Friday, 24 July 2015

Etape du Tour 2015: Saint Jean De Maurienne to La Toussuire

So this year's Etape was my fifth one, and from looking at the profile could be one of the hardest (apart from 2012, that was stupid wasn't it) 138km in total from Saint Jean De Maurienne to La Toussuire (Where Froome attacked Wiggins in 2012, remember?) and would be used as Stage 19 of the Tour on the 24th July.

This year I could only get a few days off work, so unlike the usual car full and 10 days holiday with my brother and Parents, Lucinda and I drove down in the Rover, left London on Wedneday at 4pm and arrived at our villa in Orelle, just outside Modane at 7am Thursday. Perfect. 

I had a good number this year (226) which meant I was in the first pen, and off at 7am. Jack, Dave and Lucinda were also all doing it this year, Lucinda's first time, so on race day we all arrived at Saint Jean early on the Sunday to allow for plenty of time to find the bag drop, faff and chat. The weather forecast had been "mixed" for the past few days, so I made sure that I took all the kit, including arm warmers and Gilet, even though in all likelihood I wouldn't need them... 

7am arrived and we were off. The first climb, Col du Chaussy was just 2k into the ride, 16k in total at an average of 6%. I had a few aims on this climb: Climb in under an hour, stick with the quick guys, and ride hard. After the climb was a 32k flat section where if you were out on your own you would suffer. We hit the lower slopes and riders suddenly started to go backwards, I felt really good, having rested the day before, and managed to make sure I wasn't passed by any riders. I had started the middle of the front pen, so was under no illusion that a front group was already up the road on the climb, and likely that I would never see them (correct). I maintained a good speed (around 16-18k) and VAM (velocità ascensionale media, translated in English to mean "average ascent speed", quoted in meters per hour) of around 1000. Around 3k into the climb I could see another Phoenix rider, this was Miles, we both finished with a few minutes of each other last year, so I knew he'd also have a good start number. I caught up with him and pulled to the front setting a high pace in an attempt to dislodge some of the other riders in this now small group, we shared turns and rode all the way up the climb, the pace however was a bit too high, I was conscious that whilst the route was only 138k I didn't want to blow up on the first climb, especially with 3 more to come... We crested the summit in 55:38, VAM of 1086, so from a time climbing perspective I was happy with that. There weren't many riders on the road now, and no real groups forming, so Miles and I hit the descent with a fairly clear road. I hadn't ridden this before, Miles had, and it showed, he was descending very well, and quickly opened up a small gap. We got the bottom slopes, and I was now in a small group of 4 riders, with a much larger group, around 30 just up the road, we worked together and quickly joined the back, with nothing much happening, yet the pace still quite high so had a easy 30k, which given the Glandon was coming up might be for the best. I hit the Glandon at 9:15, so temperature wise it wasn't too hot which given the climb is 20k in total, averaging 7% and climbs 4,658ft was for the best. I was feeling good still, upto this point had got my fueling spot on, drinking one 750ml bottle of electrolyte, 2 gels and 1 bar. I was still with Miles at this point and we rode together, along with two other very euro looking chaps upto the 10k point, where a sudden injection of pace saw me slowly drift back. I decided not to follow Miles at this point, namely because I knew this was not only a long climb with a nasty final few Km, but we also had two more cols to climb. The final few K was unpleasant at best, I was low on water, and thankful for the campers and supporters handing out bottles and cups of water and shouting "Allex Allez" 1K to go and a final kick at the top and I was there, hardest bit done a reckon... 1:22 climb time, VAM of 1028. I stopped for exactly 1 minute at the feed station to refill bottles, drink some coke, eat some cheese tart thing before I was off again. Thankfully at this stage they were not busy, so being quick was possible. Onto the small 4k climb onto the Croix De Fer, After feeling abit hungry at the top of the Glandon, and perhaps a little tired I felt great now, upped the pace again and onto the descent. Confidence was up now and I was flying down, taking the correct lines and getting as aero as possible, every little bit of every saved here is important for the Mollard and La Toussuire. Bottom of the descent was 100k done and now onto the Mollard, another climb i've not done before, and one that i had forgotten about really. Ah it;s only a Cat 2, Ah it's only 5k. Yeah, i wont be saying that again, 5k is long way in the mountains. Still feeling strong though, and having left a small group at the bottom of the climb I was pushing out a consistent pace, nothing much to report on this climb really, I was pleased when it was over though, 23:41 in total with a VAM of 950, slightly down on where I needed to be, but not surprising. Another gel and another bar at the top, allow enough time to digest and onto the final descent, and what a descent, sketchy and rough in places, beautiful smooth tarmac in other places, plenty of hairpins and plenty of blind corners. I thought I was quite a good descender, apparently not, it really is impressive watching guys hurl down the mountain and around corners at speeds and levels of grip I thought wasn't possible. An area for some improvement I think. The final climb was La Toussuire, a fairly long 18k, with the hardest 3k right at the bottom, and an average of 6% overall. The bottom slopes were tough, I looked down at my Garmin and saw 10kph, this simply wasn't quick enough, the sun was baking and the temperature around 35 degrees now. I worked out that at the current speed the climb would take me nearly 1 hour 30, that wasn't quick enough and woudl mean i'd be over the 6 hour mark. I gave myself a serious talking to, especially after I was passed a group of 5, necked two gels, clicked down the cassette and stood up. I can't lie, this hurt, everything was telling me to sit down again, go back up the cassette and spin, but as I powered past the small group that had just passed me I kept on going, and whilst the climb does thankfully now get a bit easier I was maintaining around 16-18kph and a VAM around 1000. Into La Corbier and around 4k to go, just 4k! another gel was hard around 6k to go which now started working, down the cassette again as the gradient lessened and out the saddle once more. Now out La Corbier and 2k to go, I could SEE the 1k to go sign, thankfully the gradient once again flattened and allowed for a solid pace, now at 5:50 going into the final K I knew i'd manage a sub 6, thankfully. La Toussuire and the finish line was awesome, so many people out cheering on, but I was on my own, no sprint finish for glory thankfully, so kind of just cruised over the line, that was La Toussuire done in 1:08 and a VAM of 953, again slighter lower than i wanted, but i'll take it all the same. That's the Etape done for another year, and as I filtered through to the "Pasta Party" I was actually pretty pleased with my time, no idea where this would place me but hopefully enough for a top 200 finish. I joined Miles in the finishing tent, who finished just a few minutes before me, a storming ride. We chatted about some stuff, at pasta and then sat outside in the sun, relaxed and built the cycling tan whilst other Phoenix riders and mates turned up, probably best bit of the day. Results in and I came 185th out of 14,000 starters and around 9,800 finishers. I'll be honest, i'm quite pleased with that. 

