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back from Etape du Tour and TDF (ride/race report.. long)(20 posts)

back from Etape du Tour and TDF (ride/race report.. long)philippec
Jul 25, 2003 2:15 AM
I'm just back from 1.5 weeks of riding and Tour-watching in the Pyrénées and thought I'd give you a little report for those who are interested by such things.

My cousin, who lives in Colorado, and two of his team-mates came over for a visit this summer and, along with one of my team-mates from the Paris region, we headed down to the Pyrénées to ride the Etape du Tour and follow some of the stages.

First the Etape. We arrived in Pau two days early where we quickly set up camp in Jean-Pierre's delightful bed and breakfast in a half-timbered typical Béarnais farmhouse where the rooms (and daily life) were structured around a central cobbled courtyard. There we met Ms (a fellow poster on RBR) who was here to do his second Etape despite sporting a broken arm, major road-rash, and strict doctor's (and spouse's) orders not to ride. Tyler has nothing on this guy who showed immense courage just lugging his bike case through several airports on his way to Pau. He finally rode all the way to the top of the Soudet where he wisely passed on the twisty descent. R.E.S.P.E.C. T. to you Ms! He is really a nice fellow and we thoroughly enjoyed several dinner and breakfast discussions regarding the course, its climbs, the Tour, life in France, the climbs, . funny how our conversations always seem to gravitate around what exactly 5 km of +11% climbing will do to your body.

After a quick warm-up ride the lower slopes of the Soudet and a car reconnaissance up the feared Bagargui (we were supposed to ride up that wall!!!???) on Monday, we registered on Tuesday. The village depart is always quite fun and we headed back with some primo schwag including a free CD-rom of video footage from the first 100 years of the Tour!

04:30 on Wednesday came waaaayy to fast and, after a quick breakfast served by our unflappable host Jean-Pierre, we were off in the dark and fog at 5:15 for the 17kms to the start in Pau – with no lights but the occasional moon-beam filtering through the clouds. It was a surreal experience! We arrived sain et sauf and found our departure pen where we waited for 7:00 to roll around. Just before the departure, the entire crowd of 8000 sang happy birthday to M. Indurain who was doing the ride with us on his 39th? birthday. He was accompanied by A. Olano.

At 7:00 we headed off and the Colorado contingent sped off towards the front. I wouldn't see them until the finish where they placed 55th, 74th and 550th – a great day for them! I rode with my team-mate at a reasonable 40-45km hr. for the first flat kms. Before hitting the roller coaster hills that led to the base of the first big climg – the Col du Soudet. Along the way, we passed the man himself! Indurain was there! Right next to me, hairy legs longish hair and all! He's a bit more stout now but he is smooth on the bike. And, on top of it all, just as we passed him (yes, we did wish him a happy b-day), we came across the photographers that are placed on the course to immortalize your participation! So in the picture below you can see me and just behind my team-mate, the big Mig in the red jersey (I've also put a pic of him as he came up behind).
Wait, I'm in front of Indurain!?!?philippec
Jul 25, 2003 2:17 AM
He's back behind my team-mate off to the right.
Big (and I mean BIG) Migphilippec
Jul 25, 2003 2:19 AM
Those extra kilos sure helped him on the descent!
back from Etape du Tour and TDF (part 2)philippec
Jul 25, 2003 2:20 AM
The climbs were tough, esp, the lower kms. of the Soudet (where Indurain passed me). At the top, I passed Indurain again just as he was chatting with Gérard Rué, one of his French team-mates at Banesto and almost-French national champion. Seconds later here he comes bombing by me dropping like a lead brick on this twisty technical descent. Quick choice on my part but no hesitation . I jump on his wheel (not too close!) for the descent of a lifetime! I followed his clean trajectories and barely touched the brakes on what has got to be one of my fastest descents ever! My one moment of doubt came as we passed an ambulance collecting an injured rider just past one hairpin turn – all I saw was the crew holding up one of those fluorescent yellow jackets covered in blood! Gulp! – it turns out an irish rider fell hard there and was in critical condition at the day's end. Despite that incident, I had a total blast! At the bottom, Mig turned on the screws, and I popped off the back to take off my rain jacket and prepare for the next two brutal climbs. The next hour was a blur of pain – I have ridden a lot in France and I don't think I have ever come across such a brutal sustained climb – thank god it was relatively short and that the sun wasn't out!

