I've been lucky enough to do some amazing rides in my life, including six previous l'Étapes du Tour, but this year’s edition of l'Étape was one was the BEST. Here's my recap.
The team started out as me, my wife Tania, and Nick Schaefer, better known as Mr. Trek France. We started in Modane, and it was super-fast, even for me. The first 15k were pretty much downhill and we were lucky enough to start in the first wave. On some sections we were cruising along at 35 miles per hour and it felt like we were doing really well. The night before I had put together the game plan as I always do before a big event; where I need to be on the route and at what time. I will take five key points and put down the numbers and stick it in my pocket.
After the first fast 15k we hit the base of Col du Telegraph, and up we went. The Telegraph climb was 13k long at a 7% gradient and we continued to do well. This was a beautiful day, bright blue sky with a few clouds and as we reached the top of the mountain, the views were amazing; so good that I stopped along the way to take a few pictures. The descent down the Telegraph was fast and I looked forward to the Galibier. At 17K to the top at 7.7%, this was going to be the ball game. If we could make it up the Galibier in one piece, I knew that we would finish.
Something funny happened up the Galibier, I was having fun! Before I even knew it, we passed the 12k mark, then the 8k mark and I thought, "I can do this." As we approached the top, the views again were amazing, you could look back from the top and see the road winding below filled with riders, it was super cool. I was told that the views at the top of Galibier are amazing and it did not disappoint. I thought we had seen the best as we hit the summit, but I was wrong, the view from the top looking down the other side was even better. We reached the top 1:20 ahead of schedule.
Now for the best part of the ride: downhill 47K to Le Bourg D’Oisans. This is definitely the strongest part of my riding; very long downhills that are not super steep so that you can get some good pedaling in and just cruise. This was an exciting descent with around 5 tunnels along the way. The scariest part of the ride came as I went into one of the tunnels and it was pitch black. I must have been going 35-40 miles an hour and there was no light, just the sounds of bicycles. Bicycles in front and…bicycles behind. Putting on the brakes was not a good option. I was happy when I saw light at the end of the tunnel! Down the hill we continued to go until we reached the village.
In this town, seven years ago at my first Étape, I was caught by the sweeper wagon and not allowed to go any further. I had a score to settle. We pulled into Bourg D’Oisans an hour and thirty minutes ahead of schedule, took a right at the roundabout and then before you know it, there it was… Alpe D'Huez… the legend of them all. 12k to the top, but the number I was focused on was 6k to the Trek Travel rest stop. By this time, I was definitely feeling tired, but kept the pedals moving until we arrived at the rest stop where guide Doug had an absolutely awesome spread. I had a few Cokes, a sandwich, a handful of M&M'S and I was ready to roll. Before my first Ironman my good friend Bart Knaggs told me, “Eat real food.” I have followed this advice in all of my endurance events: I play to my strengths!
As we headed back onto the course, I wasn’t feeling so good, but figured I could rally for the last 6K. We kept knocking them down and I had hoped to launch an attack with 3k to go. A few years back at L'Étape I was able to launch an attack at 3k from the top of the Hautacam to take down my friends Steve Malchow and Tony Smook but as we passed the 3k mark I didn’t have it. My wife did. I told her go catch the boys which she promptly did, catching and passing our friend Dr. T in spectacular fashion at the end. With 1.5k to go I found a little something and attacked with Trek's HR Director Mark Joslyn and Creative Director Eric Lynn. We passed 30 people before the finish line and left nothing in the tank.
Awesome course, awesome day, awesome support from Trek Travel, awesome bike, most importantly awesome friends.