Diary: L’Etape du Tour European training

Lindsay Crawford's European preparations paying off

Cycling fans come in all shapes and sizes in Europe.

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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 Quebrantahuesos event June 21. 

Crawford rides a 2002 Cyfac road bike (made with Columbus Airplane tubing, Columbus Muscle fork and Columbus Carve seat stays), all Campagnolo Record components including Shamal tubular wheels, 53/39 chainrings, 11-25 tooth cassette, Vittoria tubulars, Time RXS pedals, Sidi shoes, and his trusty Sella Italia saddle. According to Crawford, his bike weighs about 16 pounds complete.

Training update: European conditioning

I arrived in Barcelona on June 16 and drove to Ainsa on the south slope of the Pyrénées for six days of training, then on to Quebrantahuesos on June 21.

One easy day on the bike and the next day six hours and 45 minutes of riding on beautiful, hilly, winding roads with very little traffic. Crest of the Pyrenees still covered in snow and it seems the very wet spring, in Europe, has come to an end. Skies are clear and temperature in mid 30s.

Checked in for Quebrantahuesos of Friday and found my race number to be 8216 which usually means back of the pack at the start. Since this event was more for training for L’Etape, I wasn’t too worried and set a goal of how many riders can I pass before the finish.

Woke up at 4:05 a.m. Saturday and left for a spirited drive on hilly, narrow, winding roads (helped get the juices flowing for the race) for 75km to the start. To my surprise, about 2,000 riders were seeded and the rest were positioned by arrival at the start area. My usual early arrival paid off and I started right behind the seeded group.

Starting gun fired at 7:30 a.m. and it took less then four minutes to cross the timing mat on the start line. As we left town, I noted my cyclometer was reading 64kph! It was going to be an interesting day.

First 2km to Jaca was fast over slightly rolling roads. As we arrived in Jaca, I looked up at an overpass that was completely filled with cheering fans. Leaving town we started the 28km climb to Alto de Somport. The grade is not particularly steep and is the type that suits my style. However, legs didn´t feel that good and I thought this will be a long day in the saddle. Cresting the Sompòrt, the road was filled with tifosi and many were passing out newpapers to the riders to tuck under the front of their jerseys for the cool descent. Temperature was 17C at the start and since we were in the shadow of the mountains, it was chilly until starting up the (feared by many) Col Marie Blanque.

Marie Blanque is only 10km but just gets steeper and steeper as the kilometers pass:  four kilometers at 11 percent, 3km 10.5 percent, 2km 13 percent, and the last kilometer is 12 percent. And, for added entertainment the temperature was 34C. More than one rider entered the “hurt locker” and was forced to walk.

Over the top and a very fast 9km. Descent to Bilheres and south to Laruns to start the 29km climb to the Col de Portalet and back into Spain.

Of note on the descent of the Marie Blanque:  I saw numerous riders, using clinchers, with flats and it reminded me of a comment by Greg LeMond after last year’s L’Etape du Tour. Greg noticed many riders pumping their tires up to a high pressure and not realizing long, high speed descents with heavy breaking to enter switchbacks will dramatically increase tire pressure to the point of causing the bead to pop off the rim. Of course, a temperature of 37C added to the problem. I’ve seen this problem before but, not to the extent I saw on Saturday.

For the record, I ride tubulars.

Riders contined to drop by the wayside as we climbed the Portalet. Still not climbing as well as usual but, I made it to the top okay to a huge throng of fans. The most I’ve ever seen over here in a sportive. Just like what you see in the pro races, a wall of people on either side and, at times, not enough room to pass a rider. It was inspiring!

Another long, fast descent and as if that wasn´t enought climbing for the day, there was Alto de Hoz at only 5km. Ten percent with 2km to go and 11 percent for the last kilometer.

Only 28 fast kilometers to the finish. At this point, I was in a group of about 10 with another larger group about 1km ahead. We never gained on that group and with about 5 km to go, I saw a very large group closing in from behind. Couldn´t convince my group to pick it up so, I went to the front and got our speed up enough to keep the chasing group from swarming all over us at the catch. Two kilometers to go and I was able to stay in second or third position as we made a sharp 180 degree turn to the final, slightly uphill 500 metres.  

One rider sprinted out of the pack and I was able to hold off the rest for second in our large group. What were we sprinting for? Why, 1092nd place! Hey, it was a race and you might as well go for it. I finished right around seven hours.

Well, I was more successful then expected. First of 41 in category H (65 years and older). As usual, for European sportives, there was a big awards ceremony, on a podium, with local dignitaries.

Awating the award ceremonies, I saw riders coming in 11 hours after the start and yelling in elation for completing the ride. As I’ve said before, whatever your goal, enjoy the moment when you’ve achieved it.

Best I can tell, very few non European riders. One team of, I think, four from New York, one Australian, and me.

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The L’Etape du Tour is right around the corner; July 6 is coming fast!