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Back From France...Etape Report(13 posts)

Back From France...Etape ReportGregory Taylor
Jul 24, 2003 7:25 AM
Hola's your bacon shaking? As you can probably tell, I'm back from France. The sights? Awesome. The Etape? I finished. The Tour stages? What a show!. Okay, where to start....?

Let's start with Le Etape du Tour, the citizens race that I rode last Wednesday. The short version is that I finished, unlike 2,000 of my 8,000 fellow riders. (Phil Ligget says that 3,600 out of 7,000 riders didn't finish. I don't really know for sure...) Miguel Indurain? He didn't finish. No, I didn't set any speed records. The mountains took care of that. There were two first category climbs that contained sustained sections at over 15%. One of the guys in our group had an altimeter on his computer, and he had it at 12,300 feet of climbing, all crammed in about 50 miles of road. Yes, yes, yes...I got off and pushed my bike up some of it, but I was in excellent company on that score. In addition to being old and fat, I didn't have enough gear out back. The French dudes all had triples: they knew what was up.

But it wasn't all misery and woe, because I just raged on the rolling bits, and rode a very strong last 40 miles, mostly solo. I opened it up and was just roaring through these little towns, passing dudes and hamming it up for the tons of folks that were lining the streets. My Richard Virenque impression had them in stitches. There was a really good crowd watching us the entire way, all 123 miles of it.

The finish into Bayonne was really neat because they had it set up just like a Tour finish, complete with the "one kilometer to go" arch and crowd barriers up to the line. Keeping in the spirit of the thing, I cranked it up and won my sprint for, oh, let's say 4,000th place. The honor of the Team Lardbutt Jersey was upheld on a foreign field of combat.

Standing on the roadside and watching the real Tour riders go by is a complete hoot. About an hour before the riders come by, there is a publicity caravan that rolls through, handing out all sorts of crap and generally entertaining the crowd. In typically French fashion, some of the stuff that they give away is pretty strange. Standing by the roadside I scored a Mickey Mouse comic book (okay), some cheese (Camembert, weird but delicious), a bottle of water (downed immediately), a keychain with the Tour logo (useless), some mechanical pencils (weird), a deck of playing cards with only 33 cards (weirder), and a Mavic cycling cap (really, really cool). A group of us rode out to see the time trial from Gaillac, which was a show. The stronger riders like Lance, Jan Ullrich, and David Millar were just hauling all sorts of ass. Ullrich was smoooooth, like butter, while Lance looked like he was having a harder time of it. We were having a hard time of it too (yeah, right): the guys that I were riding with decided to hole up in a small village about 10 kilometers from the start, where we found a great little restaurant that served up a 3 course lunch for about 10 euros. Stuffed to the gills, our merry band then waddled over to the town square, where the locals had set up a video screen showing the Tour coverage. We watched the riders start on the television and, if the spirit moved us, we had the option of wandering over to the roadside to see a favorite go by. Big cheers for the French riders, Ullrich, and Lance. Once the race was over, our group saddled it up and headed for home, winding up with another 100 miles in our legs.

I also caught the mountain stage that finished at the Platte du Bonsacre. This was especially cool. Lance and Jan Ullrich were dueling as they went by us, about 8 kilometers from the top. For some reason, I decided to cheer REALLY REALLY LOUDLY for Floyd Landis (U.S. Postal) as he rode by. My efforts were rewarded with a smile and a wave from the Floyd-ster. After it was over, the racers rode back down the hill to their team busses, which happened to be parked next to OUR bus. How cool was that? So aft
Dang, it got cut off. Here's the rest of it.Gregory Taylor
Jul 24, 2003 7:28 AM
I also caught the mountain stage that finished at the Platte du Bonsacre. This was especially cool. Lance and Jan Ullrich were dueling as they went by us, about 8 kilometers from the top. For some reason, I decided to cheer REALLY REALLY LOUDLY for Floyd Landis (U.S. Postal) as he rode by. My efforts were rewarded with a smile and a wave from the Floyd-ster. After it was over, the racers rode back down the hill to their team busses, which happened to be parked next to OUR bus. How cool was that? So after the race I bumped into Jan Ullrich, rubbed elbows with Paolo Bettini, got in the way of Floyd Landis, stalked George Hincapie, said howdy to Fred Rodriguez, waved at Gilberto Simoni, and surprised Vlachislav Ekimov. I, of course, didn't have my camera to capture any of this, but that was okay because Eki flipped me his cycling cap.

Yes, if you hadn't gathered, this was a lot of fun.
Congrats . . .ms
Jul 24, 2003 8:01 AM
I started the Etape notwithstanding my doctor's orders on 7/9 that I could not get on my bike for 4-6 weeks due to my crash on 7/3. I made it to the top of the Soudet in great pain and quit -- I had driven the course the day before and did not have the confidence that I could descend safely. From everything that I heard from those that finished the Etape, it was extremely hard -- much harder than last year's, which I finished (just barely). I would like to think that I would have finished this year, but maybe my shoulder injury kept me from embarassing myself. In any event, give yourself a big pat on the back -- you deserve it.

Cycling is an addictive disease (one of my friends has likened my three-year plunge into the sport beginning at the age of 41 as being akin to a crack cocaine addition). The Tour (and the Etape) have had a similar effect on me. If my family and budget allow it, I'll be back next year. Do you plan to do an encore performance?

