Last Sunday I participated in l’Étape du Tour. It is an annual citizen's race in France that covers one of the stages of the Tour de France. This year’s was stage 20: Annecy to Semnoz. My wife Tania and I ride l’Étape every year and this was our eighth straight start. It was a beautiful race day. We started in Annecy, which is one of the most beautiful places on the planet; An amazing lake in the middle of the French Alps, with crystal clear blue water. The race kicked off at 7 am. Bright sunshine greeted the 13,000 riders for a route that would cover nearly 90 miles, 5 mountain climbs totaling a little over 11,000 feet of climbing. Sounds pretty bad. Well, last year was a lot worse, so I was optimistic.
One of the great things about this event is every year we take a great crew along with us. This year we had Mark Joslyn, the head camp counselor at Trek, who is AWESOME to have with the group, and Nick Schaefer who runs Trek France and is the best domestique anyone could ever have. We had Tim O'Meara who lives across the street from me, and my old college roommate Tony Zullo (think Raymond from Everyone loves Raymond), and we had the Bobber. Yes, Bob Burns, Trek's general counsel, who had a few too many beers three months ago and got talked into this event late one evening.
The gun sounded and we were off. We rode around the lake for 10k and then headed up Col du Port followed by a short, but 6.4% climb up Col Leschaux. All Good. After around 65k we reached the base of Mont Revard, which was a 16k climb at 5.4%.
By this time, the group had dwindled to Tania and me, along with Mark Joslyn, and Tony Zullo. Hard to believe, but I was feeling really good with 2k to go to the summit so I pounded up the rest of the climb figuring that we had around a 40K downhill in front of us where I could recover. The pounding part worked out really well. We were passing a lot of people and I thought all of that training and my new power meter had paid off.
At the top of the climb we stopped at the Trek Travel rest stop. I asked for a piece of paper because I wanted to leave Bob Burns a motivational note. I went with "Godspeed John Glenn," crossed out the John Glenn and put in Bob Burns. I added "Don't ever give in" and down we went.
The descent over Mont Revard was over 40k and it was awesome. Two problems. One: it ended. And two: it ended with the start of the final climb up Semnoz. It should be noted that Neil Rogers of Velonews was with our group and he reached a max speed on the ride of 62.4 miles per hour. Crazy!
Let's just say that Semnoz was a bastard. It is 11k at 8.3%, but according to my Garmin it stayed in the 10% plus category the entire way.
I thought I was going to refuel on the downhill. I did not. I died after 1k on the Semnoz. It was a brutal climb. It started out tough and never got any better. While it took a while to make it to the top, we eventually got there and our time of 7 hours and 22 minutes was one of our best ever at l’Étape.
After we finished, we retreated back to Annecy to wait and see if Bob Burns would make it or not. After 10 hours I received a simple text from Bob "Finished!" The most amazing ride of the day was put in by the Bobber. While Bob does not look like he is built to climb the French Alps, he more than made up for that with a big heart. Just like at work, Bob always gets the job done. We must have had 50 people from Trek at the post-race party, and I presented Bob Burns with a signed yellow jersey from all of the Trek participants. It was another great day to work for the BEST bicycle company in the world.