The final 70 km of the course was roller after roller through cheering villages and into a headwind. I got into a good group and we made good time. Funnily enough, I ran into a friend of another RBR poster from Hawaii that I had just met as he came through Paris on his way to Provence. The world is small! In any case, his friend has rode the entire ride with a new form of suspension – his carbon seat post was ½ cracked through and moved back and forth whenever he shifted his weight! Mental note to myself – don't buy a carbon seat post. In the end, I finished w/ a reasonable time of 8:23 – only 3:23 longer than Hamilton's winning time a few days later – mental note to self: train harder!

The next day we went on to Argeles-Gazost to set up base for the next few days. Contrary to my better judgment and my unstated rule of never traveling more than 150 kms. while on vacation, we decided to head up to Gaillac for the ITT. My cousin and his team-mates had never seen one of these and so the decision was made. No sooner had we gotten out of the car in Gaillac (after passing Jorg Jaschke in the ONCE team car on the highway) that some fellow walks up and asks if we would be interested in his all-access pass to the "village départ" -- some days everything seems to go your way.... So we saunter on up to the departure area and spent 2hrs taking turns exchanging the badge amongst ourselves and walking through the warm-up area fueled on complimentary coffee and pastries! Among the sights that stood out was a sullen Manolo Saiz glumly staring out into space on the footrest of the ONCE team bus, a skeletal R. Virenque warming up to the fawning admiration of many young women, Gilberto Simoni on his Giro-pink TT bike looking like he wished he were elsewhere, S. Botero - long hair and all - looking slightly portly in his world TT champion jersey, and T. Hamilton's souped-up TT rig complete w/ extra padded arm pads.

After this extended gawk-fest, we headed out, rally-driver style, to the one hill on the course in Monestiés. Joe was driving... fast... and I was calling out the next turns "ok, in 1.5 kms, you'll make a left onto the D3 at the D3-D118 intersection, go up the hill and after the left-hand turn get on the unmarked road going off to the right over the bridge..." All good fun, although we did have a close brush with a turbine harvester. Thanks to my uncanny navigation skills (a.k.a. pure blind luck) the approach road we chose put us 20 metres under the main road at the halfway point of the climb. We sauntered on up the woods on a small path and there we were, on the side of the road amidst hundreds of fans gathered along the course. The crowd on this climb was just as dense as any along t
re: back from Etape du Tour and TDF (part 3)philippec
Jul 25, 2003 2:23 AM
The crowd on this climb was just as dense as any along the Tour's mountain stages and each time a rider went by, the happy mob would only just part at the final instant. We saw the top 19 riders go by -- and knew when we saw Jan steam through 2 riders early that it was going to be a great day for him. An impression only confirmed by Armstrong's laboured climb soon after.

We returned that night through Toulouse - where I went to graduate school -- and had a delightful meal on the Place du Capitol. Was it hot that day? At 22:30 the temp was still hovering at around 33 degrees!

The next day we went on a ride through Argeles and over the cols de Spandelles, Aubisque and Soulor punctuated with a very nice stop in a village just before returning to Argeles. We ate in the shade of some hundred-year old Plane trees before rejoining the restaurant owner and a few of his friends in the back room in front of the TV to watch Vino and Ulrich put some time into Armstrong on the slopes above Ax-les-Thermes.

The following day my team-mate's knee was bothering him so I left w/ the Colorado contingent towards Loudenvielle to watch the finish. On the menu were the Tourmalet and the Aspin on the way to Arreau where we joined up w/ the van. From there we all rode in to the finish and even rode the course to the 200 metre line. What a great feeling passing under the km. flag while fans on both sides cheered! We sat ourselves next to the finish line in front of the magatron tv screen and watched the final 2 cols in alternating blazing sun and cool, gusty cloud cover. I watched the finish on screen as Simoni pipped Dufaux and Virenque for the win just 20 metres to my right! I always tell people you see way more on TV! On the way out, we passed through the post ride team car staging area and got a glimpse of Bruyneel (fancy leather Italian shoes!) and Riis giving the press their impressions for the day. The ride back was a blast as well b/c the road was blocked in Arreau, turning the wide gently downward-sloping 2-lane access road into a high-speed bikepath (that we did have to share w/ a few team cars that got out early).
re: back from Etape du Tour and TDF (part 4)philippec
Jul 25, 2003 2:24 AM
The next day we set out for Luz St. Sauveur, just up the road from where we were staying, on our way to the climb to the Ardiden ski station. The road had just been closed and so the 9kms to the base of Luz-Ardiden were largely car-free and filled w/ fellow riders/walkers heading for what promised to be the setting of a major show-down. We road up the climb amidst a sea of orange-clad basques, polka-dotted Virenque supporters and picnicking families. Just outside of Grust about 6 kms up the climb, I ran across TeoTeoTeo (aka Ted A.) from this board who had his hands full chaperoning his tour group guests. We spoke for a while and he introduced me to two texas hotties that had most of the mountain gawking! Ted is really a nice guy (he has a journal over at that reveals his true passion not only for the Tour, but for its venue as well). As I spoke w/ him, I made a mental note to myself not ever to lead a tour group b/c, as with most hobbies that become one's livelihood, the work quickly overtakes the play. But Ted was gracious with his clients and as I rode away, was explaining for the nth time why having an 15-18 second going into a mountain stage was actually a good thing (as far as spectating was concerned). Hats off to you Ted!

