L’Étape Once Again Fulfilled the Dream of Thousands of Roadies

By Martin Atanasov

With the last breath left at Col de Joux Plane, L’Étape du Tour de France has come to a close. And what an epic event it was. Passing through over 30 villages and towns, it was a true celebration of cycling. Moreover, the locals made the predominantly amateur riders feel like they were part of the greatest cycling event in the world – Tour de France.

Although not everyone managed to conquer the 157-kilometre route and more than 5 thousand had to be brought to the finish by buses, everyone present had a lot of fun and discovered first-hand what it’s like to be on the grandest of all stages. In that aspect, everyone was a winner – the riders, the spectators, and, of course, the organizers, who managed to gather more than 17 thousand people from all over the world. Representatives of over 50 nations took part in this year’s event. Of course, the majority were French and European in general but there were also riders from every continent, including Canadians, Australians or Nigerians. And while it’s true that everyone who participated was a winner, in a race, there can only be one.

The winner

The winner of this year’s L’Étape was Artus Jaladeau who managed to finish in 4:31:28. Artus was practically flying through the route as he reached an average speed of 32.14 kph, or 1:52 minutes per kilometre.

Second, just a minute and a half behind, was Dimitri Bussard, despite climbing Cole de Joux Plane two minutes faster. He boasted an average speed of 31.97 kph. Third in this event was Damien Jeanjean who reached the finish line just 1 min and 10 sec after Bussard.

First in the women’s race was Martina Sáblíková, who covered the 157-kilometre torturous distance in 5:19:39. With a 12 min and 24 sec gap behind Sáblíková was Oceane Mahe, and third place was claimed by Camille Udny who lost 19 min and 35 sec to the winner.

The Heroes

Still, the true heroes of this race were the spectators. No one can make a cycling race atmosphere quite like the French. In every village, on every Col, on every crossroad, people were chanting and kids were giving high fives, creating the atmosphere of a truly grand event that can only be compared with the genuine Tour de France. The true MVPs were the good people who were spraying the riders with water. Chants of encouragement followed even the last in this vast, beautiful peloton.

This celebratory atmosphere peaked at every feeding station where the organizers provided everything for the thousands of visitors. Getting water was easy and fast. Food, supplements, and some good music followed the riders across the route. The water stations were especially vital in the hot, nearly 35-degree weather. Moreover, even common spectators were ready to share their water at the start of the climbs just so riders could conquer them. Unfortunately, not everyone made it to the top, especially when it comes to the main villain of this year’s tour.

The Villain

While Col de Joux Plane was the only HC category climb on this year’s L’Étape du Tour de France, the actual villain of the race was the penultimate climb – Col de la Ramaz. This was the Col that took most of the riders out. Some decided to just end the race before they even started the climb. Others decided to try it out, only to see there was no shade and the 30+ heat was not mixing well with the 10%+ gradients of the climb. The hardest part seemed the most pleasant, as the tunnel was the only relief from the relentless ride. Several ambulances had to collect riders on their way up from heat exhaustion. Others just took the several-kilometre refreshing descent to the start of the climb and got on the buses that were collecting the victims of the Col de la Ramaz. It seems this made the difference in finishing the race, though Col de Joux Plane also managed to cut some riders off. If only the temperatures were about 15 degrees colder, a lot more riders would have crossed the finishing line in Morzine.

Our team

The Škoda cycling team, as usual, was part of this cycling celebration. Most of our team managed to cross the line. First was Cameron Jeffers who unfortunately had a problem with his tracking chip, so there was no official time for our British friend. On the other hand, the Georgian national champion Giorgi Suvadzoglu who wore the Škoda jersey for this event made the 157-km ride in just under 6:20 hours.

It seems bad luck followed the Škoda team that day as Giorgi burst a tyre and waited over half an hour for a replacement. His time would have easily been in the 5:40s if bad luck was not out to get him that day. Still, we are extremely proud that he wore our jersey and showed admirable courage and dedication despite bad circumstances. The usual suspects, Jiří Ježek, Šimon Kuncl, Jakub Víšek, and Tereza Kačírová, beat the clock and also managed to finish the race in 6:59, 9:36, 9:54, and 10:24, respectively.

Unfortunately, the rest of our team, consisting of the former Georgian national champion Sulkhan Akhmaevi, Mariam Dgebuadze, and myself, succumbed to the scorching heat and decided to fight another day.

Are we proud of our accomplishments? Yes, we are! Next year, our results will be even better, as will be the L’Étape experience. There’s nothing quite like going where the greatest cycling legends have made history, and we can’t wait for next year’s L’Étape to show what we’ve got once again. So, till next year, France. Thank you for your hospitality and this awesome event.