandable. There are moments where people are careless, swerving and cutting in front of you on descents.

Moments when you’re pacing along in a peloton, legs hardly having to turn to maintain higher speeds that you’re unused to riding.

There are times when you are confronted with people lying unconscious on the ground, exhaustion and heat having taken its stranglehold.

Then there are the times when your body feels ravaged by a climb, you collapse at the summit next to strangers, a collective moment of suffering, recuperation and encouragement is shared.

Keep on grinding

The first climb, the Col de la Croix Fry, laid the narrative for how my day was going to go. I struggled where others didn’t, and it just got harder and harder.

If you weren’t feeling the first climb then Montée du plateau des Gliéres was set to mash the legs with its gradient averaging at 11.2% over the 6 km ascent.

Spinning up wasn’t an option, just a steady hard grind.

When people talk about metaphorically 'hitting the wall' starting the ride up Col de Romme was equivalent to physically hitting one, on a bike.

At the summit I told myself, 'Only 7 kms more of hard work,' which instantly made my eyes sting with tears, I wasn’t sure if it was dread or relief. Most probably both.

The last four kilometers of Col de Colombiére are as intense as a penalty shoot out. You don’t want to look how far away the summit is, but by human nature you’re drawn to look up into the distance, as it painfully doesn’t seem to approach any quicker.

The last 4km stretch averages at 11%, providing one last kick to the body while cowering in the foetal position. People stopping by the side of the road, heads buried into arms draped over handlebars.

Capitulation of body and mind to the mountain. The tip-tap of cleats wearily sounding atop unforgiving tarmac, every surface here isn’t willing to budge an inch.

There’s no taste as sweet

When you summit Colombiére it takes a while to sink in, the effort still pulsing through your veins override emotion. On the descent to the finish line I thought about the refreshments awaiting me at the Rapha mobile clubhouse.

I took my time on the ride down to Grand Bornand allowing the warmth of success to finally rise from within and as if by magic it cleanses the muscles of the day’s pain.

Rapha’s clubhouse beer tastes sweet, the free massages relax weary muscles and the spread of food on offer was a welcome relief to the stomach after a day sugared heavier than your Grandma’s homemade jam.

It was a day you describe as ‘type 2’ fun. Many people find these events overcrowded and dangerous, and they are for many reasons.

But they’re also quite a phenomenal way to be able to see how many people are willing to turn themselves inside out to see what they find.

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