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Velo Magazine's Etape du Tour(12 posts)

Velo Magazine's Etape du Tourms
Jul 31, 2002 12:27 PM
Velo Magagine, a French cycling magazine, sponsors a ride for amateurs over a stage (etape) of the Tour de France on a rest day. I first heard about the Etape on this board last fall. I can't remember who posted about it, but I would like to say thanks.

I rode this year's Etape, which was held on July 22 over the course of Stage 17 (Aime to Cluses). The course was essentially four Alpine climbs and descents. Approximately 8000 riders started (it was supposed to be limited to 7500 riders, but I saw higher jersey numbers) and about 6600 finished. I just barely finished (my time was 9:49 -- one had to finish within 10 1/2 hours or be taken off the course). All of us know that the Tour is tough, it is another thing to experience it -- even just one stage -- the thought of doing stages for three weeks is beyond comprehension.

The organization of the Etape leaves some things to be desired. For example the application forms are not available until the end of January and the ride fills up within a few weeks. The forms have to be signed by your physician and the appication fee has to be submitted by check -- in Euros. The bank fee for a Euro check were almost as high as the application fee -- the Fed Ex fees were more (I did everything as fast as I could, including sending my application by Fed Ex and I was jersey 6006). There were meager food supplies at the rest stops (and the bottled water ran out at the second stop just as I arrived). And there were traffic jams at the beginning and ending points. However, the roads were closed to traffic and the French police and Red Cross patrolled the route. Notwithstanding some of the organizational problems, it was an experience that was hard to beat.

For anyone who is interested in doing the Etape next year, I have several pointers: (1) the offical website ( had little information on it until after registration closed; the most helpful source of information on the Etape is an unofficial British site (; (2) ride as much of the route as you can beforehand -- I arrived in the Alps several days before the Etape. I was able to ride one of the climbs and descents and drove over another climb. I felt much more confident over the parts of the route (especially the descents) with which I was familiar than those with which I was not; (3) eat well before you get to the start -- there was no food at the start. I was in a pen for over an hour before the start. Fortunately I had Clif Bars and water with me -- otherwise I would have starved. Also, given the spottiness of the rest stops, I would suggest taking enersy bars, drink powder, etc. with you; (4)get used to having other riders near you -- I never have raced. At the start there are 8000 riders moving together. Until people started to string out over the first climb, riders were within inches of me at all time. I would have felt a lot better if I had had experience with other riders being near me; (5) try to stay as close to the start as possible -- my family and I were staying about 50 km from the start, which is not too far when you are on flat land. But, 50 km in the Alps is something else. Also, there are hugh traffic jams at the beginning and the end.

I doubt that I can justify another trip to France next year, but I would love to try the Etape again -- it was a great morale booster to finish -- now I just have to get up my speed.
I think that I...philippec
Jul 31, 2002 10:08 PM
first mentioned the Etape here. Glad you came away with a good experience despite the small inconveniences -- it is hard organising such an event for 7500+ people! I had a friend who finished in approx. the same time as you and he had the same comment about the feed stations but, knowing tht they were likely to be low on food when he came by (and after the passage of several 1000 hungry riders), he packed a few bars -- good thinking on both of your parts!

I had a great Etape (well, I did flat in the flats between Beaufort and the Saisies) and finished in 6:32. I'd like to think that without the flat, I would have been able to finish in under 6 but c'est la vie. The descents were great! I love screaming down those hairpin turns w/ no cars onthe course -- we usually don't get full road closures like that except for our regional championships and a handful of other races! And what can I say about the descent off the Arravis, swooping by the tingling bells of cows in alpine pastures with the Mt. Blanc as a backdrop! What a great day! My cousin had an even greater day, he finished 90th in 4:58!!

I can't wait till next year.

Philippe Crist
best day's cycling everscruffyduncan
Aug 1, 2002 3:46 AM
I did it this year and it was fantastic. The route was challenging but not stupidly hard(53/39 and 12/26 gave me plenty of gears) and the scenery was breathtaking. Velo magazine aren't the greatest people to deal with, but all the volunteers on the course were helpful, I found the foodstops well stocked compared to what I'm used to (smaller euro events). The only downsides were the jams at the start and on the first climb which left me pushing my bike for a good while and cycling very slowly for longer. Still, this left me fresh for the other climbs and I got round in a touch over 6 hours. The descents were incredible.

