One of my ambitions in life is to appear on Channel 4’s Grand Designs. I know I’ll die happy if Kevin Macleod looks at my plan to self-build an eco-pyramid with an underground swimming pool and says: “Well, I admire your ambition!”
One of my other ambitions was to do a stage of the Tour De France. In 2012 Andrew and I signed up for “Le Tour D’etape” a closed road sportive held every year on a stage of the Tour de France. It was a tough mountainous stage that would challenge the best cyclists. People train for years to get to the level required. I had six months and I didn’t own a road bike.
So, I purchased Bike 4. A cycle to work scheme road bike. I knew very little about bikes so I didn’t check out what gears it had – or even attempt to ride it beforehand. I bought it because I liked the colour.
All we knew about the route was this map.
The stage is 197KM from Pau to Bagnères-de-Luchon over 2 Haute Categories climbs and two Cat 1 climbs. The only cat I knew about goes “miaow” so the terms meant very little to me. But, I now know HC means “holy crap – how can this road keep going up!”
Over the next 6 months we trained harder than we’d ever trained before. Looking back I can see it wasn’t even close to how hard we should have trained.
At the start of race we hoped for the best but expected the worst.We positioned ourselves in the start pen for slower riders. This was a mistake as the sweeper van leaves as soon as the last pen leaves. The slowest riders, the ones who need the most time, are the ones who get the least time.
I started cycling but disaster struck as I crossed the start line – my pump fell off! I had to stop and go back for it. The sweeper van waited as I picked it up. I was nearly swept up before I’d even got going!
I restarted and crossed the start line successfully. Andrew hadn’t stopped so it took a while to catch up. The first section to the base of Col D’Aubesque was fine. Our speed was ok. We then hit the climb….and it the road went up and up and up and….
It took us over two hours of climbing to get to the top. It was the hardest biking I’d ever done. What did we find at the top? Nothing! The weather was so wet and cold we couldn’t see anything. Which was annoying as the previous day had been beautifully sunny and warm.
The ride down the hill was torture. I’d never free wheeled for such a long distance. The lack of moving meant my hands and body were freezing cold. By the time we reached the bottom I was F**KED!
No time for a rest as we now had to start the long climb of Tourmalet. Unfortunately the sweeper wagon wasn’t far behind us.
We did our best but got swept up on Tourmalet. If a picture paints a thousand words then this picture sums up my Etape experience.
Looking back I can see where we went wrong – lack of fitness, preparation and knowledge but there’s one thing you can’t fault: if asked I’m sure Kevin McLeod would have said “Well, I admire your ambition!”