Friday, May 17, 2013

Etape du Tour 2013 - route recce by an ordinary mortal

One of the best things I’ve found since starting this blog is the people you meet – at least electronically.

So far at least two of them have ridden the actual 2013 Etape du Tour course; this is what Mel found out…

Mel's ride

(note – I am particularly bad at geography so all directions to be taken with a pinch of salt!)

Earlier this week two of us set off to ride the Etape du Tour 2013 route. My friend David (a great cyclist) runs a cycling holiday business here in the Alps and wanted to scope out the ride for his upcoming guests, I (not a great cyclist at all) just wanted to see what on earth this horror of kilometres and altitude could be like and whether riding it in June would even vaguely achievable. 

It was a beautiful sunny spring day with sky blue skies and temperature around 18C. As perfect a day as you can imagine.

We parked the van in Saint Jorioz missing out the first 10k from Annecy, just a flat spin along the lake. Shoes, helmet, wheels attached, sun cream on... we’re off. Almost immediately after the little church of Saint Nicholas the road starts to go up. 

It’s fine though, with nothing over 6%, mostly less and you can take it easy and still chat without getting puffed, then before you know it there’s a tiny descent into the village of Leschaux and that’s one Col done already!

The route turns left here and you find yourself on a long rolling downhill running along the wide basin of this hanging valley. At times the descents get slightly steeper and there were a couple of fairly sharp bends which threw me a bit. Up to your right and a few km off, you can see the ominous form of the Semnoz looming larger and larger, but soon the road takes you away from it and with the sun shining and the birds singing it’s easy to put it to the back of your mind.

This bit of the ride is really gratifying as the gradient makes you feel powerful. David’s advice was to tuck into the pack here and try to make up some time– and in fact the wind does start to hit here with some force, so this would really help on race day.

On you roll, through green fields and pretty little hamlets zipping past into Le Châtelard and then down a weirdly straight section of road with some more sharp turns at the bottom and then you turn round out of the wind and start going up towards the Col des Prés.

Again, this ascent was fine, I was pacing myself with the thought of the rest of the ride ahead, so it all felt relatively easy (!). After the first 5k or so to Aillons-le-Vieux there is a slight downhill/flattish part where the wind blew harder and I tucked in behind David for a while to save my legs.

Then you are up again, the gradient is a bit harder here, but before you know it you’re at the top of the Col des Prés. Two down!

Me still happy on Col des Prés
After that, it’s time for 10k of super amazing, fabulous descending first on the grassy plain and then plunging down into the forest with rocky cliffs to the side of you all the way down to Thoiry.
There are a few evil hairpins here where my speed dropped to practically zero, I was wondering how interesting this was going to be with 1,000 riders on all sides. I’m normally rubbish at descending, but trying to stick close behind David and following his line made everything so much smoother. Those who love the downhills are going to adore this!!

After the descent there’s a tiny little up which pains the legs if – like me - you forget to keep spinning a little on the way down, and then you emerge from the forest onto the plain again with a tremendous view of the Chambery valley before you. 

Almost half way into the ride I was still having quite a lot of fun, but my bidons were almost empty and Through Saint Jean d’Arvey and I was looking for anywhere to fill up. I didn’t find anywhere.

Now here I have to admit to being a rubbish map reader, I thought that the next up was an easy 6k, but after 7k I began to despair of this stupid hill as I ran out of water and energy. Which is when we realised we were in the middle of the 16km of the Mont Revard!

I was sweating & puffing and starting to be thirsty so David gave me his spare bidon – bless him! – and even stopped to decant it into mine whilst I carried on my weary way until he caught me back up (didn’t take too long).

We carried on and on, the air started to chill, or maybe it was just my blood, as the kilometres began to pass slower and slower. Finally we arrived in the ski resort of La Feclaz where snow still lay on the ground in shady corners. I suddenly realised I was dying for sugar and a fruit bar later had a new lease of life. Lucky really, as there was still another 4km up to the top of Mont Revard (and no, you don’t have to get all the way to the observatory that you can see from the road, but nearly!).

I don’t know whether Mont Revard would have been so hard if I had been mentally ready for it, in fact I’m sure it wouldn’t have been. But it’s still a long hard slog, which seems to go on forever and I was quite miserable for the whole of the unexpected 10km. So expect to suffer a bit here.

All I can remember about the descent is that it was long and glorious and freezing, with sweeping roads and a few more hairpins, through the shady forest and down into the warmer inhabited lands below with views of Lac Bourget steely blue in the valley.

The next bit of the ride feels quite tame and domesticated, buzzing along with apple trees in blossom and little deserted villages in the sunshine. No bassins however and not a bar in sight. I drank all the rest of David’s water and thirsted until finally we found a gushing dragon-headed fountain by the side of the road and then a supermarket to get coke & choc before the next big effort.  

David on vertigo bridge

There is a bridge somewhere here. Narrow and fantastic as it spans a ravine so deep you can’t seem to see the bottom. Very vertigo inducing – don’t look down! Afterwards there is a little more rolling flat through Gruffy, Chambert & Quintal, spoilt perhaps by the sight of the Semnoz that stretches up in front of you on the right and which you loop around before you begin the ascent.

And so, the Semnoz…..

I thought that I would be tired here and after the first couple of km, which are not that bad as your legs have had time to recover, but still a bit too steep for comfort, everything started to be dreadful.

I wish I’d written about it on the day, because actually as David said it would, the whole ghastly experience of it has begun to fade. But I can tell you that the distance-o-meter seemed to stop moving, every 100m felt like a 1,000 and the altitude just seemed to crawl by. By this point I was eating everything I had to eat and still feeling hungry, my back & shoulders & feet started to hurt.

Legs must have been numb because I don’t remember them hurting, but I just didn’t seem to have the energy to make them go any faster, in fact if David hadn’t taken my mind off it all by relating rather interesting facts about the Giro(!), I think I would have probably just wilted onto the side of the road in a weary pile.

However, I kept going and going and going and finally after a particularly unpleasant patch of 14% we emerged out onto the barren windswept top of the hill. Ski lifts and pistes still with patches of snow still on surrounded us, and the view I think was rather fine.

However, my brain was still out of action so I don’t really remember much here. In fact I was so knackered that I forgot we’d completed the Etape route, and set off down the other side just feeling rather cold.

David took it all in his stride
Me? Not so much
Another wonderful descent, made more so by the fact that you’ve done everything you need to do for the day (apart from a little bit more climbing to get back over the Col de Leschaux – hardly anything). We went faster down here than I’ve ever been, and even overtook a car on our way. And so back to the van with aching shoulders and sore feet and a great sense of achievement.

So summary – it’s doable! Great fun apart from the two big climbs which are just incredibly sapping after all that time on the bike. Would I do it again? Of course!! See you in 7 weeks!

Stat's blast
  • Distance ridden - 145.9km
  • Metres climbed - 4,189m
  • Moving time - 07:11:38
  • Elapsed Time - 08:26:10
  • Max Speed - 63.7km/h
  • Avg Speed - 20.3km/h
  • Calories - 4,483

1 comment:

  1. I have written a blog with photos about the route -