And there I was in my starting block for my fourth Etape Du Tour and all I could do was make some funny faces in my friend’s selfie.
For those of you not too familiar with the Etape it is an ASO sponsored race that tackles one of the Actual Tour de France stages. This year’s addition took us over stage 18, Briancon/Izoard. The stage consisted of one category 3 climb and then a Category 1 followed closely by a finish on the HC Izoard. The total distance is 181 Kilometers with around 3600 meters of climbing.
A quick word to the starting town. Briancon is a great base. It is a beautiful town surrounded by majestic mountains. The town also has plenty to do for non-riders. It is also within a short distance of the Galibier, Montgenevre, Col d’Angel & slightly further afield Alpe d’Huez & the Bonette.
After I got started my main goal was to get into a group and conserve as much energy as possible. Considering that I was in Start group 2 this year I figured there would be plenty of experienced riders to work with. Normally the Etape starts off right away with some big climbing. Not this year’s addition. Aside from the small cat. 3 climb up Cote des Demoiselles the first 100 kilometer was rather “flat”. I managed to have a 35 KM pace at the 100 KM mark. I even managed to see the lead group in the distance.
The second part of the race is where the true racing began. It was marked by entering Barcelonnette.
From this point on it was either up or down, but no more flat sections. After 14 k of an easy gradient of 2 to 3% I started the first real challenge of the day, Col De Vals. This particular climb is around 10 km long with pitches of 7 to 10%. I settled into a good rhythm, but the changing pitch of the climb made it difficult to find a good pace. And then I felt my right leg cramp up about 1 km from the top of the climb. I was very disappointed by this as I thought that I had done a good job of pacing myself and not going into the red at all. No big deal and certainly not a reason to panic. I simply stood up and worked the cramp out. At the top of the hill I took my second stop of the race after passing the first break area. I quickly refilled my depleted bottles, drank a coke, and restocked my pockets with Gels and energy bars.
Now it was time to relax into a stunning descent. The roads were very well maintained and since I had a good start block the descent was not too full which allowed me to come down the mountain at a good clip. Still I had to be very mindful of the other riders. All in all it was an easy descent, not very technical. In the past races I’ve seen plenty of accidents and helicopter rescues. I was relieved that I saw none of that this year.
The last part of the ride begins straight away after you finish the descent from Vars. The first 17 KM is very nice. It is a road that flows a beautiful river. The road has been cut out of the side of the side of the gorge that you ride through. This was a part of the race that I planned not to ride very hard and find a group for protection as the road appears flat but that is not the case. It has a steady 2 to 3% rise. Unfortunately I ended up with a large group nesting on my rear wheel. I offered them the chance to do some work up at the front, but they mostly declined. By this time in the race it was very hot and I knew it would not be cooler on the Izoard.
The Izoard is officially 14K long with an average of 7.3%. In reality the climbing starts 2 KM before technically being on Izoard. This climb suited me better and at the end of the race I felt that it was the easier of the two big climbs. The signs that appear every kilometer tell a rider with is to come. The majority of the signs signaled an 8% pitch. That suits me just fine and I was able to control my pace very well. With three kilometers to go I looked up and could see the road snaking it’s way up the mountain. I remember thinking, “three k my ass"! It sure looked a lot further way than three kilometers! Near the top I managed to find the energy to pick up the pace and come cross the finish line with a bit of speed.
All in all I was satisfied with my performance. I think that I went into it too fast and this the majority of the climbing tucked in to the final 80 K I probably suffered somewhat. I finished with an official time of 7:16 with a moving time of 7:01. I am happy with only losing 15 minutes to break areas. The route was certainly much easier on paper than it was in reality and I probably under estimated it. Either way it was a great ride and another mountain race in the memory banks!