This article was first published on Cyclingplus.com
Cycling Plus' editor-in-chief Rob was part of Team Alpecin at L'Etape du Tour as 15,000 riders tackled the same route as the pros will on Stage 10 of the Tour de France.
You know that you’ve had a good day on the bike – or that a bad day is about to come to a blessed end – when you find yourself with a huge smile on your face, letting out some kind of guttural ‘Yeeeeehaaa!’ scream as you head stupidly fast into a hairpin bend… Well, I do anyway.
So, as I careered, probably ever-so-slightly out of control, towards the finish line at this year’s Etape du Tour in the Alpine ski resort of Le Grand-Bornand, I had to decide — good day or bad? Well, it was a bit of both really…
The ride replicated what will be Stage 10 of this year’s Tour de France. A full-on 158.5km between Annecy and Le Grand-Bornard with more than 4000m of climbing. It took in three 1st category climbs – the Col de la Croix Fry, Col de Romme and Col de la Colombiere – plus the HC Plateau Glieres and it was a scorchingly hot day. Easy!
1. Having a team around you is brilliant
I was riding L’Etape as part of Team Alpecin. If you’re a regular reader of Cycling Plus, you’ll know that readers Murray Cox, Laura Cook and Les Pegler were selected to get the pro treatment as part of a multinational team run by the German shampoo purveyors. I was also lucky enough to be part of the team and it was a brilliant experience. After our first team meeting in Bielefeld, Germany and a training camp in Italy, we’d kept in touch using WhatsApp and, of course, seen how much (or how little) each of us had been riding on Strava.
At our base in La Clusaz it was like hooking up with old friends — we all had a shared goal, and similar hopes and fears. Out on the road, there was fantastic camaraderie and seeing another Alpecin jersey up the road was a great spur for some extra effort! (The only downer was when one of our team crashed on a final training ride, which forced her to miss the Etape. Get well soon Maddy!)
2. Following a training plan works
Each member of Team Alpecin was provided with a personal training plan by coach Florian Geyer from RadLabor. It was pretty daunting to be presented with what looked like three months of hell (and that was after using Google Translate to work out what he was telling us to do from German). That said, fitting in as a many of Flo’s sessions as possible made a big difference to us all. It’s fair to say we wouldn’t have found L’Etape half as enjoyable if it wasn’t for Flo!
3. Riding to Watts could be the answer
Look at those numbers! Yeah, that’s right – low and slow! This shaky cam shot shows my progress up the 1st category Col de Romme, the third major climb of the day after around 75 miles of riding. Florian had given all of us wattage targets for the big climbs. Helpfully he’d set three targets for each climb — good day, normal day, bad day. I ran through all three of those days, usually within a few minutes of each other.
It’d be fair to say that, if you like to attack each climb as if it’s your last, riding to a conservative power output feels slow. Especially at the bottom as others shoot off ahead. But… get that target right and by the middle of the ascent you’ll be picking off those fast starters in relative comfort. Just try to not be too Froomey — make sure you enjoy the scenery and not just the view of your Wahoo head unit!
4. Nancy-sur-Cluses is my favourite village. Ever.
Nancy is on the Col de Romme and by the time I started climbing I was hot, so very hot. Temperatures were in the 30s, there was little shade to speak of and next to no cooling breeze. As I climbed I started to fantasise about buckets and waterfalls.
As if by magic, a kind soul was spraying riders with a hose, and I managed to get a sprinkling. It wasn’t enough, so you can imagine my delight when we hit Nancy and there was a village water pump dispensing cool, clear, drinkable water. I filled my bottles, poured water over my head and soaked my cap. Onwards and upwards…
5. Every ride has its low point
Even if you ride sensibly, eat and drink when you should and have a brilliant bike – in our case a SRAM-Etap-equipped Canyon Endurace CF SLX — a ride of the magnitude of L’Etape will bite you at some point. For me it was 1km from the top of the Col Romme.
As I had been following my wattage targets I was feeling okay-ish. But that heat was getting to me and, despite, my water-cooler moment, I started to boil over. I’d noticed more and more riders slowing, stopping and walking as we neared the top of this five-mile-plus, 8% average climb. And then I joined them…
At first I thought I had a puncture because the bike suddenly felt really, really heavy. Then the steering started to feel like I had treacle in the headset. And then I just stopped. I took a moment to compose myself and then made the decision to just keep going. On foot – that’s my hand pushing the bike along in the picture.
For a couple of minutes I was worried that I’d blown up and that I was going to have to take the broomwagon. (Just as I did at the Marmotte in 2012.) However, after a stern word with myself, I saddled up, crested the summit and went on to tackle the Col de Colombiere…
6. Motivational signs don't always motivate
Okay, maybe I’m just being grumpy but I hate them! Especially this one… It was placed at the bottom of the HC Plateau Glieres climb and in a case of bad timing this was at exactly the point I got cramp in my legs and shipped my chain…
7. Gravel is so hot right now…
Had they been minded to Tour organisers ASO probably could have laid asphalt on the gravel track that takes riders over the top of the Plateau Glieres. Hats off to them for keeping this short bit of rough in the race. As far as I could see, most Etape riders handled it easily, but at race pace this sketchy surface could lead to some potentially race-shaping drama. If a GC contender crashes or punctures here — just before a decent and a fast 20-mile or so transition to the Col de Romme — it’ll be very interesting!
8. Exemplary organisation is always welcome
It would be remiss of me not to mention the behind-the-scenes team who’ve made the Team Alpecin experience run brilliantly. For the members of the team it really has made for a ‘Pro-lite’ experience. We’ve had a ton of support in the build-up and at the Etape itself we had mechanics, massages, bikes transferred to the start and ready and waiting for us, meals prepared by chefs flown in from Germany and as much expert advice as we needed.
As a final flourish, each rider was presented with an exclusive Alpecin yellow jersey as a souvenir.
Oh, and we even had a former pro — in the form of our DS Jörg Ludewig — clean up after us!
Want proof that Rob rode the Etape? Here’s his Strava evidence!