I’ve never ridden in a big bunch before, so the initial 16km was rather exciting and equally as nerve racking. A motorbike, complete with cameraman, whizzed up and down the peloton which lent an air of actually participating in a professional road race. The first climb went very well but I ascended too quickly, highlighting my inexperience riding alpine climbs. I was exhausted at the top and still had another two cols to overcome.
The descent was a fantastic relief and first time for me on such roads. The initial feeling of excitement, as I looked down at the series of switchbacks, will remain with me for some time. Once I reached the flat it was hot and for the climb up to the Col du Glandon it remained so, with very little shade. In truth, I have never suffered so much on a bike. Up to this point, it hadn’t occurred to me how tough climbing can be on the mind. The body can take the endless pedal rotations, the dehydration and the cramps; but the mind stubbornly and frequently argued for cessation. This conflict continued for the entire ride. Although my dialogue was internal you could clearly see other participants openly talking to themselves.
The last 2km were fantastically arduous but the large turnout of spectators spurred my progress. My initial thought upon finishing was a renewed and revised respect for what the pro peloton put themselves through for three weeks. How insignificant my suffering was!
_by Barney Ingram_
I love the anticipation in the preceding days before an etape, and try to reassure those who show nerves – “What’s the latest weather? Are you taking any gels? What tyre pressure should I use?” – with a suggestion to concentrate on enjoying the day, not worrying about it.
It’s great fun working at the Start Village, but not so good for the preparation. Long days on your feet, no time to check the bike, an exhibition diet and little sleep the night before, gives the ride more of an edge. The one good bit of preparation I did manage was taking full advantage of the organised ‘pasta party’ and put away an almighty amount of guilt-free pasta.
The ride itself was amazing. So good to be blasting away on open roads, there was the best arrangement of feed stops I’ve experienced on any sportive, and plenty of camaraderie with fellow etapistes. Descending through rain and cloud is a hoot, made safer by the marshals and gendarmes flagging up dangers …including a herd of cattle high on the Tourmalet.
Seeing my colleagues come in safely and in good time was a highlight. Everyone had a different look on their face, some exhausted, some exhilarated, but all with tales of highs and lows.
_by Graeme Raeburn_
It was very exciting to see so many people visiting the Rapha stand in Albertville. I talked to a lot of riders, most of them were really excited and some were a bit nervous, as they had never done the Etape before. Each person had their own challenges and motivations.
For the first Etape we arrived in La Toussuire on a scorchio day and were positioned just before the finish to cheer our colleagues. There was a long wait but fortunately we were able to enjoy delicious French canapés in the A.S.O. tent in the meantime.
The second Etape was on a cold rainy day where we were giving snacks out to the brave riders on the Col d’Aspin. It was worth standing all day in the cold to give riders a push and see their grateful faces when we handed out food. The Etapes is not just a bike ride but a cycling event that brings people from all over the world together. An amazing atmosphere.
_by Franziska Stenke_