This weekend I will be riding the Trois Etapes Tour – a three-stage, pro-am charity ‘race’ in the Pyrenees.
It will be my first time in the Pyrenees and the chance to tick off a number of must-ride climbs, including the Col du Soulor and the mythical Col du Tourmalet, which has featured in the Tour de France more than any other ascent.
Just two weeks ago the Tour peloton was racing over these roads and now the chalk scribbled across the road in honour of Vincenzo Nibali et al will be passing under my tyres. The Trois Etapes, which in June ran an inaugural ‘Giro’ edition in the Dolomites, is dedicated to giving amateur cyclists the chance to live – and race – like a professional team.
Thirteen seven-rider teams will take to the start line on Friday, each riding for a global charity and assigned a professional rider. The roll of honour will include Emma Pooley, fresh from winning time trial and road race silver for England at the Commonwealth Games, and Carlos Sastre, the 2008 Tour de France winner.
Each stage – 100km, 120km and 105km in length respectively – will have either one or two timed climbs – the ‘GC’ sections – where the teams ride competitively, tactically guided and coaxed into laying everything on the line by their pro rider, with the time taken either when the seventh rider crosses the summit, or as an average of the first four riders to the top, depending on the climb.
Every rider will eat, sleep and drink the life of a professional cyclist – though the lure of hotel bar may mean coffee is swapped for a cold beer at the end of the day’s ride. Each cyclist will be hooked up to a team radio and followed by a team car, with a directeur sportif to bark encouragement. I’ll be floating between teams to learn more about the ride, those taking part and the causes they have come to the Pyrenees to raise money for (the Trois Etapes has raised more than $5 million since its inception in 2012).
The distance of each day’s ride may not be huge as an individually entity but the tortuous terrain and the energy it saps out of every cyclist will ensure this is a very tough weekend in the saddle. The 17.2km of the Col du Tourmalet comes on the final day – a sting in the tail like no other. It’s fair to say my training has been somewhat limited over the last six weeks but suffering is what cycling’s all about, right?
I’ll be riding a Scott Addict 10 – the same bike I took to Italy to tackle the Gran Fondo Sportful and a machine I subsequently know is a capable beast in the mountains. It’s equipped with a mechanical Shimano Ultegra groupset, though I’ve swapped the Syncros hoops specced on the off-the-shelf machine for a lighter Mavic Ksyrium SLS wheelset, shod with Schwalbe One tyres, which are fast but, crucially, supple and sticky when the road cascades downhill. The Syncros saddle has also been swapped for my favoured perch, a Fizik Antares, hence the currently unmatched handlebar tape. All-up weight is a shade under 7.3kg with pedals and bottle cages.
The mountains – and not least the Pyrenees – have hosted some of cycling’s greatest battles and the peaks evoke images of pain and suffering, but also glory. This weekend I’ll find out why.
Website: Trois Etapes
The Trois Etapes Tour takes place in the French Pyrenees from 7th – 10th August. The Trois Etapes is the world’s only Pro-Am Cycle Series and has raised over $5 million for global charities since 2012. For more information about the Trois Etapes, please visit www.troisetapes.org