Riding the Etape du Tour
By Andy Ross, Exodus Cycling Programme Manager
Why am I doing this?
It was a cold morning in south London; my breath rose in clouds beneath my helmet as I pedalled through the drizzle on another training ride. As yet another dribble of icy rain snuck underneath my collar, I found myself asking, “Why am I doing this?” It’s a question I’m sure has crossed the mind of many endurance athletes from time to time. During a long, cold winter of cycling in literally all conditions I had to keep in mind my goal: to complete the Etape du Tour.
It’s incredible how signing up for an event like this gives you the motivation to go out and train when you wouldn’t usually bother. Yes I got cold, yes I got wet and yes I’d be lying if I said that I enjoyed every minute of it - but I learnt some valuable lessons. For starters, the hardest part of any winter ride is actually leaving your front door in the first place. Once you manage that, you are on your way to success.
Fast forward to July’s trip out to the Pyrenees, and again it was the start which was toughest. Everything that you read recommends a hearty breakfast before an endurance event like this. Don’t get me wrong, I love a nice big breakfast, but trying to force the pre-race calories down at 5:30am in the morning is a different matter entirely. That old thought crept back – “Why am I doing this?”
Why I am doing this!
The months of doubt were suddenly vanquished as I rode down towards the start line in Pau. This was the moment it had all been building up to, and it made every early start instantly worthwhile. Seeing over 9000 other riders waiting in the giant start pens brought home what a huge event I was now part of. The buzz was electric.
We set off in a blur of carbon bikes and lycra. The Pyrenees became a kaleidoscope of colour as all around me were excited riders raring to go. Nothing compares to the feeling of riding in such a large group. I rode along on this sense euphoria at a very healthy speed all the way to the foot of the first climb.
I was only 30km into the ride but already having so much fun. The 2012 route was extremely challenging with four major climbs, amounting to over 65kms of uphill cycling and nearly 5000m of elevation gain. It was very tough, both physically and mentally, and the day wasn’t made any easier by atrocious weather conditions. Suddenly all of those cold, wet, winter miles made sense – what perfect preparation!
Nearly ten hours later I sprinted through the streets of Bagneres de Luchon and across the finish line. It was certainly one of my toughest ever bike rides. Yet the sense of achievement was phenomenal and at no point during the race did I question the sense of it. In fact, I’m already planning to do it again in 2013 – bring on the winter training!
Take the challenge
Established in 1993, the Etape du Tour allows amateur cyclists from all over the world to test their legs on exactly the same roads as their professional heroes. As the event follows an exact stage of the Tour de France, it changes every year. If you’d like to push yourself by taking part in a challenge like this, why not join us on one of our Drop Bars rides?