Make no mistake, this will be the toughest ever sporting event any of us will take part in to date. There is absolutely no doubt about that. None whatsoever. I am not sure whether I’ll have the chutzpah to attempt such an event in future. I will let you know next week.
I have taken part in quite a few cyclo-sportives such as the annual Cape Town CycleTour and the RideLondon. The L’Etape is on an entirely different level of difficulty. At the CycleTour and RideLondon, the goal is to ride as fast as possible and hopefully beat your previous best.
Not for the L’Etape. Not by a long way. The goal for the L’Etape is just to finish but will we all finish? Will I finish? Finishing is not guaranteed for any of us, especially as there is a strict time limit represented by a “broom wagon” (The broom wagon (not to be confused with a “sag wagon”) is the name for the vehicle that follows a cycling road race “sweeping” up stragglers who are unable to make it to the finish within the time permitted and time checkpoints). Basically if you are caught by the broom wagon, you are out, disqualified, event over. You will be ‘invited’ to retire and you and your bike get a free ride to the finish. No negotiation, no excuses. The End. La Fin.
These people are wicked. Very wicked.
So it is theoretically possible after months of training and dieting and paying thousands of pounds to take part in this event for your participation to end after one hour. Hmmmmmn.
As I said before, these people are wicked.
They appear even more wicked when you examine the course in detail.The course or stage is 178km long. Well over 100 miles in old money but it is not the length that is the problem, it is the fact that the course ascends TWO mountains and lots and lots of hidden climbs even before these two mighty ascents.
The first, the Col de Vars tops out at 2,1008m(!) or 7,000ft, the second even more brutal climb is the iconic Col de Izoard. This climb has appeared 34 times in the Tour De France and we will be climbing the southern ascent from Guillestre for 31.5km (19.6m) up to 2,360m (!!!!) or nearly 8,000ft(!!!) at an average gradient of 4.8%. The last 10km are the hardest with an average gradient exceeding 9%!!! Then when you finish, that’s if you finish, you still have to cycle 30 odd kilometers back down to the start town.
This is a good time to repeat the immortal words of our ‘Chief Shepherd’: “who send me?”
Then there are the descents. The pros regularly exceed 100kph on these same roads and we will be hitting 70-90kph. I am actually looking forward to this part even though it will be scary and probably dangerous at times. There is nothing like plummeting down a mountainside on a bicycle at lethal speeds to make you feel alive. The old saying “the closer you are to death, the more alive you feel” is most definitely true for me.