I’ve been into cycling for a long time. I still ride each weekend with my friends, but it’s been a really long time since I’ve ridden more than 120 km in a day. And this year, ASO, the organizer for l’Étape du Tour, has chosen a special mountain with real hot spots.
“If you want to spend time training for this challenge, it’s OK with me,” said my lovely wife. “But maybe you’ll have to loose some kilos.”
It’s time for me to start serious training. But first I have to check my ability to even spend a long time on my bike. I usually ride 70 or 80 km on a ride, so I have to test longer ones. I start with Marseille to Saint Tropez via Collobrières, a 125 km ride. After changing my cassette for a 12-30 to prepare for the steeps hills, I ride as much as I can in order to prepare for a course that has 10-15% average elevation in the steepest parts of Col du Clandon.
Race day is here!
On the first uphill of Col de Chaussy my group’s pedaling rhythm is quiet and relax, but as we hit the downhill, riders coming from other groups us start passing me from behind, riding the limits. I see a cyclist along the side of the road with a broken front wheel. Then there’s another accident and suddenly everyone has to stop. The road is steep and narrow. I can see the rescue service helicopter taking care of riders. We just hope it isn’t too serious.
When I look over my shoulder 4 km before hitting Saint-Etienne-de-Cuine (km 62.5), I see about 40 riders on my back. I can hear some of them commenting on my speed, my size, my weight. When I put my bike on the park, I feel a hand on my shoulder as an English rider tells me: “Thank you for your effort. What speed! Alone! You’re a legend man!”
King of the Mountain
We start up to Col du Glandon. In the first part of the climb, the elevation is less than 10% and quite regular and, even though it’s hot, very rideable. Lots of the riders, though, are looking tired. I think about the summit looming so far above us. Push forward.
In the last lace before the last slope there are more riders pushing their bikes than riding them. Some of are lying on the grass on the roadside. Some have cramps. Others are stretching. On the summit line there’s a banner that reads: Strava challenge Queen/King of the Mountain. I’m afraid I won’t be the KOM.
“5 minutes before we close the race! Five minutes!”
I follow a rider who seems to like fast descents, riding in his track for a part of the speed section. When it’s flat, I take the lead. We are pushing each other to ride fast and it works. The downhill is over, but now it’s time to climb Col du Mollard. We stay close, with him arriving at the top about 100 m ahead of me. We are at the mountain pass. Someone from the organization says, “Five minutes before we close the race! Five minutes!” I fill my bottles and head down, again on the back of my new friend. That’s the moment I hit my highest speed of 72 km/h.
I see a rider on the roadside with a bloody face. I say to myself, “Ride cool, ride safe.”
At the last refreshment zone in Saint-jean-de-Maurienne my GPS tells me that I’ve burned more than 9,000 kcal. I need energy, but my body can’t eat anymore. I start to have cramps. I know that the last climb will be hard! The crowd is really into it, everybody’s cheering. You really feel like a Tour de France rider at this moment. Ok, a slow rider, but it’s magic time.
“Go on Daddy, we love you”. We know it’s hard but you can do it!”
I have to rest. I decide to share this moment on Facebook and within three minutes I get messages of support. I have to be a finisher! On a less steep section my phone rings. A Facetime call from a friend of mine who’s with my two daughters, Rose and Camille. “Go on Daddy, we love you,” they tell me. “We know it’s hard but you can do it!”
Now there are more spectators than ever, all cheering and applauding. Some of them are wearing Finisher T-shirts and medals. This gives me the boost I need! When I see the 1 km sign, I switch to my 50 teeth chain ring and free power. It seems to be flat compared to the rest of the race. During the last 800 meters, I pass another five or six riders.
At the finish line a volunteer hands me a Finisher t-shirt and a medal. I’m as happy as a kid to be here. Exhausted, but happy. After some time I share a sandwich and a beer with other finishers. Talking about this day with them, I realize that I finally did it. I’m 43 years old, but maybe my second cycling life is starting. And for sure, I still love cycling!
And another finisher who deserves credit
In addition to our winners and Lionel, we also sent our colleague and another friend from Škoda to ride l’Étape. You’ll have a chance to read about our colleague’s experience in a standalone article, but we want to give here credit to Philip Gottweis from Škoda.
Although a sportsman, he’s never been a cyclist and doesn’t even own a bike. In fact, his only preparation was a few spinning classes in a gym. And yet he managed to finish the race in 9 hours 55 minutes and didn’t even once considered quitting. He told as after the race that it was one of the proudest moments in life to make it over the last climb and see the finish line.
So it seems we have another converted cyclist. We gotta say, WeLoveCycling!