We arrived at the top and set up camp just off the 300 metre line on a rocky primitive helipad that overlooked the last 3 kms of switchbacks. An added bonus was that we could also see the magatron TV screen from where we were w/out having to deal with the crowds. It was truly stadium seating for the promised battle! . until the clouds moved in and obscured all of our view except for the 500 metres of road 10 metres below us. Oh well. can't win them all. After watching the basque contingent copiously boo the police escorts rushing up the mountain and watching the general melee that accompanied the throwing of the Tour caravan schwag, we settled in around one of our basque neighbor's transistor radio where I did the play-by-play translation from french into English and what I am convinced was some recognizable form of Spanish. We heard about Chavanel 5-minute gap at the bottom, the breathless account of Armstrong's falls, Mayo's and then Armstrong's attack, the slowly increasing and then stabilizing time gaps, the roar of the helicopters, the cheers of the crowd, and then, all of a sudden, emerging from the mist, there was Armstrong dancing on the pedals in a swarm of motorcycles! The crowd went crazy and he rushed past on a mission to put as much time into Ulrich as possible. Then came Ulrich, Zubeldia and Mayo – another, more deafening roar, and our basque neighbors nodded approvingly when the word came out that Ulrich had regained some time. By all accounts, and despite the lack of a basque victory, our neighbors (French and basque alike) agreed that what we had witnessed was a grand fight. Armstrong had returned to his peak and had attacked when he had to, Ulrich had successfully limited his losses, and Mayo had taken 3rd. Un grand jour..
oops, that should be "Mayo had taken 2nd" nmphilippec
Jul 25, 2003 6:24 AM
re: back from Etape du Tour and TDF (part 5)philippec
Jul 25, 2003 2:25 AM
Every single finishing rider received a huge round of applause and none more than Axel Merckx – finishing last way beyond the time cut-off but finishing nonetheless. We waited for the voiture balai (whose passage would signal the opening of the road) next to the team cars that were staging for the descent. Many riders chose to ride down (including B. Riis who, frustrated with the wait, got out of his car, took down a bike from the rack and headed off down the mountain in his street clothes/shoes!) while the others streamed passed us on their way to the warmth of their vehicles. We must have seen half the peleton walk by right amongst us including a tired looking O'Grady, Vino, Millar, Botero, etc, etc.

The way down the mountain (I was here in 2001) is always pretty hairy b/c they let all the cyclists loose w/ successive waves of cars. At the same time, a steady stream of oftentimes tipsy pedestrians are walking down the left side of the road. It's a bit like a video game where the objective is to get to the bottom without clipping fellow riders or unpredictable pedestrians while avoiding getting taken down by speeding team cars or lumbering RV's. We made it, had a great meal that night and headed back home to Paris the following day.

On Sunday, I'll be going just down the hill from my town to watch the peleton ride past on their way to Paris. By then we will likely know who the winner of the Tour will be, but I will be cheering for every single rider – thank you for one of the best Tours in years!


Hey Phillippe! Great Report! Good for you!Gregory Taylor
Jul 25, 2003 4:53 AM
Wow...riding with Miguel, all access pass in Gaillac...sounds like you had waaay too much fun. Congrats on the time you cut on the Etape -- it was a VERY hard course. I was just happy to finish (I won't share my finishing time...let's just say that I was racing the broom wagon for a while on the mountain.)
Hey Phillippe! Great Report! Good for you!philippec
Jul 25, 2003 5:01 AM
Hey Gregory --

I'm sorry I missed you at the start village -- I did have a good lookout for the TeamLardbut Jersey! In fact, I spent a disproportionate amount of time at the Mavic tent (inside the village) in the wild hope that the blonde pig-tailed mavic girl would somehow serve as a Team lardbut magnet, alas, twas not the case!

Yowza! It was a hard course! But luckily the first 50kms and the final 70 kms were "flat"... (that is an inside joke!)

Congrats on finishing!


Phillippe, You Very Naughty Person...Gregory Taylor
Jul 25, 2003 5:31 AM saw her too. The Mavic Girl was a heartbreaker, no doubt about it. I wanted to ask her all sorts of questions about spoke tension and stuff like that, but was just too shy.

