My woes and experiences at L’Etape du Tour 2009

I have blogged before about my entry into this year’s Étape du Tour. Finally, 10 days after I got back from France, I’m finally ready to blog about my experience. In a word …. anticlimax!

I went to attempt the infamous Mont Ventoux stage of this years Tour De France (5 days before the pros), with my friends Donald and James from work, and 9,500 other amateurs. Donald is a similar level rider to myself (though fitter!), and James is a regular competitive road racer.

We set off from Stansted to Montpellier ridiculously early on Sunday 19th July: our flight was at 6.15am which meant we had to leave home at 2am. Our bikes were all packed up, and we were accompanied by James’s fiancée, Angelique, who would help out with the driving.

We arrived on a gorgeous Sunday morning in Montpellier (aeroplane pics are mandatory for me)..

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We picked up our hire car, a new Citroen Picasso: big, but barely large enough for the 4 of us and 3 bikes in their bags.

We drove straight to Montélimar for registration, and from the motorway we caught our first glimpse of the intimidating Mont Ventoux:

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It’s so large, and totally unsurrounded by other large mountains, that you can see it from a long, long way away.

Montélimar was hot. We assembled our bikes, and made our way to registration….

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We planned the trip quite late in the day, and the nearest place we could find hotel rooms for that night was Valence, about 45 mins away. So another early start was needed on the day of the race (we were told to be in the starting pens by 6.30am!), the alarm went off for me at 4.20am.

The nerves were written all over my face in the pens .. we had to wait there for 1 hour 20 minutes before we could get going – interminable!

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Sadly my race only lasted 4.5 miles (out of 105). My pedal came loose – I couldn’t keep up even with the backmarkers, as I couldn’t put any pressure on my wobbly right foot. I stopped and asked for help, but the race mechanics realised they couldn’t help me. So it was on to the dreaded ‘broom wagon’ for me, before I’d even barely got going…

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Gallingly, I think it was my own inadvertent fault that my crank/pedal broke. I’d been trying to get my pedal off prior to packing my bike up fpr the flight, but couldn’t get it off and gave up. It still seemed tight to me, but there were doubts, and I should have taken it straight to the bike shop for advice, but didn’t. The repair on my return cost £114, a new set of cranks needed, the originals had been shredded. And I’d wasted £160 on my race entry, plus flights, hotels, meals, .. you can imagine my dismay!

The coach took me, and a lorry my bike, to the finish. James found it hard (‘the hardest race I’ve ever done’!), but he finished in 6:40, and Donald heroically finished in a shade under 10 hours despite a double puncture while climbing Mont Ventoux.

I had to wait 6 hours at the ‘host village’ for my bike to be delivered:

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The official finish to the race is at the summit, several hundred metres (and 6km distance) higher up:

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That’s James in our hire car, as we headed back down to Bedoin for a well deserved meal the evening after the race.

The views from the summit are spectacular:

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After some badly needed beers and lovely(ish) food in Bedoin, we headed to Montpellier and had some grief with our hotel at 1.30am, eventually we ended up finding another.

We lay in till mid-morning, and then spent the afternoon on the beach – I got a severely sunburned back, which I suffered badly from for several days when back in England.

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We had one final beer before heading back to the airport and the return home: (L to R James, Angelique and Donald)

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It was a fun experience, and James, Angelique, Donald and I made a happy travelling team. Obviously the race for me was a disaster, and I learned some valuable lessons. I won’t be hurrying to do it again. But I’ll never say never!