For you Americans I'd recomend taking a couple of weeks in France and doing a few of these cyclosportives. There are a couple on every weekend over the summer somewhere in France. They are great cycling and a window into small town french life. Next year I intend to attempt the Marmotte, a killer over the Alps.

Which climb do you think was hardest Phillippe?, the 2nd one (Saises?) was pretty unrelenting, but the view of Mt Blanc at the top was worth every bead of sweat. Did you Hang around and watch the tour afterwards?, we rode up to la plagne, past the waitng crowds and their encouragement and cat calls, to catch a great mountain-top finish. Isn't the alps the greatest place in the world to cycle?
great week!philippec
Aug 1, 2002 4:40 AM
Hmm.. which col was the hardest, I'd have to say that the grand prize goes to the last 400 metres of the Colombière (w/ people shouting "y'a que 400 metres et c'est fini!" -- I would have liked them to be doing those 400 metres in my place, they might not be so fast with the "y'a que" [only] 400 metres to go!

Thank god for the kind souls in the caravans parked off to the left side w/ about 2 kms to go, I took one of their water bottles and poured the contents over my overheated body.

Otherwise, I found the Saisies to be particularly difficult as I had flatted down in the valley and in an attempt to make up time, had somewhat presumptuously atacked the climb with more gusto than was reasonable. I paid for it by the time we rounded the bend and the village was in sight -- but what a great feeling being cheered by those masses of people in the village itself!

We stayed on and went to the Deux-Alpes the next day and watched the race from the first few turns in the final climb to the station. The next day we rode up to ~5 kms from the finish and watched the race in the company of a frenzied group of dutch supporters who had left Amsterdam on a whim at 21:00 the night before to come watch the race -- they sure picked the right day!

The next day we hung out in Aime, loitered around some of the team buses and drooled over bikes. We went back to the chalet where we were staying and watched the race properly -- on TV!

Friday we drove down to the Col de la Croix de Fer and rode from the Col down to Bourg d'Oisans, up the Alpe d'Huez and back to the car in a blistering headwind up the mountain (stupid, stupid, stupid -- make mental note never to leave the car at the top of a col!)

Sat. we hung out near Chambery where, on Sunday, we raced the Challenge du Nivolet in the ungodly heat -- toughest riding all week was up the Col de la Marocaz in the searing sun.

My cousin won his age category (20-25 yrs/old) so we had to wait for the awards ceremony before piling up in the Kangoo and heading back home to Paris.

What a week!
thanks for sharing your experiences & info (nm)velocity
Aug 1, 2002 6:22 AM
Thanks for inspiring a great vacationms
Aug 1, 2002 6:29 AM
Your post was the spark that started my planning a family vacation to France. It was the first trip to Europe for my daughters (10 and 13) and the first trip to France for my wife and I since our wedding trip in 1987. All of us had a great time. My daughters, who rarely show any interest in my cycling, already are asking me if I am going to do the Etape next year. Insofar as I am concerned, the Etape was the best riding experience I ever have had.
Hey Philippe C......Poulidor
Aug 1, 2002 6:52 AM
I will be traveling to France during the first two weeks of July. I am planning on seeing the Tour prologue (apparently starting in Paris next year). I was wondering if you knew of any cyclosportifs that are on flat or rolling terrain? I come from Kansas, a land that is not known for it's mountains and I don't think I'll be up for L'Etape du Tour. Any suggestions/information would be greatly appreciated.

Merci beaucoup,

You can do the Etapems
Aug 1, 2002 7:02 AM
If your stay in France overlaps with the Etape, you should try it. I am no mountain lion and I did it (a lot slower than most people, but I finished). The key is endurance. I conquered the climbs with small gears at a steady pace. If you can stay in the saddle for seven or eight hours, you can do the Etape. Of course, riding some hills beforehand does help.
Hey Philippe C......philippec
Aug 1, 2002 7:27 AM
The prologue will be take place near the Stade de France in St. Denis just north of Paris and the first stage will leave from the location of the Reveil matin café -- just like 100 years ago...

