To ride a stage of the Tour de France on closed roads is second to none, descending with the whole road at your disposal is beyond words. Armed with the idea of riding an Etape but lacking the required descending skills, I agreed to join a club mate on the 2007 ride from Foix to Loudenvielle, 196km over 5 cols including the first time over the Port de Bales. 6,700 riders lined up and over the course of the day were whittled down to around 4,500 finishers. Port de Bales sticks in my mind as one crazy climb, with temperatures climbing to 38 degrees, the new tarmac started bubbling and I am sure started sliding back down the climb, the tyres acquired a new surface and in an attempt to stop any additional weight clinging to my bike, I took to the dirt next to the road. Now I had wheels which were well and truly tarred and feathered. It was at this point a chap cycled past me pushing his father up the climb. I got off the bike and started laughing, this was just nuts. I crept in ahead of the broom wagon just under of 11 hours, thus avoiding the cut off by an hour.
2009 was the mighty Ventoux stage, coming in at 167km the undulating course in the lead up to the “Bald Eagle” was set to slowly drain the legs before the 40 degree heat sapped us of all power. The first part of the ascent up the Ventoux looked like a scene from Mash (the TV series) with bodies strewn through the forest, escaping the heat and brutality of the climb. With a little more training and some extra experience under the belt, I managed to just miss a gold time by 9 minutes – perhaps that short lie down in the forest was difference between gold and silver.
2010 Brought us back into the Pyrenees starting in Pau and finishing up the Tourmelet, with the biting Marie Blanc separating the men from the boys before the spectacular Solour with its annoying flys and lone Vuvuzela player delivered you to the base of the Tourmelet. 174km of some of the best riding I’ve ever done saw me floating up the Tourmelet to nab a gold time with 20 minutes to spare and 12th lady home. 2 minutes was all that kept me out of the top 10, if only I hadn’t stopped to pee 🙂
2011 was epic. At only 109km was a half stage in my eyes, given I had spent a month riding an average of 190km per day, I welcomed this short ride over the Telegraph, up the Galibier before bringing me to the base of one of cycling’s most iconic climbs – Alpe D’Huez. Being nearly 10% lighter thanks to the Giro ride, the only parts of the ride, bar the descents, I loved were those above 7%. I’d lost all power on the flats and a group I would sit comfortably in proved to be tortuous. Counting down the 21 hairpins on the Alpe kept the mind in check and when I looked down at my Garmin after the final turn, I saw the chance to nip in below 5 hours. Time trailing to the finish rewarded me with 7th lady and a 741 overall – my first sub thousand finish from a starting field of 10,000.
My last Etape in 2012 took us over one of my favourite roads, after starting in Pau and ascending the Aubisque, the road clinging to the side of the mountain heading across to the top of the Solour is my first recollection of the tour as a helicopter filmed the peleton strung out along the side of the mountain. The weather was apocolyptic and thankfully I love this kind of riding, always worrying about being cold I was well prepared for the rain and cold. Unfortunately I had sat on the sofa too long after riding the Giro, so the uphills seemed to be coated in treacle as my legs died a thousand deaths. Thankfully what goes up must come down and not worried about descending in the wet, I was able to claw back those riders who’d dropped me on the climbs. Wow what a difference some training makes. The final climb over the Peyresourde concluded with a sweeping descent into Bagneres-Du-Luchon finishing one of the hardest 197km I have ridden in a long time. Getting 16th lady and nabbing 1,041st overall was rather unexpected given my lack of training.