L'Etape final report: Ventoux stands firm

Sharing a ride with 9,499 friends in France

The 17th edition of L’Etape du Tour was held in France today, and BikeRadar diarist Lindsay Crawford, 69, took part for the eighth time. He had ridden two sportives in preparation for the assault on Mt Ventoux.

Unlike the seventh edition of L'Etape in 2000, the weather this year was very accommodating, with a temperature of 60F at the start and low 90s at the warmest locations. Because of miserable weather conditions in 2000, half of the 6,000 entrants were stopped at Chalet Reynard, 6km from the top.

Interest has grown considerably since the first edition in 1993 when there were 1,705 entries, of whom 48 were foreigners. This year, with about 20,000 applying, 9,500 were awarded a start number and 3,230 of those were from outside of France. The top five countries represented were France, the UK, USA, Belgium and Switzerland.

And so it begins

At 5am riders assembled in their assigned area, according to number, for a 7am start. L’Etape du Tour always has some famous names entered. This year I spotted Laurent Brochard, past world professional road champion, and Alain Prost, past Formula One champion with his usual start number, five, pinned to his jersey. Former Telekom Tour de France green jersey winner Eric Zabel and yellow jersey wearer Chris Boardman were reportedly entered, but I didn’t see them. Abraham Olano, another past world professional road champion, usually is in attendance, but I didn't see him at the start this morning.

Frenchman Alain Prost, former F1 world champion

The race began promptly at 7am. Incidentally, ASO do call it a race in their press releases, even though a rider may ride it in the style of a cyclo-sportive.

The race brought 9,500 racing cyclists from 50 different countries

I was off to a good start and able to stay near the front until the first climb where I discovered I had left my climbing legs at home. Before drifting back from the leaders, I found Brochard’s wheel and, until that first climb, enjoyed watching a top former pro’s style of riding.

Climbing results

Climbs didn’t go particularly well for me today, but on the flats and minor climbs I was okay. In my case, I played the tortoise and the hare on the final climb. I know myself well enough that I can set a pace that will result in a successful climb.

Leaving Bedoin for the 21km climb to the finish, I set that pace and passed dozens of riders walking, sitting on the side of the road or struggling mightily at a very slow speed. Inside 500 meters to go, I saw a couple of riders give up and dismount even though the finish was in sight.

As I write this, I don’t have a full list of the riders' finishing positions, but know that at 6:48:33 I was pretty far behind the winning Cat E (60-plus years old) time of 5:52:09 set by Yves LeBrun. LeBrun was an admirable 90th overall. It appears I finished in the high 600s (Lindsay finished in 630th ed).

French cyclist Dimitri Champion (C) is flanked by Jean-Marc Bideau (L) and Jimmy Turgis

Today's overall winner was Dimitri Champion (how’s that for a winner’s last name?) with a time of 5:11:31.

If you would like to see a faster version of this route, watch Saturday’s penultimate stage 20 of the Tour de France.

Tomorrow, I'll ride about 60 miles back to the start city to retrieve my car. My wife Estelle and I return home Thursday after 40 days away. It’s been a great adventure the past six weeks riding three events and riding some spectacular roads in Spain and France. May the wind always be at your back.

A quick check of the official results shows why Lindsay didn't see Erik Zabel (6:49:13 for 649th overall) or Chris Boardman (8:45:47, good for 4,102nd place) on Monday. Laurent Brochard finished 16th in 5:24:31. Contact Lindsay with questions about his L'Etape experiences, training, or any related questions.

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