As far as non-mountain cyclosportives around the first two weeks of July, there are a few to choose from:
1. La Saint Emilion (167km-near Bordeaux)
2. La Quélainaise (140 km- near Laval)
3. La Pointe du Raz (140 km -- in the tip of Brittany)
4. La Marmotte (170 km -- okay, okay, anyone who knows anything about french cyclosportives knows that this is a sort of inside joke!)
5. Les Copains (160 km w/ 2550 metres of climbing, near Ambert)
I include the last one even though it has a moderate amount of climbing because I have heard really good things about it, otherwise, the St. Emillion has a good reputation.

Also, anyone with reasonable fitness can finish the Etape.


Hey Philippe C......scruffyduncan
Aug 1, 2002 7:37 AM

I may be tempted into hours and hours of alpine hell.
Marmotte= hell squaredphilippec
Aug 1, 2002 8:23 AM
I did it it this year and I cannot think of a more unpleasant and uplifting time on 2 wheels. As you may know, for the second year running the weather was crappy. After ariving on Friday in great sunshine, we awoke sat. morning to a steady rain -- aarrggh. We drove 8 kms along a goat track chiseled into the cliff connecting Auris en Oisans to La Garde above Bourg d'Oisans where it connects to the Alpe d'Huez road. We parked at the bottom of the Alpe (right at the start of the climb ... yes!) w/ 40 mins to spare and proceeded to get ourselves organised.

We had locked up the bikes in the trusty Kangoo the night before w/ a cable lock for peace of mind...

"Do you have the key?"

"No, don't you?"

"No, you didn't pick it up off the nightstand table?"

Our eyes opened wide and round about as quickly as our stomachs sank as we both visualised the key sitting there, dry and cozy in our room back at the Gite d'Etape.

Aacckk -- we drove back as quick as you could reasonably expect to do so on the ledge that passed as a road -- and now the fog rolled in!

we made it back w/5 mins to spare, dumped the car, rode up to the start, lifted our bikes over the barrier and passed the starting arch somewhere in the middle of the peleton.

We cranked the first few kms. in the rain to Allemont where the Col de la Croix de Fer climb starts. Okay, we are in the race now! The climb goes well -- I am soaked inside my rain gear from the effort but the increasing cold doesn't bother me too much, even when the hail starts w/ 2 kms to go. My riding mate, on the other hand, has decided to forgo the rain shell until we crest at the top. Now it is cold and windy!

At this point, the steady stream of riders backtracking down the Croix de Fer rather than face the Télégraphe and the Galibier should have sent off warning bells in our befuddled minds.

I lose my mate on the way down, about at the same time as I lose all sensation in my unprotected fingers -- this makes braking a challenge -- but not so much that I end up crashing like so many others on the way down! W/ the cold and wind, and despite my gear, I get the major full body, teeth gnashing shivers which at times compromises my ability to steer the bike properly -- but I don't care anymore, I am rushing down the mountain @ 50 kms/hr with one thought in mind -- get warm, get warm, get warm! I don't think I have ever been as cold in my 35 yrs of life on earth (and that includes the time I let my then girlfriend, now wife warm her frozen feet on my uncovered belly during a winter snow camping trip!). Hundreds of riders have pulled off the road to get shelter from the freezing rain/sleet and I start thinking that it might be a good idea to wait up for my friend (ever the altruist!!).

Perhaps when I see 3 riders huddled up in a phone booth in the second village down the thought of stopping becomes much more pressing -- and what do I see ahead, a café with a generous overhanging roof (almost) unemcumbered by other riders. So in I pull to (ahem) "wait for my friend" and perhaps get control of the shivers.

Well, my friend is late in coming and I have the time to see 2 Pompiers ambulances go by before here he comes shaking worse than me! Folks, here was a riding case of hypothermia and let me tell you, it was not pretty!

His lips were blue, he could barely talk, his forearms were spasmodically cramping from braking and both legs had just frozen in a viscious double hamstring whammy. I had to manually unclip his foot and lay the bike down so he could get off without soliciting any muscle group below his waste. And he was drooling!

So we did the smart thing, headed into the café and spent the next 45 minutes warming up and resigning ourselves to the fact we were going to be picked up by the sag for the first time in our cyclosportive/racing experiences. Well, we would have been picked up if 1/2 of the riders had not done as we had and abandoned. We asked
Hey Philippe C......Poulidor
Aug 1, 2002 12:07 PM
Thank you for the information.