L'Etape du Tour 2009

Once you’ve got your Etape entry and managed to get to the event, the first thing you have to do is register the day or two before. For me this involved a 27 mile ride to the start village  to sort out any teething problems before the big day. It did start out as a group ride but split and split again as there are some big hitters and the pace was high.

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I’d dropped off the front group and took to the Edge which was programmed with the Start Village.
took a picture of this bridge across the Rhone as it looked Ok coming up to it rather than some of the more bland crossings.

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The plan was to find the bike store overnight then sign in. I arrived at the registration, signed in then had to find the  bike store. As it was the overnight bikestore was cancelled as there were hundreds of bikes there and not the 30 exclusive ones that the brochure would have you believe.
It turned out for the best as if there were any traffic problems you could be stuck 10 km from the start with no bike. So the bikes went back in the trailer, assembled.

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The Start Village was good but you’d better have deep pockets these days as even an SIS Gel was 2 Euro. Plenty of carbon wheels to drool over and you do come away with the impression that it is not a sport for those on a budget and people will pay what it takes to ensure a success.

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People just couldn’t help themselves, they had to touch Lances bike. 

It was back to the bus after this after I bumped into Dean coming in to register. The goody bag is a nice Trek rucksack this year.

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 This is the jersey fully loaded with everything I’m going to ride with the night before after a tip from one of the group.  It was a good tip as there were no worries about anything in the morning.

It was a 4 am Breakfast with the coach leaving at about 4:50, what noticable was the volume of traffic and as the event got closer, people riding in from a few km’s away. There was a lot of them too, all trying to reach the right pen. I know you are supposed to get there early to get at the front but in real life it doesn’t happen.

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This is what it looks like to be at the back of the field of 9500, bottom right is the “The Doc”  who has joine d the Northend. I knew we were in the same pen but to find him in front of me was a surprise.

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The “Doc ” has invested in a hydration pack and we will have to compare notes about how it went as I blew up along with a lot of others on the climb from Bedoin.

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The chap in the Bianchi shirt is Craig who is also on the trip.

It’s a nervous wait in SAS 8 waiting to move, the first group went off at 7:00 but nothing seems to happen for an age. There is nothing you can do in this situation but keep calm and be observant. When we finally move it is about 7:25 and we make our way to the start line crossing it at 7:30, only 10 minutes in front of the broom wagon. It was some distance to the start line so if your marginal about making the then get an early number if you can don’t leave it to the last minute like I did and fret about the broom wagon.

With the thought of the broomwagon only 10 minutes behind the pace was brisk at the start. There wern’t that many quick guys to go past so it was a case of grab a wheel see if it was good and keep moving forward.

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The intention is to tag all pictures with Etape 2009 and a rider number.

I’d think you’d call it riding at threshold, I was having a good time, moving up with the pulse around 160 odd for the first hour. There was a fire cracker of a bang as someone had a puncture a few K in and you looked at some of what people where carrying and it was next to nothing.

Hands up those who don’t carry any money?  There are a few out there as I’ve met you. This question will come into play a lot later in the ride.

You only had to look at the Mavic assitance stands, overrun by top end bike owners wanting a tweak or fix for nothing. Hence the 27 mile ride to the start to sort things out, but I digress.

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This is the descent of the first Col which was marred by at least two accidents. It’s a straight road so it shouldn’t happen but it did and was an early wake up call. Accidents  do happen and they hurt. On the run in to Bedoin I’m along side a guy that has dried blood on his face and only one arm on his glasses, True Grit comes to mind. Enough of the bad bits and back to the ride.

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By now I’m having the time of my life, drafting groups as no one wants to lead. At least  at a pace that means the lead is doing all the work and the rest of the world is sucking his wheel. It proved fairly easy to draft, move up the group and jump from group to group and I don’t mean that in a boastfull manner. It’s the world bigest clubride with the captain having thrown a sickie. No one wants to lead as there is no coheasion in any of the ride. It’s 9500 individual riders looking after themselves.

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Comic readers should recognise the above kit if they read the thing. Recogised the kit and had a chat, turns out he had picked up a puncture and gave me a good tip about the next climb being harder than it looks on the profile with a few false summits.

The first food stop was at Buis de Barronnies which looks a nice place. I wasn’t quite ready for what I saw and it’s 72 km into the event so you should have depleted some of your supplies. I had to some extent, bar a Torx bar that refused to open on the move, so that off the list.

The descent of the Col d’ Ey was great and that leads to to the first food and drink stop, Buis le Baronnies. 

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It’s still a bit of a bunfight if you hit the first tables but the thing that hits you are the thousand upon thousand of discarded plastic bottles on the ground.

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I’d wedged my bike behind the only free space, a Mavic assistance vehicle and got chatting to another 705 owner, filling bottles.

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You need to make the most of these events so it’s no great shakes to return favours taking pictures.
The tables further down the line were a lot free-er and I had a piece of nice cake with nuts in it and picked up a few caffine gels. The old guy (older than me) jestured that this would give me power for the climbs.
I was really touched by the helpfullness of everybody and it wasn’t just at this stop.

A feature of this years event was throw away Waste Zones. It worked quite well in most instances except for one place that wasn’t but looked like it was. some poor chap got bombarded with all sorts of plastic.
At one station I even saw a Camelback or a copy.

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 On one of the Cols I came alongside a chap from Audlem CC because of his top. We got chatting then came across a photo point. The are put in by the photographers to make you look good. The first one was seated and we’ll see how it turned out, the second was out the saddle as if we were climbing gods.