Allez! Allez! Allez!
I'd LOVE to go back next year...Gregory Taylor
Jul 24, 2003 9:07 AM
Simply put, that was the best run cycling event that I've ever seen. Painful, but awesome. I really want to do it again. I went without the family this time, but I'd like to plan a trip that could include them into the mix.
A question of cost??PaulCL
Jul 24, 2003 10:43 AM
So fly over, do the ride, stay in hotels for how long?? How much do you think the whole trip would cost?? Just curious, I'm always looking for ways to piss off my wife. Just kidding. Paul
I booked this trip through a tour company....Gregory Taylor
Jul 24, 2003 11:44 AM
I booked this trip through a tour company located in England. The trip extended over eight days, taking in the Etape and three tour stages. The cost of the holiday (with a premium for a single room) was about $1200. This included hotels (three star accommondations, B&B basis), coach transportation between cities (Paris, Lourdes, Biarritz, Castres, return to Paris), entry into Le Etape, and most of the evening meals.

I've purposely not given the name of the Tour company because, frankly, they really dropped the ball on virtually every aspect of the trip. For example, they didn't retain enough drivers for the coaches. By law, coach drivers in Europe cannot drive more than 10 hours a day with out an 8 hour rest. On the trip to Lourdes, the road trip hit the 10 hour mark and the drivers pulled over and refused to go any further. So we spent the night (Bastille Day) on the bus in a deserted roadside layby in rural France. Good news was that there was a small mom and pop restaurant within walking distance. Bad news was that all they had left was french fries, microwave cheese sandwiches, and beer. It was brutal. We descended upon the hapless owners of this little establishment and totally cleaned the restaurant out of everything that they had, drinking until 4 a.m. on the Tour company's tab. This was not exactly the best preparation to ride the Etape.

The busses remained a disaster throughout the trip. One of the coaches had no airconditioning and a backed up toilet. It was an easy 95 degrees outside, so you can only imagine what that experience was like. The tour company hired a replacement bus, which promptly broke down on the motorway on the run into Castres.

Hotels were a crap shoot as well. The hotel in Lourdes was pretty primative, with no air conditioning. In Castres, the group was booked into three hotels, one of which was little better than a minimum security prison, located in an industrial park outside of town. I, on the other hand, won the hotel lottery and was lucky enough to be booked into a quaint hotel on the river that runs through the medieval portion of the town. It had air conditioning, an excellent cafe, and was a short walk from the town square.

Folks were so pissed at the Touring company that they demanded and were promised a refund of their money. The proprietor of the company recognized that he had screwed up, and volunteered to give a 3/4 refund. The company has a good reputation, so I'm hesitant to slag on them here. We'll see if the promised refund shows up.

If I do it again, I'd consider booking it myself. Figure 100 euros a night for a decent three star hotel on a B&B basis. Car rental -- don't know. Airfare from Dulles airport (Wash. D.C.) was about $900 on Air France, direct into Charles De Gaulle. Entry into Le Etape was 55 euros, I think. The only downside to doing it yourself is the hassle of running down the hotels, entry, etc.
Did I meet you in a bar in Gaillac?Mariowannabe
Jul 29, 2003 10:29 AM
I planned a one-week trip for myself and 3 buddies. We invited one good natured wife to be our driver. We did the etape and saw three stages (11, 12 and 12). We rode quite a bit - it was fabulous. We stayed in a cheap $28/night hotel in Lourdes for 4 days, then in Toulouse for 3 nights at a 3-star for $200/night. Rented a van. Hotel:$400, van:$200, etape:$50, Air:$500. $1150/pp plus food and wine. Not bad. The tour cos are intriguing, but we had such flexibility. France is really easy to get around in.

In a bar in Gaillac watching the end of the TT on TV I met a guy who was having a tough time with his tour group. He was sure happy in the bar, however.

Regarding the TT, after riding in the 40C sun from Toulouse to Gaillac to watch the start, it was so hot that I chugged all my water, two Cokes, and three OJs. I can see how Lance lost 13 lbs.
My experience last year . . .ms
Jul 24, 2003 11:48 AM
The biggest variable is the cost of airfare. When I took my family in 2002 (wife and two daughters), the cheapest airfare I could find to Geneva was almost $1,300 each. So, that was $5,200. This year when I went solo, I was able to find an airfare of approx. $900. Last year we spent about $3,000 on car rental, gas, hotels and food during our two-week trip. The number would have been higher if we had not found a nice, but inexpensive house to rent in the Alps for 10 days. The number would have been significantly lower had we not spent four days in Paris (where the hotel was approximately $200 per night and meals were expensive). It is possible to find good, inexpensive accommdations in France, excluding Paris. It also is possible to eat well without spending a fortune. Car rental, fuel and tolls are very expensive in France. I would like to take my family again next year and not end up spending over $8,000 for a two-week vacation. With some frequent flier miles, airfares at this year's level, better planning and no stops in Paris, I am shooting for a budget of $5,000. I don't know if it is doable, but I plan to try.
33 card deckmohair_chair
Jul 24, 2003 7:53 AM
I got one of those, too. I figured out they are coupons for various things, not playing cards. Beyond the fact that several cards are missing, there are some wierd ones included, like the '1 of spades.' I gave mine away. I really wanted one of those Mickey comics.
I traded a sausage for a PMU hand . . .ms
Jul 24, 2003 8:04 AM
but I really wanted the MAVIC hat. I'll trade a musette bag (not THE ONE that took Lance down, but one just like it) for a MAVIC hat. Any takers?
'spose that is the end of the musette bags in the caravan?! nmnoveread
Jul 24, 2003 8:19 AM
A picture of me at the Etape...Gregory Taylor
Jul 24, 2003 9:17 AM
This a thumbnail taken from the website of the photo company that was taking rider shots at the Etape. Yup, I'm gonna buy this one...
Another one...Gregory Taylor
Jul 24, 2003 9:24 AM
Dang...this was fun!