I made it! To read my story below click on "Read more" and to see the photos just clik on the small photo icon on the left of this page.
A Great Big Thanks to everyone who has already supported me, it has helped me to achieve my challenge and inspired me to cross the finishing line. There is still some way to go to reach my target for Breakthrough. If you want to donate (just click "Donate now" and follow instructions), this page will still be open for the next few weeks.
Up and Over and Up again
The story of my day for the Etape du Tour 2011 started at 4.00AM. Myself and my Irish cycling friend, Rick Delaney, had stayed in Valfrejus a small ski resorts above the start town, Modane. We had set our alarms early so that we could have a good breakfast and then allow ourselves time to ride approx 9Km downhill and get to the starting pens for a theoretical 7.00AM start.
The descent down was uneventful as dawn broke and although it was a bit chilly it looked like the weather was going to be good. The start was organised into starting pens with groups of about 1000-2000 in each. All the riders have an electronic chip stuck onto the race number affixed to the bike which then is used to activate each individual time at the start, finish and several points in between. The start is organised such that each pen is released consecutively and the riders then go through a 3m gap over the timing mat so ensuring that everyone is nicely spread out, preventing traffic holdups.
We got into our pen by about 6.00AM so had lots of time to get a bit more nervous and make some last minute adjustments to personal liquid ballast! My number was 6036 so it did take a bit more time to actually get to the start mat but we were finally away at about 7.50AM.
It was a great relief to start and the first 17Km were a glorious downhill stretch on marshalled closed roads. I sped down chatting intermittently with Rick, in a nicely spaced out group. We had planned that we would try to ride the first section together but as soon as we hit the climbs I knew that I would be on my own as Rick’s cycling prowess was in a different league to mine.
We soon hit a sharp left bend and then it started!! I wished Rick luck and he was off. There was a sudden concentration of cyclists and the road started to ramp up, the start of the first climb of the day, Col Du Telegraph.
During my preparation I had done lots of small hills and a few big ones, notably the Col De La Bonnette, a 44KM ascent to the highest road in the Alps (2802m) and had learnt that it was important to start steady otherwise you can blow up and not make it. I kept this in mind as we started the ascent. I found the going hard and although I was keeping up and even passing some riders, I felt I was dropping back overall. It was tough already and I had not even got to the top of the first supposedly easy climb! My rational was that as long as I got to the top of the big climb, Galibier, then I was going to make it, all I would need to do then was descend about 40 Km then I was sure I could get up Alpe D’Huez even if it took me 2 hours! Dream on.
I changed down to my lowest gear and got stuck in ignoring all around me. We wound up through the trees and slowly things started to improve, the view opened up and I could see we were steadily gaining height and I stared to relax just a little. I concentrated on making sure I ate a little and took a gulp from my bottle at least every 15mins. The road flattened out marginally and suddenly we were there. Phew! One down (1565m).
I quickly stopped just over the top and took off my arm warmers and head bandanna, loaded them in my pocket, had another snack and pressed on down a short descent into Valloire. Here the roads were lined with locals shouting and clapping and a band was playing. I suddenly realised what a privilege it was to be part of this experience.
Just the other side of Valloire there was the first main feed and drink stop. I loaded up with new water, added my electrolyte powder, had some cake and orange quarters and impulsively picked up a banana and stuffed it in my back pocket. I didn’t realise it then, but I had just saved the day!
From Valloire there is a long false flat (its not flat its about 7%!) where the valley opens out and you start to get a view of Galibier, it looked like a monster! I tried to speed along here and even ended up chatting for a short section with a guy who had flown in from Singapore just to do the event! About 11-12 km from the top, a bit before the climb really starts to kick in I nearly lost it all.
I started to feel a small cramp twinge in my right leg, I had been worried about this from the start as I knew that if anything was going to derail my efforts, apart from mechanical issues, this was it. I tried to ease off and stretch my leg a bit, stood up to change loading. Disaster!! Both legs cramped up completely, I just managed to stop and unclip from the pedals but then fell with my bike across the road. Fortunately it was fairly steep so everyone was going relatively slowly so they all avoided me and even made sympathetic noises. I knew I was in trouble, I had to get through this or I was going to let all my supporters and even myself down. I got to the side and willed my muscles to relax. The pain went, I knew from experience that it was probably a combination of over pushed muscles, lack of nutrients and fluid. I had a short rest, ate my lifesaving banana and drank a few big draughts of fluid. Right! Now to deal with this I would have to will my legs to relax if I felt it coming on again and also throttle back.
I got back on my bike and started pedalling, it seemed OK. I pushed a bit harder felt a small twinge so eased off, I was still Ok. I convinced myself I had the strategy to deal with this so now back to the task on hand.
Shortly we got to a small bridge where the road bends off to the right and then the real hill! By now there was no chat only the sound of whirring chains, clinking gears and human suffering! By now I was actually OK, I had worked out my strategy and now all I needed to do was get up the next 10KM and I would be there! It was hard but by now I was regularly passing people stopped by the side or walking, although I was down to about 6Km/hr I still managed to relax and keep pushing, every now and then I looked up and around as the stunning scenery seemed to help to take my mind off the pain in my legs.
