L'Etape Diary: Final event before July 6

American Lindsay Crawford finishes another sportive before L'Etape

Retired commercial airline pilot Lindsay Crawford, 66, is a Northern California racer who is preparing for the 2008 L'Etape du Tour. He has participated in this event before, and in the second part of his exclusive preview for BikeRadar, Crawford relates his experience racing the L'Ariegeoise sportive as he wraps up his L'Etape preparations before the big event July 6.

Following my ride at Quebrantahuesos on June 21, I departed Spain for France and preparation for my second pre-L'Etape event, L'Ariegeoise. Another short ride of two hours after arrival in Mirepoix.

Tuesday and time for a solid, long ride. Just under six hours in the saddle with a fair amount of climbing in the Pyrénées.

Moderate rides of two and four hours over the next two days and awoke to rain on Friday, the day before L'Ariegeoise. Drove to Tarascon to pick up race packet and able to get in a couple of hours riding, on dry roads, in the afternoon.

Saturday, June 28 and time to put on the race face. Once again, an early arrival at the start area paid off. With a bib number of 510, I was in the second group (201-1500) and positioned myself at the front of that group for the start.

Advantage of good start position was crucial as the first climb, on a narrow road, started less then 5km from the start. I can only imagine the traffic jam behind me as the riders tried to funnel onto the narrow road. Near the front, it was no problem.

After 27km of minor climbs, we started the first rated climb to the Col de Marmare. 12km with the grade up to 10 percent. Lost contact with leaders and managed to keep them in sight about 75-100 meters ahead but, unable to close the gap before the summit. Ended up in a chase group of six after the descent; we were unable to catch.

Mostly short climbs and fast descents over the next 32km to Belesta and the next big climb; 13km to the Col du Tremblement.

So far, not feeling too bad and able to hold my own in a group that was probably about 100 riders back from the leaders.

At 25km to go and just to soften us up before the final climb to the finish, we duplicated the first climb that came 5km after the start. Fast, technical descent on a narrow road, arriving at Les Cabannes and the 16km, unrelenting, climb to finish at Plateau de Beille. I set a steady rhythm I knew I could sustain and tried to ignore those around me. On the climb, we encountered riders that were entered in the shorter, 106km, event and I passed one of those riders, on the ground, receiving CPR. Unfortunately, he did not survive the efforts of emergency personnel.

It was a brutal 16km with the temperature in the mid 30s (C) and similar to the climb to L'Alpe d'Huez in L'Etape du Tour 2006. Riders were walking, on the side of the road writhing in pain from cramps or just leaning on their bikes with a blank look.

Unlike last week, I could only manage 3rd in Category E (60+). However, a better overall with 105th of about 2,000+ riders. Almost two hours under the standard for a gold medal of completion.

It's impossible to figure out who is in your age group so, its just a guess if the rider alongside is a direct category competitor or not. In my case, I missed out on second place by six seconds to a rider who rode in my shadow over the final kilometers. Of course, I have an excuse for not getting second (and I won't give you the details) but, don't all bike racers have an excuse if they don't win? First place in Category E finished about 12 minutes ahead of me and I remember  him riding away on a climb about 25km before the finish.

Overall, felt pretty good for the day and the final climb was good preparation for L'Etape du Tour and the Hautacam finish. Highest speed recorded on my cyclometer was 95kph!  Also, good preparation for the descent off the Tourmalet on Sunday.

Organizers put on a great post race dinner. A fine end to a big day.

After an easy three-hour ride on Sunday and Monday drove to Luchon for four days. Climbed to Superbagneres, at 1,800 meters, Monday afternoon. Tuesday rode north to pick up the difficult climb over the Port de Bales to redeem myself from last year's meltdown during L'Etape du Tour. As if that wasn't enough, I threw in a climb, in a temperature of 37 C, to the Peyresourde.

On Wednesday, I took in a short flat ride 40km under threatening skies.

I'll be attending a press conference with L'Etape du Tour director, Jean-Francois Alcan, in Pau Friday afternoon and will report on any important information. Now it's time to put my L'Etape face on!

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