I love the Alps and have visited many times on holiday as a child but despite training in many parts of Europe throughout my career had never ridden my bike out here.
I had enquired about taking on the Etape before but it was never possible due to my training schedule with the GB Cycling Team, so this was my first chance to give it a go!
“This was a challenge I wanted to undertake in retirement, partly to have a goal to keep me active and partly because it was something I’ve always wanted to do.”
We travelled to France on Friday last week with luggage bags full of all types of cycling clothing to prepare for any weather eventuality (I have never been very good at travelling light), but we arrived to clear blue skies and gorgeous sunshine. On Saturday morning in Briancon we had a briefing to go through some logistical details of the day and hear from a local resident to get some knowledge about the roads. We were also informed of the location of the Sports Tours International feed stations, which we could use in addition to the official feed stations. The room was full of anticipation from fellow participants, it was a great atmosphere with a mixture of excitement and nervousness, and I was busy making plenty of notes about the route.
The Sports Tours International team took a bag off everybody that night which would then be at their first feed station at 110km. I filled my bag with supplies of sun tan lotion and chamois cream which I decided would be my most useful essentials at that point in the day!
It was an early start on Sunday but we were again greeted with clear blue skies in the morning. I rode with my husband Dan and we were both happy to enjoy the ride rather than be too competitive (much to the surprise of many people – I am happy to just cycle for fun in retirement!) This meant I could make the most of the stunning scenery and take plenty of photos which is a bit of a hobby of mine.
First one from today before I sort through the rest. EPIC day out at L’Etape du Tour but check out these views from the Col d’Izoard Truly amazing atmosphere with so much support among riders and from the road side. Special THANK YOU to the lady who sprayed me with a hose pipe at about 6k to go as well as everyone from @sports_tours_international for making everything run so smoothly #letapedutour #ColduIzoard #bigday
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The route was 181km from Briancon to Col d’Izoard and the first 50km was fairly fast, mainly downhill, and on wide roads. Something I had been concerned about before the start was how it would feel riding with thousands of people. However as the roads were wide there was plenty of space and we soon settled into a group. The first climb was a third category climb, around 4km long, which wasn’t too demanding. After a quick stop for some photos at the top we descended down towards Lac de Serre-Poncon before riding up the valley towards the first of two major climbs of the day – Col de Vars.
This was a 1st category climb and just over 9km long. It’s fair to say I found this challenging as the gradient kicked up in a few places but the views were incredible! I saw one guy having to ride his bike with no saddle (which was stuffed into his back pocket) but despite this mechanical failure he still seemed to be in good humour at the situation!
The final climb was the HC Col d’Izoard, at 14km in length and with many kilometres averaging 9%, this was a climb that demanded respect. Having said this, the first couple of kilometres lured me into a false sense of security as the gradient wasn’t steep and I began to think this climb was perhaps easier than Col de Vars. However this feeling was short lived as I soon rode up into kilometre after kilometre relentlessly averaging 9%. The last 5km seemed to last forever and I was so happy to come round the final bend and see the finish line in sight!
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I’m not going to deny this was a hard challenge and one that shouldn’t be entered into lightly, but the sense of achievement at the finish was so incredibly fulfilling! There was an amazing atmosphere all day with so much encouragement from other riders and a sense we were all in it together. From the road side there was also so many spectators cheering us on. On the Col d’Izoard I was feeling the heat but spectators were happily spraying us with hose pipes and chucking bottles of water in the direction of anyone who looked like they were in need.
The finish at an altitude of over 2300m was an incredible landscape and I could just about summon enough energy for a few more photos. It was then a 20km descent back into Briancon to collect our medals. This section wasn’t part of the timed stage but was still on completely closed roads so another nice treat to be able to descend with no traffic.
Overall an incredibly tough challenge but one I am so proud to have completed. Whilst physically hard I would say this challenge was just as much mental as physical as I climbed the relentless gradients of Col d’Izoard. It would have been so easy to stop and wait for the broom wagon but it was the debate – what do I want now versus what do I want most? Rather than take the easy option to stop there and then, I was determined to finish rather than regret it the next day, so I continued to grind my way up that climb and officially be a finisher of L’Etape du Tour 2017.
Fancy testing yourself against the Etape du Tour in 2018? Register for Sports Tours Interantionals’ wait list here!
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