After months of prepping and what seemed like constantly recovering from colds and viruses, finally July 10th arrived.
They always say, be careful what you wish for! I wished for sunshine and I got it!
I was up about 6, giving me an hour to get every thing sorted and allow the nervous excitement to build, with several nervous adrenaline fuelled toilet visits for nothing more than a stupid dribble! It’s so annoying.
Eventually I left for the start with Ian. I was due to be in pen 13 and Ian was in pen 8, which initially meant I was leaving 40 minutes after Ian, with slighter tighter cut off times. However, I managed to get into pen 8 which was very helpful, not least because it meant less time waiting around! As we were staying 5 minutes from the start, we didn’t have to wait too long and we started rolling forwards and then we were off.
This was my second L’Etape Du Tour and for many reasons last years was a bit of a stressful affair in the months leading up and the mad rush that was our travel and stay. I learnt a lot from last year, one big lesson was not to waste so much time at feed stations, this is probably the main contributor to being cut off at the top of the Col du Glandon last year.
The start was fantastic this year, a really fast section before a few lumps and then the first climb, the Col Du Aravis. This was a short ascent and quite pleasant, we kept a good pace up the climb, I felt strong and once I got to the top 1 hour ahead of the cut off, I knew I was going to be ok for the whole ride. The descent was great fun, always a great reward for the climb you have just completed. The temperature was around the 20 degree mark at 9:20 in the morning, so we knew things were going to get hot!
The next climb came quickly, the Col de la Colombiere, another pleasant climb that just had a bite in the last few kilometres to the top. The temperature was rising and as we got to the top at about 10:20, we were now 2 hours ahead of the cut off. Everything was going so well, the descent was quite technical with little room for error in many places. Get something wrong on this descent and you could end up in the rock face or hurtle over the edge as there was not much in the way of barriers. On the descent I heard the familiar “POP” sound of someones inner tube exploding, living on your brakes might seem a good idea, but it’s not on a mountain descent, as the rims heat up and this transfers to your inner tube, which in turn expands until it can’t expand anymore! Despite the potential risks the descent was a beautiful one and possibly one of my favourites.
Now came a section of flat and false flat roads, this was great, but I had to resist the temptation to push on too hard as I headed for the tough climb of the day, the Col du Joux Plane, not a long climb at 12 km, but when we reached the bottom of it the temperature was now 33 degrees. There was only small pockets of shade here and there, already taken up by people feeling the effects of the sun.
I paused a few times in the first 5 km as the temperature kept rising, peaking at 37.5 degrees. The gradients on this climb were unrelenting, it’s quite a beast of a climb, especially in these temperatures. Had it been about 23 degrees, this climb would had been tough but ok. It was a very congested climb in places, with everyone going so slow, it was just asking for accidents as some people cramped and fell off their bikes or just plain run out of steam in the heat. As it happens, I nearly ended up on the deck after a stupid woman from the UK, yes “Hilary”, you know who you are, decided to just stop pedalling in the middle of the road, right in front of me, because she had seen someone she knew on the road side and wanted a chat!
As a result of this impromptu stop, I had to brake so as not to hit her, at about 4.5mph on a 12% gradient the effect is pretty much that you stop right there and have almost no time to un-clip your cleat. I started to fall to my left and hit a guy coming alongside, he saved me by giving me that split second to get the un-clip executed! I reached out and grabbed his rear stay to steady his bike and thankfully we both remained upright. After a few choice words in her direction, I went to push off and found the chain had jammed, so a quick look and I fixed it, although now my rear freewheel didn’t sound right. I carried on and it seemed ok, although I could tell it wasn’t right.
Eventually I had to stop as the heat was keeping my heart rate high and that in turn was starting to hurt my breathing and I was feeling a little sick at times. It was a similar effect to last year on the Col du Glandon, only this year I was in much better shape and I could get my heart rate to settle. I did result to walking for a bit, not what I wanted to, but it’s not worth killing yourself for, it’s just a bike event at the end of the day. We were in good company as so many people took to walking some of the climb in the relentless heat. Plus I had 4 hours from the bottom of the climb, so I was in no danger. After a while the heart rate was reasonably settled and so I hopped back on the bike, clipped in and pushed off, clipped my second foot in and went to pedal on and found I just spun! I had nothing, it was like the freewheel had failed, as a result I had no speed and nearly went over for a second time, but managed to somehow un-clip and remain upright. This was not good, that stupid cow stopping had somehow damaged something.
So I walked to the top of the Joux Plane, knowing that the descent would be ok even if I couldn’t pedal. However at the top I found that the freewheel was generally ok, but on occasion it would just spin. On the descent it didn’t sound right, I was just praying that it would all hold together. Ian and I didn’t hold back on the descent of the Joux Plane, it was another cracking bit of fun. We passed one guy walking down who seemed ok himself but had a front wheel that was no longer round and was bent out of shape. It looked like he had over cooked a corner of the descent and slammed the front of the bike into a wall. We were later told that another had come off and slammed his face into the tarmac, blood everywhere, he was air lifted to hospital. You really do have to be careful on the descents.
As we entered Morzine and headed for the finish line, I didn’t really care too much about the freewheel for a while, I was just happy that I completed the event and that my gorgeous little family was their to see me and share in the occasion.
This year was so much better than last year in every way. I set my training plan up and worked on specifics throughout the months leading up, changing focus on different areas at certain times. I added some extra gym work in as well. My time in the mountains before was longer, so I had chance to adjust to the altitude and some of the heat. I ate and slept much better than last year and was generally more relaxed about the whole thing.
So what about next year! Their won’t be another L’Etape Du Tour for me, not for a while anyway, I have proved to myself that I can do it, that’s all I am interested in, I don’t need to come back again, there are other rides and events that I want to do.
So what happened to my freewheel? Well the day after the event I took the freewheel off and found that the retaining ring was bent out of shape and snapped in three, explaining why it was making a funny noise and why it sometimes didn’t connect properly. I have done the best I can to repair it so that I can hopefully get out for one more ride, before we leave. Although the weather has now changed and as a result, it may not be possible, we will have to see.
Thank you to all the people that have shown me support and given me words of encouragement and congratulations, it has meant a lot to me.
This is my second ride of three in honour of my Grandad Bill and Uncle Roy, who both died of Leukaemia. If you would like to sponsor me, please follow this link: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/RichardWyeth