Martin Solms – 9 hours 26 minutes
Race number: 7575
It was a warm start to the day as my mate Chris and I cruised down the hilly pass to the start of the race. Our race numbers, listed in the 7,000s, meant that we were ‘penned’ in at the very back of the starting line. Nervous chatter echoed through our start pen as the horn blasted off and the race begun. For the next mile – roughly 20minutes – we walked, and pushed our way to the official start line. I made sure that my chip was registered with a good stomp on the transistor mat – and then ‘my’ race began.
The first hour of riding was undulating enough to warm up, and attempt to settle into a rhythm, whilst struggling to gather a few remnants of riders together so as not to get stranded between any of the smaller pelotons. By this stage the legs were moaning as I had not ridden since the long drive across France – fortunately, the first water point was around the corner, and like many of the tail-enders, it was chaos which resulted in a good 20min amble to the nearest water table. Every man for himself at this point, so I parked the bike up and legged it over to the nearest table to refill my bottles.
The first water point was a small reflection of the other water points to come. Each water point turned into absolute chaos as bikes, bottles, food and energy bars were scattered across the road. At one of the water points, I dumped the bike on the ground, and hopped into the nearest truck so as to get a bottle of water. I ended up with a pack of six small bottles, which luckily for another English rider, he got half the bottles as he parked his bike next to mine.
A large white sign-board indicated that we had just begun the ‘Col D’Izoard’ – only another 30km or so to the summit. My right hand was constantly gearing down as I shifted my ‘new-Etape-only’ Shimano compact to 34-23. Two gears remained as my speed dropped, my heart rate increased and fatigue set in. In less than a km, I engaged the last two remaining gears.
My mind was playing games… why was I here? Should I not abandon? It’s too hot to ride… but regardless of the mental games, I had a Col to climb. Three km’s from the end, I was dog tired – legs were a mess, the mind had gone mental and the heat was relentless. I must have looked shattered, as it caused a Frenchman to change languages and shout in English that I was only 3km from the summit. Perhaps I was hearing things as I am sure the French don’t speak English!?! Crossing the summit line was a large yellow board with the words “100km to go!”. One Col down, two to go…
Hearing any rider chatting away in English was always a good distraction to the weary muscles, so when I heard two English chaps chatting away, I tucked in behind to listen to the comments. The one chap was using the Etape as a training ride for his ‘John O’Groats to Lands End’ attempt in two weeks time. Both riders eventually dropped me as they climbed, and I staggered up the long and boring Col Du Lautaret. Half way up the ‘hill’, I noticed a long tunnel towards the summit – it was this tunnel, and the coolness that it would offer, which kept me creeping up. One highlight of the route was riding through a village scattered with Polka dot jerseys hanging from doors, trees and even old bikes. It was the mental boost I needed as I gathered my mental state into some sort of thought pattern and realized it was precisely moments like this which made me choose to enter the Etape. Summitting the 2nd last Col provided leg relief as the next 38km were mostly downhill to the bottom of the Alpe D’Huez.
Just yards from the last water point, another yellow board listed the words “14km to go”. Topping up my water bottles and gulping the last of my two energy gels, I crossed the ‘start’ line for the summit bid. Immediately I had to stand and grind the 34-25 combo up the first sharp drag – it was at this point that I flicked my watch from speed to time and started mentally climbing the bends in 10min heats. The sun was relentless – peaking at a whopping 38Deg C. Fortunately, the spectators where willing to run alongside and pour cold water over any of the cyclists. I opted for many a drenching as the first hour (9km) of the last climb passed and still I had 5.5km left. Digging deep, I pushed upwards and onwards towards the finish. I was spurred on knowing that I was constantly overtaking the walkers and knowing that not one person had yet to overtake me up Alpe D’Huez. Eventually, I rolled over the finish line clocking 1:36 for the last Alpe finish. In summary, my time of 9hr 26min will be laughed at by the winner as he crossed the line in 6hours! [Ed – how about Frank Schleck’s 4 hours 52 minutes!]