And yes, thank goodness for the "flat" sections! Especially that leg-friendly 10%-graded "flat" section very near the finish. Yes sir! After the mountains it's downhill all the way to the finish! No need to pedal at all those last 40 miles or so!
Phillippe, You Very Naughty Person...philippec
Jul 25, 2003 6:17 AM
...and here I was feeling bad about asking her about the new fore shafting on the Ksyrium hubs!!!

Yes and now I too know that 10% is considered in some sick minds as "flat". BTY, did you see the fellow handing out cold cups of beer on the left of the Mougères climb just before the right-hand turn upo into the village proper? Wow, that hit the spot!


WOW!! Thanks for the report! Great, great stuff! nmnoveread
Jul 25, 2003 9:30 AM
excuse my ignorance ... questiontarwheel
Jul 25, 2003 5:02 AM
What is the Etape du Tour?

Thanks for your observations. Sounds like you had a great time. The journals from my bike trips would be much more boring -- ate a big breakfast, hit the road at 8 am, stopped for a snack, rode some more, ate lunch, etc.
excuse my ignorance ... questionphilippec
Jul 25, 2003 5:09 AM
Every year, the Tour organisers and Velo Magazine here in France organise a "cyclosportive" along the course of one of the Tour's mountain stages a few days befor the pro's ride through. A cyclosportive is more like a marathon than a bike race prperly speaking. These are ridden as real races at the front (absent team support vehicles) while at the back, people are just going for a personal record and/or only to finish. Everyone is timed w/ and automatic transponder and there is a general and age-graded classification. The great thing about the Etape is that you race in the same conditions as the pro's: that is to say complete road closure (200kms this year), hundreds of gendarmes policing the course and guarding the intersections, neutral support motorcycles and motorcycle escorts, etc... oh, and thousands of fans cheering you on and over the passes! It is a really good time!


Great reportPaulCL
Jul 25, 2003 5:46 AM
Your post was easily the longest post I've ever read - but one of the most enjoyable. I felt like I was watching the race with you. Thanks again.


P.S. I'm jealous. I've love to do the Etape.
Yeah, what Phillippe said...and the websiteGregory Taylor
Jul 25, 2003 5:50 AM
The official website is here:

To amplify what Phillippe said, the Etape is simply the best, most mind-blowing road bike event that I have ever seen. The organizers have enough pull to

(1) totally close 123 miles of roads, including some major thorofares, for something other than the Tour de France;

(2) have a policeman stationed at every intersection and, on the descents, at every switchback, for safety and crowd control;

(3) arrange for motorcycle escorts, roving Mavic neutral support, mutiple ambulances, killer feeding stations (they NEVER ran out of food, and the food was GOOD), and dandy swag;

(4) have happy, cheering, enthusiastic crowds the entire way, all day;

(5) do it for a reasonable price.

Riding in this thing is like being transported into an alternate, totally bike-crazy universe. You could NEVER do this in the United States. It makes our organized centuries, etc., look just pitiful...
Concur -- and unofficial UK websitems
Jul 25, 2003 6:25 AM
I agree with everything Philippe and Gregory have said. Even though I knew when I left the US that I probably couldn't finish because of my injury, I went because of the experience I had in 2002. It is a totally bike-crazy universe like nothing I could have imagined prior to my having done it (staying with Philippe, the boys from Colorado and other unrelated cyclists at the Ferme Dague under the care of Jean-Philippe this year only added to the experience). I would say that it was the experience of a lifetime, but I hope to have a few more years to do the Etape again (and again).

There is an unofficial UK Etape website:

The UK website should have a 2003 report and pics posted in a few days. However, if you want to look at it now, it will give you a feel for the 2002 ride and the information that was on the site prior to this year's ride. If you are interested, Ron, who runs the UK website, also has an email list and sends helpful reminders and messages throughout the year. You can sign up on the website.
Stupid question about course do they........abicirider
Jul 25, 2003 5:45 AM
the race organizers alternate between the Alps and Pyrenees on a year to year basis or is the Etape du Tour always held in the pyrenees?
Boy reading your report gave me goose bumbs how awesome and exciting compared to the cycling world here in the USA
Be Safe Out On The Roads!!!!!!
Ray Still
Mooresville, NC
Stupid question about course do they........philippec
Jul 25, 2003 6:09 AM
They typically alternate between the Alps and Pyrénées but mix in a few other areas as well... i.e. in 2000 it was the Ventoux stage and a few years before it was a stage in the massif Central mountain range of central France. And it is like Gregory said ... you have died and woken up in bicyle heaven when you do the Etape!