So last year my big hairy athletic goal was to complete the Etape du Tour. Half a year later I’m still being asked about it (at least, by other sporty people. Non-sporty types eyes just glaze over when I say the word “cyclosportive”).
Here are some of the most frequent questions:
So what is Etape du Tour, exactly?
Well, you’ve heard of the Tour de France, where the pros ride around France over 3 weeks? Each day during this 3-week period is known as a ‘stage’, or ‘Etape’ in French. The Etape du Tour follows the route from one of the mountain stages, and opens it up as a timed event for amateurs a few days before the pro’s ride though.
The cool thing about it is riders benefit from many of the perks of the actual Tour, namely:
- closed course, which makes descending reallly fun
How long was it?
In 2018 it was 169km, with 3700m elevation gain. It started in Annecy, and followed a circuituous route to end in Le Grand Bornand.
Is it the same course every year?
Does the Tour de France follow the same route every year? No. Ergo, the route for the Etape du Tour is in a different location, and distance and elevation gain vary too.
[If you’re a lawyer, dr, C-suite type or simply hyper-competitive and don’t already know me] So how long did it take to finish?
Please see next question.
[If you already know me] So how did you find it?
It was by far the most enjoyable sporting event I’d ever done. It was also the hardest by a long shot, but that’s why I had signed up and would have been disappointed if it hadn’t felt hard.
And since I usually have a good time during events, so that’s saying a lot.
How high were the climbs?
Last year’s cols were all pretty low: the final col, Col de la Columbière, was the highest at only ~1600m. They were also short: the longest climb was the first, to Col de la Croix-Fry, which was 11km. The 3 other major climbs were less than 10k.
But what they lacked in length and height was made up by the average grades. The easiest col has an average grade of 7.5%, the others had average grades from 8% to 11%. And that’s average, as in, they’ll be stretches well above the average. The steepness is what, by far, terrified me the most for EdT2018.
[For 2019, they’ve gone the other way: the final climb for 2019 EdT is 34km and the col is at 2300m, but the average grade is in the 4-5% range.]
The second thing that terrified me was….
Is there a time limit?
F*ck yeah. Just Google ‘Etape broom’ to find out.
A chillingly common refrain in previous Etape race reports was the pressure to stay ahead of the broom wagon (la voiture balai). The broom wagon (supposedly) creeps along as the lowest average speed to make the cut-off. If the wagon passes you at any point, a race official comes out to cross out your race number, then forces you to stow your bike & board the wagon for the long slow ride of shame back to the finish area, stopping of course to sweep up other defeated riders along the way. It’s the cycling equivalent of the ‘Dementor’s Kiss’.
I’d even seen a forum comment about someone who got swept up after 7km. Ugh. Was really hoping that was just an Etape myth.
The extra sadistic twist to the time limit is you don’t know what it is until a few weeks before the event. I think this is partly due to how negotiations with local officials for road closures pan out.
Since a major reason to do EdT was to bolster my confidence (athletic & otherwise), getting swept up by the broom wagon would be the best way for that plan to backfire, spectactularly.
So between the prospect of steep grades & broom wagon humiliation, I was really motivated to train.
So how & how much did you train?
This would be a post or a series unto itself. To be honest I would never go into this kind of detail in real-person conversatiion but if you’re read this far, presumably you have a more than casual interest in Etape.
Also, keep in mind this was for me: a 40-something injury-prone recreational cyclist who’s longest endurance event up that point was doing an olympic-distance triathlon. My only strengths going into this was I’m used to sharing the road, either with cars or lots of other cyclists, am (finally) a decent descender, and a husband who a) loves bike maintenance and b) has already done a couple of EdT, and c) is happy to ride at wife-friendly pace.
Endurance, and particularly strength endurance, were my major weaknesses. And yeah, a ruptured lumbar disk. They make climbing rather uncomfortable.
From early Dec 2017 right up to Etape on July 8, I followed a 28 week program by doing the TrainerRoad base, build & specialized plans. But I in fact started my training the day after I signed up, in late Oct 2017, which was simply getting on my bike for first time since early September.