The Etape – So I Cycled Up a Mountain or Two

Ready? No? Here we go anyway….

Thanks to the sterling efforts of the drivers Dave & Gair, our party of crack cyclists got to its French base in Saint-Gervais-Les-Bains late Friday before the event without too many mishaps or forgotten luggage, a little shower gel left at our Dover stopover being my only casualty. We will quietly gloss over the bit where we ran over Gair’s helmet en route and our good natured mangling of the French language at the service station stops  (je suis désolé).

The scenery got progressively more interesting as we turned east towards Switzerland (which unfortunately we never quite strayed into) and the mighty French Alps themselves. The mountains  looked almost unreal, like matt backdrops painted by a slightly overly enthusiastic set designer.



A slightly blurry picture of St Gervias and beyond from our accommodation


Saturday saw us cycling  past the start line at Megève up towards the ski resort to the event village to complete our registration and a grab a few Trek goodies. A slight misunderstanding meant that we were not freewheeling down to Megève as thought, but cycling up not an unsubstantial 350 metre odd incline. Who puts their registration point halfway up a mountain? ASO were obviously sadists.

The event village was heaving when we got there, with lots of bike related stalls and a few other sights of interest, like the classic neutral service car pictured below from Tours past. I’m not the most kit focused of cyclists, but it was nice to wander round and look at bikes that were either totally out of my price range, pretty impractical, or both for a change. Foreshadowing the race, the only thing lacking was shade, as it was getting seriously hot.



Retro fun


The ride was a chance to gauge fitness ahead of the sportive. My training was on a bit of a knife edge in the run up, trying to get in the requires mileage with a couple of niggling injuries that I didn’t have the time to shake. Too much training and you pick up an injury, too little and the mountains would break you. Despite the taper and ice / anti-inflammatory regime of the preceding week, the day before I was still wincing whenever I got above walking pace. This was going to be interesting.

We were to cycle a reduced Stage 20 of the Tour de France, but while this was a bit of gut punch when originally announced – who wants to be associated with ‘that’ Etape, well known to be a somewhat anemic challenge – as it happens this was to prove a blessing considering the ride to the start line and the fact our car was parked at the top of the mountain that Andy Schleck won in 2010. With these additions, we would be riding more distance and height than the Tour riders on the official stage.



Revised course with Col de la Ramaz removed due to safety concerns


Having  got up far too early (a reoccuring theme of my cycle sportives) we arrived at Megève and spent time soaking up the atmosphere. Then with a blast of nerves and excitement off we went, time to put all that training and prep (I had even semi-seriously shaved my legs like a good little cyclist that I’m not really) to good use. No safety briefing on road etiquette, this was on closed roads all the way! They were playing Highway to Hell as my wave crossed the start line, which made me smile.

I’m on my way to the promised land, whoo!
I’m on the highway to hell
Highway to hell

Welcome to Megeve


There were lots of enthusiastic spectators on route, especially clustered around the accessible bits of the climbs and little villages that were strung along the route, with the lots of shots ‘allez, allez, allez!’ (much more motivating than come on!) and the odd cowbell. One enthusiastic wielder  turned out to be an actual cow, so it appears even the farm animals are cycling mad in France. The multi-lingual ASO support staff were also pretty chipper (thanks guys!), handing out much needed goodies, including big wedges of cheese (just to show how wrong all those French stereotypes are!), at the food stops.

The event was actually not as physically punishing as I had feared, I think I found the Lionheart comparatively harder, so the training and kit upgrades since April were obviously working and the injury had cleared up overnight (perfect taper timing it seems). It was the usual fare for me, dropping right out of the back of the wave as we headed downhill then catching up and passing some of them again as we headed up the Flummet ascent.



Going a lot slower than it looks


This made pacing a bit hard, as I ping-ponged around groups and I found myself surrounded by slower cyclists on the climbs as the better climbers generally had the descending skills / chutzpah to match. Still it was nice to power past people whenever the road started to head upwards, a contrast to the downhills, which mainly consisted of garbled prayer, incessant brakes and trying to avoid be a nuisance (stay to the right!).

On the flat section, I found myself in a few groups, but all proved too slow in the end. I actually rode off the front of the couple chaingangs (close knit, rotating formation of cyclists) when taking my turn at the front and ended up riding most of it as a lone rider.



More ups please. No really.


The threatened thunderstorm had held off but it was punishingly hot as we approached midday and early afternoon. Pushing up the Col de Joux Plane there were cyclists in any patch shade as if discarded by the side of the road. This part was pretty brutal and I was plotting my course not skip past the steeper gradients at the hairpins but to pass through any of the little shade falling on the road.

While the Joux Plane was a bit of a blur (sweat and sun cream is a pernicious combination), the flat sections and relative ease of the early climbs meant that I got to experience a little more of the  amazing, wonderful alpine scenery than usual, when generally the abiding sportive memory is often lycra backsides.



Not too shabby


Then after enduring the final descent, I really don’t like downhills, the finish line beckoned. Relief, but there was more to come. In terms of stats:

  • 15,000 registered attendees
  • 11158 finishers
  • 4000m+ climbed
  • Just under 150km (both inc journey to start & bonus mountain) cycled
  • Finish time 7.01.33 (main route only)
  • Overall Place 8766
  • Climbing 1 (Col des Aravis) 00H 29’25”
  • Climbing 2 (Colombiere) 00H 47’33”
  • Climbing 3 (Joux Plane) 01H 30’53”
  • Cumulative real time 02H 47’51”
  • Climb ranking 4766e / 11164
  • Average climbing speed 10.37 km/h


Full Strava links to the event can be found here – Prologue / To the Line / Etape / Avoriaz.


Finish Line

Not taking the finish pose entirely seriously


After collecting some much needed food (& a nifty little cap / medal combo) at the impressive sports centre at Morzine, we had the little matter of climbing an extra col at end of race – Hors Catégorie (HC) Avoriaz. Here the melted tarmac was at its worse, sticking stones, gravel and tar to our tyres and making a horrible noise. Quick tyre pressure release later (having already seen somebody have an explosive blowout on the final descent) and we were back on the bikes for the final effort.



Picture on an Avoriaz hairpin bend. Absolutely not an excuse for a rest.


Success. Phew. Completing the course meant that at the timing of writing £1,821.65 (plus gift aid) had been raised  for Mesothelioma UK. A big thank you to all to sponsors, big and small, including all the MesoWarriors that follow my mum’s blog. Any last minute donations can be made here.

Monday was a ‘rest’ day. Of course the two maniacs I was with choose to go for 48 mile ride over the local mountain goat trails on their racers, but I contented myself with a short recovery run around St Gervais with its bridges, urban chateau and the dinky little funicular railway up to Mt Blanc proper. After all, need to stay fresh for the next challenge.

Marathon anybody?





~ by Jack on July 22, 2016.

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