About 25 Cannondalers (including some retailers and a few friends) headed out to Montélimar, France last weekend to take part in l'Etape du Tour. This is a yearly 'race' ('survival' is more accurate) that covers a stage of the Tour de France (usually a tough mountain stage) and attracts about 10,000 entrants. I'll be posting a video soon of the trip, so I'll just jump right into the event itself...
We woke up at 4:00 to load our bikes and then load up on more pasta and whatever we could stuff down our throats that early. 7-10 hours on the bike burns a lot of calories so it's important to eat, even early. The bus ride to Montélimar was quiet, with everyone either trying to sleep or just nervous about the day ahead. We quickly unloaded, got ready and split up into our starting groups. We were split into four groups (out of eight starting zones). When I arrived, I was struck by a horrible reality... there were THREE toilets to serve about 4,000 people in my closest zones! Oh well, time to ride...
5km in, I heard a pop - Erik's rear tubular blew. Being the one with tubular experience, I stopped and changed it with him. We got going pretty quickly, even though his glue was old and his spare tire had a bump and was already separating from the base tape! 5km later, POP! again! That old spare didn't last long. This time, Jan and Stefan saw us and stopped to wait. I gave Erik my spare and he changed it. That meant I had no spare, with 160km to ride still! When you stop, the thing you realize is that you get passed by up to 500 or more people in an instant! With an already poor starting position, we were now near the back! So we took off and TTT'ed it all the way, blazing past hundreds of riders.
The first rest stop was chaos, so we decided to skip it and conserve water and food. 45 minutes and one more climb later, we found an oasis on the side of the road to refill. At this point, I started to think about the fact that I was definitely riding over my head with younger, faster guys. I knew my time would come and my ticket would get punched. And it did. Jan was the next to flat - and fixed in short order.
We passed a number of our group on a climb, and a slew more riders on the next. The penultimate climb was when it hit. I just lost the wheel of my guys and told them to go on. There wasn't much left and I'd be alone on Ventoux anyway... and I was. I had a good time at the foot of Ventoux, considering three flats in our group. I calculate we lost 20 minutes to flats. But the real struggle came as I hit the forest at the bottom of Ventoux. It's 7-11% with absolutely zero curves and it NEVER eases up. You are just grinding a steep slope for 20km. Even though I stopped (way too) often, I vowed not to walk one step, unlike many around me. Speaking of, there were lots of walkers, pukers, cryers... and all with good reason. This is a BEAST.
I started to cramp up, which cost me more time resting on my feet. In the end, I was satisfied and more than pleased for that climb to be over. I finished 8:42 and if not for the flats, would've been a bit faster. BUT - I also realize that if I were left on my own the whole way, I would've gone slower to begin with, so thanks for the pace Erik, Jan and Stefan. We formed quite a train!
Of our group, everyone finished in the cutoff time and have stories to last a while. Our ringer finished with an incredible 6:38! It was a great team-building trip. I would like to say we all stayed up until the wee hours drinking beer, but we were all so tired after the ride that I think everyone retired to bed asap after dinner.
What a day. Once home, a few of us treated ourselves to Basel's best kebabs! I said I didn't even want to look at my bike for a week. BUT - and get this - when I unloaded it from the car... the rear tire was flat!