Etape thoughts from RCUK reader Alex Murray. Please send in any pictures or stories to:
Firstly, huge congratulations to the Dynamos who made it to the top of Alpe D’Huez. I salute your efforts because that was just a plain brutal day in the saddle wherever you got to on the course.
Gap to the Izoard – Saw Richard (sorry don’t know your surname) at the start as the sun rose into a clear sky that would gradually become infernal. Was out of pen 6 and flying down the road in next to no time. Was really hard to find groups to sit in on as the only things going were either moving too slow/fast or really disorganised. Every time I looked behind me I could see a long line of lazy sods sitting on my wheel and refusing to come through.
Heard a cry of “go on dynamo” and saw one of you go flying past faster than I could manage in one of the litany of fast moving pace lines. Rolled over Lac Serre Poncon in good time and felt good as I approached the first feed station at about 9:10, 30 minutes up on the time limit.
Was met by a solid wall of cyclists dismounting at the most ridiculous jam due to the feed station being stupidly placed before the roundabout rather than to one side of it. Ended up losing about 25 minutes trying to shuffle forward before i grabbed what I could and set off up the Izoard.
The Col D’Izoard – As soon as the road turned uphill through the first section there were already people walking and scattered by the roadside. Saw a couple more Dynamos go past me as I grabbed water at a fountain in one of the villages along the way as the temperature was already rising.
As the gradient kicked up I was joined by Neil Jones and together we battled our way up the seemingly endless top section, having to stop with alarming frequency just to get our heart rates back down. This was hellish and there were hundreds of people walking already. Made it to the top inside the limit of the merciless “vehicule horaire” to find there was no water left so we were forced to grab a can of coke amongst the carnage of people already suffering dehydration.
Gilets on we took off down the sharp hairpin section hoping to make back some time before Briancon. Took the first few fairly steadily but as it became apparent we were among the last to have made it off the Izoard before the gendarmes I put aside caution and followed Neil’s instruction to “show these French how to descend”.
We flew into Briancon with a few minutes to spare only to find the vehicule horaire practically sitting on our wheel. When they started shouting “two minutes t get away or you are eliminated” I got spooked and took off down the road with my gilet still on and as much food and water as I could grab down my jersey.
Col Du Lautaret – Belted up the vicious little brute of a climb out of Briancon and onto the road to the Lautaret. After about 5km I started wondering when it was going to kick up and where Neil had gone.
Then I realised that there were no groups left on the road, just a desolate column of riders strung out like ants of the length of the climb. Fortunately and sturdy-built English chap came past me and I sat on his wheel for as long as possible while I tried to recover and soak up some fluids.
At one of the villages they were already aware of the lack of water and had formed a long line of people at the fountain so that all I had to do was try and recover while they held my bike and filled my bottles. This was such a blessed relief as I passed groups of riders huddled in the shade of buildings and collapsed by the roadside. Heatstroke and dehydration really took their toll and I was starting to feel it.
Still, no sign of the time limit car as I put my head down and kept on turning ridiculously low gears against the imperceptible but ever-present headwind. It seemed far more physically sapping and mentally draining than the Izoard had.
Then, just as the tunnel before the summit came into sight, I heard the familiar drone of a skoda signalling the time limit car. I wasn’t going to give up without a fight so as it moved alongside me I threw everything I had left at it to keep up with its 19km/h. The gorgeous french girl in the passenger seat rewarded my efforts by handing me up a small bottle of water which half went in my mouth and half in my face.
In turn I rewarded such generosity by pulling in front of it and blocking its progress – I figured that if it couldn’t pass me then, according to the rules, they couldn’t eliminate me. I kept up this ridiculous game until about 1km from the top when cramp overtook me and I wobbled out of its way. But I reckoned I could still get over the top and down to Bourg D’Oisans in time for the 4pm cut-off.
At the top of the Lautaret I was met by a line of gendarmes aggressively stopping riders from continuing passt the time limit car. So, with a suitably gallic shrug and while they were trying to stop someone else I shot through and took off down to Bourg D’Oisans. A little under and hour to make it but I was fairly sure that it was still possible.
The descent of the Lautaret actually achieved the impossible by being a worse surface than most of the really bad roads in the Surrey Hills. But putting aside any cautions whatsoever I slapped into the big ring for one last charge down the absolute limit of what I could manage, making full use of every inch of tarmac and the lack of other riders on the road.
The headwind up the valley meant I couldn’t relax at any point and had to keep on pushing even in the Tron-like tunnel with surreal blue lights. The speedometer was clocking no less that 45km/h all the way down until it levelled out and the cramps started coming in waves.
I was nearly at the foot of Alpe D’Huez and I thought I could make it just in time to sneak through again but, as I turned into the feed station, I could see they had put a barrier across the road and the time reading 4:10pm even though the time limit car hadn’t passed me on the way down. There was no way of sneaking past this time.
I handed over my transponder as they were practically ripping them off riders and slunk off to try and find some water which was yet again near impossible to find. Then the waves of nausea washed over me and I stumbled to the nearest medic who led me to the first aid tent where they told me I was dehydrated and unsurprisingly suffering from exhaustion. After a rather emotional hour in pain I stumbled out again to face the indignity of getting on the broom wagon.
In total it seems like around 3000 riders ended up in the wagon and they were still stopping riders all the way up the Alpe. Given the heat – around 35C plus in the shade – and the lack of water it’s not surprising so many didn’t finish. I’m glad that I got as far as I did and was probably one of the last to be swept up but mighty peeved I didn’t get to take on the Alpe. Once again, hearty congratulations to all who did finish. I’m off to bed now to lick my wounds and plan my assault on next year’s Etape.
Read more at: atomicecho.com/etape/