Strava Link:

So that's now 5 years of "Etaping" done, so I reckon i'm in a pretty good position to offer 5 tips for anybody looking to ride in 2016, I know I will be...

#1 Training - Logo Solo Hilly Rides
Club rides are good, but the problem with club rides is they don't truly reflect the Etape, you stop and start and benefit from the shelter of other riders. You'll be out there for 6/7/8 hours, solo riding, so some solo riding around 5 hours will get you trained for this. As is often the case in winter, base miles are often the order of the day for many cyclists, and this was certainly one of my training methods. This may seem an obvious point, it may also seem slightly boring, but I personally like solo rides. In addition to this climbing for 10 minutes up Box Hill once wont really cut it. Find somewhere with longer hills, or if that isn't possible do hill repeats (a particular favorite) 10 Swains Lanes in North London for example is around an hour in total, with about 3,000ft climbed. Although you're not climbing all the time it's certainly a good way to get the hills in.

#2 The Race - Pacing is key
More so than ever on this particular stage as you had 4 climbs. There is no point smashing the first climb 2k in, and then blow up on 2nd or 3rd climb. I made sure I not only rode on feel, but also maintaining a constant speed and effort up climbs, not worrying too much about other riders on the road. So when Miles attacked on the Glandon I didn't follow, I was concerned with pushing too hard and loosing too much time on the last climb, i'm 100% sure that was right decision. Using VAM as a measure of effort when climbing was also useful and is almost as good as using power, well, unless you have a power meter.

#3 Travel - Road Trip
Everybody loves a road trip don't they? For the past 5 years we have driven to the Etape, with varying numbers of people. This year it was just Lucinda and me in the car, we racked up a total of 1,450 miles, with tolls adding upto 173 euros and fuel 220 euros, we also caught the eurotunnel from Folkestone to Calais, cost was about £120 return, but it only takes 35 minutes! Driving from calais to Orelle took just under 10 hours, which if you can share driving is easy. Our chalet spelt at least 10 and workout out to be about £15 pppn, bargain indeed! Doing it this way, and not through a tour company is great, but does rely on yu having a good support team, which we did again this year, in the shape of my parents and Dave's wife Charlotte. Their help was essential, especially ferrying us around on race day. 

#4 Training/Race - Mental Toughness
 This point is similar to the first one, but you need to be mentally tough. 5km around Hertfordshire might seem like nothing, but 5k in the mountains climbing is hard, long and will take a while. Likewise you need to train your body to be climbing for over an hour. Little changes to your body position can help, I'll ride on the tops for this k, or I'll have a drink every 1k sign. Either way it's a long day in the saddle, so solo rides are key. Hill repeats are another good way to toughen up mentally and benefit climbing as well. 

#5 Kit - Gearing
This year I ran a traditional 39/53 setup with a 12-28 on the back, this was fine for me and allowed a good steady cadence. However do not underestimate your gears. A compact is ideal, and if I had one I'd run that (34/50) with either a 12-28 or a 12-32. I churn quite a hard hear, but if you prefer to spin a 32 might be a good option. It may sound obvious but a new set of brake pads will improve confidence and braking ability, don't forget to bed them in a little though

After the Etape we had a days riding up the Mollard, went for a swim, it was pretty epic, few photos below. Can't wait to come back now...

Thanks for reading. 


  1. Interesting blog. Well done

  2. Sounds ace Will, really want to do some alpine stuff soon.