I probably reached the summit of Galibier (2640m) at about 12:20 and stopped very briefly to put on my rain jacket. I knew the long descent would be fast and cold. I had the most fantastic feelings of elation and I could now allow myself to think that maybe I might make it. A little further down I stopped and refilled my water bottles from a specially placed small water tanker provided by the organisers. By now I knew that my revised target time of 7 hours was in jeopardy so decided to push on. I had driven the route down from Col du Lauret 2 days before so I knew what to expect. Lots of downhill, some darkish tunnels and a small bit of uphill some way before the foot of Alpe D’Huez, probably about another hour before the final challenge.
The cycle down was exhilarating, the section before the tunnels was wide with excellent surface and we were all well spaced out so I had a great section and had a chance to have a bit of a rest! The tunnels were dark and I took it very easy through them, saw one accident and also had to walk through the longest one as a previous accident had caused a big hold up. I had a final food and water stop at La Grave about 25Km from the foot of the Alpe and only stopped briefly to get a final boost from a majic caffeine gel about 1 Km short of Bourg D’Ossians.
As we cycled along the flat to the start of the final climb I took some advice and snuck in behind a big bloke and got nicely pulled along, the only real time I got any sort of peloton action in the whole day.
There was a busy feed and drink stop at the cross roads before the foot of the climb but I didn’t stop as I wanted to ensure I made the time limit. I knew that 4.00 was the cut off and I only really had about 2.5 Hrs to spare.
The climb (to 1850m) starts with a left turn then it gets steep. I knew from driving it a few times that after about 5 of the 21 switchbacks it would ease off slightly so I just shut off my mind and concentrated on turning my pedals. It was really hot by now (about 35-37deg) but I just kept going , trying to seek any possible shade. By now, although it was hard, I felt much more confident in my ability to make it to the top as all around me everyone was as slow as me. Every 10m or so there were people walking or sitting down. The worst part was the heat. I concentrated on drinking at every bend and although I was running out of water I knew that there was a fluid station about half way up.
I stopped once on hairpin number 13 for a 1min break and also to swap bottles. I was seriously starting to think about stopping at the many culverts where queues of overheated riders were dousing themselves in cold water but around bend 15 I was sprayed by one of the many supporters. Its amazing what a difference this made, I knew I was going to make it. I got up to the next water station in Huez, poured water over myself, filled up one bottle to drink and the other to pour over my head.
The final drag up into the village was hot but manageable, I knew we still had about 2 Km to the finish but the feeling of sheer relief and exhilaration meant that before I knew it I was turning down between the cheering crowds onto the final short uphill finish. By now I was looking for Claire and Marcus, I heard and saw them right on the finish line, I gave them a wave and it was all over.
Even now writing this I can feel the emotion of the moment, to take just a little part in such an uplifting event is a celebration of all good things about sport. It was a close out to a difficult year for my family and I also got the chance to make a contribution to a very worthwhile charity. I have posted a photo taken of me at the end (the look), I think you can see these thoughts in my expression.
Thanks to everyone who has supported me before, during and after my ride. My family, Claire and Marcus have been great and special thanks to all the support to my chosen charity, Breakthrough. Also a big thanks to Rick and his family, who apart from being there at the event, helped hugely in my training and preparation.
My final statistic were:
Elapsed time 7 hours and 51mins (49 minutes before the time limit), according to my cycle computer I was moving for 7hrs 38mins so only stopped for 13 mins.
Overall place 5745 out of 6461 finishers (about 9500 started)
Rick incidentally finished in 5 hours and 49 mins, 2,342, about 2 hours ahead of me! Not a bad effort in the heat.
Also for the record the pros in the Tour De France will do this exact course on Friday 22/07/11 and are expected to take about 3 hours 10 mins…Chapeaux!!
Please help Breakthrough to raise a bit more cash to fight breast cancer through research, campaigning and education by sponsoring my attempt at the Etape du Tour 2011.
I have set myself the goal to complete the Etape du Tour cycle sportive on 11th July 2011. It’s a French Alpine stage of the Tour De France open to amateurs (9,000 of them!) a few days before the real event. It's probably quite a challenge for a not quite fit enough mid lifer like myself.
The course starts in Mondaine and ends high up on Alp d’Huez (1850m) taking in two other major cols, Telegraphe (1566m) and the legendary Galibier (2556m). In all about 3500m (11400 ft) climbing and 109Km. It will probably take the fast guys about 4 hours and I need to finish in about 7 hours to ensure that I am not eliminated and swept up by the broom wagon. I have been training since February and have set myself a target time of 6 hours. To see the course click on the link to the TDF site http://www.letour.fr/2011/TDF/COURSE/us/1900/etape_par_etape.html
I took up road cycling initially to help me fight the onset of middle age but it also proved an inspiration and escape to enable me to recharge my batteries to help my wife and family through a difficult year. In May last year she was diagnosed with breast cancer, its been a roller coaster year, but with all the expertise and knowledge about breast cancer it's also been an opportunity to celebrate the fantastic breakthroughs in medical care in the last 20 years.
It seems that Claire is through the worst and, so far, is now in the clear. At one of the numerous and nerve-wracking consultations with the medical team we learnt that breast cancer was a good cancer!! It turns out it is, through the development and understanding of the condition it’s one that can be treated successfully. That’s why I want you to help me support Breakthrough.
I have set a target of at least £1 (or Euro) for every meter I will have to climb, that will be the hard part so that why I need the motivation!Please donate now through this page or send cheques (details on my covering emai).