Etape du Tour - the power of the mind!

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Etape du Tour - the power of the mind!

Postby Joffy » Sun Aug 02, 2009 2:49 pm

Just got back from holiday and thought I'd post a report about our Etape experiences.

On Friday 17th July Jim and I set off on the long drive to Montellimar in Southern France to have a 2 week holiday and ride the 2009 Etape du Tour. On Monday 20th July 8500 riders would tackle one of this year's mountain finish stages of the Tour de France from Montellimar to to the top of Mont Ventoux (170 km), 4 days before the Tour riders.

Saturday morning I woke up with a steaming cold - not good - but hopefully time enough to recover before Monday. Saturday evening we registered at the start village, picked up our goody bags and got our tickets for the shuttle the following day that would bring us back to Montellimar after we'd dropped off the car.

Sunday - felt really rough, head streaming but at least it's not Swine Flu! Drove to Maulecene to drop car off at the bottom of Mont Ventoux and got the bus back. Cycled back to gite managing to get lost on route without the sat nav but hey, we needed a warm up ride. Filled up with pasta and then early to bed.

Monday morning, 4.30 am - the alarm goes off and I don't feel too bad. I convinced myself I was actually better and soon after we were setting off in the dark to cycle the 7 miles to the start. We get there and find our starting point, in the last pen. The atmosphere's great and there's lots of banter in the toilet queue as we wonder why the queue only seems to contain English speakers! The sun is up and it's a beautiful day.

7 am comes and the race starts but it's another 36 minutes or so before Jim and I pass the start line. The atmosphere is great and the giant peloton snakes its way up the first climb of the day. The adrenaline has kicked in and I feel great. Jim disappears into the distance. We stop for a couple of crashes on the descent but I keep myself out of trouble. There are loads of supporters out on the course and you get an even louder cheer for being a woman! I'm riding well, manage to get in a good group and the hours tick by. Havng climbed the Cote de Citelle, Col d'Ey, Col de Fontaube, Cold des Aires, and Col des Abeilles, 90 miles are covered, it's hot but I've been eating and drinking and still feel ok. I leave Bedoin at 2.25 pm to start the last 21 km climb of Mont Ventoux.

That's where a beautiful day turned into a bit of an epic. The climb starts off fairly easy. A kind French man tips water over me to cool me down and I'm passing people but it's getting hotter and it's getting steeper. I'm starting to feel sick and I'm getting slower and slower. The scene around me was pure carnage. Not since Wasdale and the 3 Peaks on hot days have I seen so many people struggling. On those occasions I'd coped well but this time I was stuggling as much as everyone else. Cyclists were stopped all over the place. People were lying under trees. Ambulances were tending those who'd literally keeled over. I kept stopping and resting and trying to keep eating and drinking. The cut off time was supposed to be 5.30 pm, 10.5 hours after the 7 am start. Having started so far back and not having actually started cycling until after 7.30 am I was going to be dangerously close!

However, I made it! I arrived at the summit 4 minutes after 5.30 pm - luckily they'd extended the cut off due to the intense heat - it would have been really nasty to have been timed out in the last kilometre. It had taken me 3 hours, 12 mins, 43 seconds to do the last 21km - a climb that I had done before but forgotten how hard it is.

By the time I'd descended to Mont Serein and met Jim and then descended to the car we had ridden 127 miles! - chuffed to bits and relieved it's all over. Of the 8,500 starters 7,396 finished.

The next day my cold was back with a vengance, accompanied by a cough. Is the mind really that powerful? Amazing!

For the record our results were:

Jim Ryder - scratch time (from 7 am) 9:35:34, real riding time 8:59:10, position 5,190
Jo Foster - scratch time (from 7 am) 10:34:10, real riding time 9:57:58, position 6,838

Just over a week later we returned to Mont Ventoux and rode up it again. This time we started at Bedoin with fresh legs and much earlier in the day. Had it just been the heat or was it really that hard? I can confirm it's hard. It took me 2 hrs 25 mins. Jim took 1 hour 37 mins, over an hour quicker than his ascent on the day. This time we took photographs and I can almost say we enjoyed it!
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