2015 Etape du Tour
St Jean de Mauriane, France
Sunday July 19, 2015
by: Buddy Briggs
It has been a very long time since I wrote a blog post, mostly been training for my latest adventure.
A few years ago I heard about Rachael's sister Alex riding an event called the Etape du Tour. I kept saying that one of these days I would come over and do it with her. That day came this year. I registered for the event way back in November, then signed on with Alpine Cadence to handle the logistics. This was going to be a trip of a lifetime. I was going to ride the Hardest stage at this years Tour de France, then get to ride some of the most iconic climbs in the French Alpes.
Training for something like this is tough, we have no big mountains around here, so I just tried to ride a lot. Long miles and as many hills as I could find. I worked pretty hard and on July 16, I was as ready as I was going to get.
This was the first of several places we would stay on the trip. It was a Gite ran by a lovely Scottish couple. Despite not having A/C, there is no A/C in France, this was my favorite spot. They were great hosts and the food was out of this world.
After arriving and assembling bikes, we kind of chilled out. On Saturday we did a little ride then headed to the Finishing Village to get our bib plates and goodies. They had a wall with every registered riders name on it, you can imagine the size of it with 15,000 names.
They gave us this very handy cue sheet, it was nice to know where the water stops were and how far it was to the tops of the climbs.
With 15,000 riders signed up, they started you in groups of 1,000, I was supposed to start in pen 10, I managed to get into pen 3 with Alex. Since the time cut offs started with the first wave of racers, being in the back put you in a pretty deep hole right from the start.
Finally our time came and we were off. It wasn't long before we hit the Col du Chaussy, 3km in, I tried to go easy knowing it was a long day ahead. I felt pretty good on the first climb, I just hoped I wasn't burning too many matches early. About half way down the first descent my front wheel started feeling weird while braking. I carried on through the only "flat" stretch of the race, and checked it at the stop before the climb up the Col du Glandon and realized it was warped and starting to crack from the heat build up while descending. I knew there was a Mavic neutral support at the top, so my only hope to finish was that they had a wheel I could use. By now it was starting to get quite hot. Despite drinking vast quantities of fluids I was struck with cramps. This was bad, I had a long way to climb and my legs were locking up. I would stop, get off, stretch, walk a little, then ride until the cramps came back, then repeat the process as necessary.
This was taken during a cramp session on the Glandon. It was a beautiful climb despite the difficulty.
I finally made it to the summit and found the Mavic support. They actually had 1 front wheel left. The problem was it was flat, and the guy could barely get the valve stem adapter on to put air in it. This process took about 30 minutes, I wasn't complaining since this was my only chance to finish. I finally was able to hit the descent. After about 10k into the 20k descent my back wheel started doing the same thing. It got so bad I had to stop about 6 k from the bottom and remove the brake pad and finish the descent on just a front brake. Knowing I wouldn't need it for the last climb up La Toussier.
The last climb was brutal. It started steep and it was very hot. I was battling cramps once again, but I knew I was close to the end so I pushed through. Luckily the last 3k eased up a bit and i was able to finish strong.
So seeing how there were 13,500 starters and only 9788 finishers, I was happy to cross the line in the top 4500. It took me 9:00 but I figure I lost 45 minutes with cramps and wheel issues. This was without a doubt the hardest thing I've ever done on a bike, and I still had 7 days of riding in the Alps ahead. How the hell was I going to recover and pull that off? What was I going to do for wheels?
To be continued,