This past Sunday I got in the saddle for my seventh straight L'Étape du Tour. The Étape is a race put on by the Tour de France organizing group ASO, and is usually held on the course of one of the hardest stages of the Tour. This year’s version was 152 km (94.4 mi) over five climbs: the Madeleine, the Glandon, the Croix de Fer, the Mollard, and La Toussuire. The 152km didn’t sound that bad. The problem was the 4,808 m (15,777 ft.) of climbing.
We arrived at the start line at 6:30 am with rain pouring down and ominous skies. The forecast called for a 70% chance of rain and scattered thunder showers. The Country Manager for Trek Germany-Austria-Switzerland, Petra Schmiedel, who was in our group, told me not to worry about it, that it would be a beautiful day in the mountains. Since Petra lives in the Alps, and that was what I wanted to hear, I went with it.
The race stated and it was 15km of flats before the start of the Madeline. All good. We hit the Madeleine and it was, as advertised, a 22k climb at 7.5%. It was a BEAST. We made it to the top feeling pretty good. Next was a 22k decent and everyone seemed to be passing me by. We head up the Glandon and that was also a BEAST. It never stopped and I started to enter into the hurt box half way up the climb.
I said to my wife Tania, “I really need something cold to drink,” and she told me "tough luck, nothing around here until the Trek Travel rest stop on the descent."
Wrong! There was a small, hole-in-the-wall restaurant with this old lady out of the movies behind the bar and one customer who was the French version of Norm from Cheers holding the bar down. I had three Cokes and two apple juices and got back on the bike. Up to the top of the Glandon and another 3K to the top of the Croix de Fer. Made it. Three climbs down, two to go. One small five km climb and then one category one climb. The hardest part is over.
WRONG! I make it to the Trek Travel rest stop and for some reason my body says, “Oranges.” So I go oranges. I ate 6 oranges. I double my yearly orange consumption in 6 minutes. Back on the bike to the Mollard, a 5.7km climb. Turns out this climb was a BASTARD. 5.7K of seven, eight, and NINE PERCENT! I was DEAD half way up the climb and I started to think that perhaps this was not my day and I would get sucked up by the grim reaper, the ASO bus that picks you up if you don't make the time cut off.
I finally make it to the top and head down towards the final climb up to La Toussuire. Bruno is manning the Trek Travel rest stop at the base and he has a good spread, although my body can't really eat anything. I manage to eat a Snickers bar (My friend Dr. T. says they are better for you than energy bars) and drink a few Cokes. Bruno, who is a rock star, has somehow acquired 72% of the ice that exists in France. I load up 3 water bottles with ice and head up the last climb. According to Bruno, the 18km climb at 5% is not so bad.
WRONG! We get going over seven, eight, nine percent for the first 10km. The optimist in me says, “Wow this is great. It must be flat the rest of the way.”
WRONG! With the exception of two flat kilometers, it was a BEAR all the way up until the final kilometer.
I ended up finishing at 11:11 minutes. For the day, 9,000 riders started and only 4,400 finished.
Another day of living the dream!