I’m not the bravest of descenders but had a good go on stuff like this, the only guys that went past me where the guys on carbon deep section rims, like Mavic Cosmic Carbonne’s. It was all safely done with good warning signs at dangerous points.

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The chap above is French and a triathlete by the look of it as the double seat bottles are a Tri item. 

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It’s great to take in the scenery and look back on how many riders you have passed.
The first hour or so was all about checking numbers, are they coming down. Fortunately they were. It’s when you see low ones come by that you wonder what has gone on.

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Throughout the ride we are taunted by our tormentor for the afternoon, the Ventoux. This is the view from the Sault side of things and part of the pain is that you loose a lot of height to get into Bedoin.

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I just had to include a shot of the lavender fields that were dotted around the ride, you miss the first one but make sure you get the second.

Somewhere around this point was the first elimination point(Sault) and water stop. I was expecting electronic timing but I’m told there was a clock and if you didn’t make it a barrier was put across the road. You won’t believe how good it felt to make the first one. It was a 10 km descent to it after being directed away from a village water stop by a local. It still didn’t stop people filling bottles and Sault was awash with them.

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This was the climb from Sault and it proved to be tough, there are unseen bits before it but this puts into perspective the warning I’d had about double false summits.
What goes up must come down and its a very fast descent  down towards Bedoin.
A bit tricky with riders wanting to stick to the middle of the road but it was possible to gain a place or two once they knew you wern’t a Kamakaze pilot.

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The run in to Bedoin slightly down hill, notable for all the women riders getting cheered on by other women spectators.

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It was a bit of a madhouse in Bedoin, highly emotional have read Vals text wishing me well, having just made it there was another. I’m about an hour up on the broomwagon instead of ten minutes.

There is a woman on the food stand that probably saved my ride, it’s as simple as that.
I’d gone for more of the caffeine boost gels (brown in colour) when she saw what I was taking she said “Non” and pushed the blue coloured electrolyte gels my way. What I hadn’t realised was how dehydrated I was and this was going to repay me later. I thought I was  OK but this was my first scorcher of a ride and I would pay for it.

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Heading out of Bedoin was another emotional moment with tears in my eyes thinking how far I have come to be here. Success was only 20 km away, the route looked familiar thanks to the Tacx trainer.
I even managed a picture of the summit. What lay ahead tested many to the limit including me.

Bedoin to Ventoux: The Thirteen steps of the Cross.

With 4-6 km of easy 4% and two water fountains in that distance you might be tempted to think you don’t need any water.

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The above sums up what the Ventoux was like on the day, sheer hell.
I stopped 13 times according to the Edge and walked on two sections. The above maybe the first or second time but my pulse was 175 BPM and I’m told it was 42 deg C in the trees. The sun is overhead so there is very little shade.

Loads are walking, guys are laid out recovering under trees, some are throwing up. You have to see it with your own eyes and wonder if you are going to make it. The wooded section is unrelenting and rather than walk I tried to break the ride into 100m vertical climbs.
This gave me time to recover so I didn’t totally blow up. Seemed to be working until an 11% section before I reached Chalet Reynard. Here I was struck by cramp of the legs which I have never suffered before. I know I’m in trouble now, take an electrolyte gel but there is nex to no water left.
I opt to walk the 11% section as I am having trouble with 9% section. This happens twice, you need to realise that I know riding is better than walking and wouldn’t walk if I didn’t have to.


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After the Woodland section it thins out at the treeline to give you another look at your tormentor.

Chalet Reynard

Approaching the water stop things looked the usual mess as I pulled in behind another rider, only this time there is no water. Etape blown. We are directed over the way but my french is still at a level when I gave it up at 13. I saw no hosepipe that others used but did see a green water fountain. The problem was it was just a trikkle at best and there were 4 guys of whatever nationality trying to shove a bottle under it. It gets better one of them has to press the button to get the water.
Queue, alien concept. Two minutes of this had me looking elswhere.

Mistook the gas cylinder for a toilet block then went inside with the bottles and bought a beer. Good job I had change as a note was refused. Remember what I said about taking money on a ride? Then got told there was water in the toilets. Getting in there was a queue of 4 but it was soon sorted. Two bottles filled in seconds, down the rest of that beer and the dream was alive again.

Back outside an orderly queue has formed, they must be desparate.
I’m back in the race with about 6 km to go, peddaling at about 9-12 km/hr.

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Bump into another 705 owner , have a chat and get a decent picture of him which he wasn’t expecting.
Looks like a titanium bike.

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The moonscape is really fierce and I’ve had another moment coming out of Chalet Reynard wondering whether I can actually complete this thing.

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This is probably the thirteenth stop, look back on what youv’e conqueured and look forward to what is ahead.

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My mind is going into overdrive wondering if I’m going to make the time limit now.
It is touch and go but only if I stay on the bike. The KM countdowns are most welcome. There is a shrine and photo point at Tom Simpson place of death but it doesnt appeal. Surprisingly close to the summit ,not the 2 km they would have you think.

A little after there is a 500M to go sign, the longest 500m of my life.

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Looking down at those still ascending the climb you are left wondering if they are going to make the finish time of 17:30, a lot didn’t. Over 2,000 didn’t. 

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Says it all.

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Shot is a bit sqew whiff but captures the view of the Sault  side. I’m sure you could see the curvature of the earth up there.

Descended like a demon with the Pro pictures to prove it.

The next thing was to get to the finish 5 km down the mountain, this was to hand in the transponder pick up a finishers medal and in my case get back to the coach. Met up with the STI rep who pointed us in the right direction, also saw the “Doc” and Deano who had collapsed after the finish.

Descent to Malocerne 21km down the mountain was fast but saw at least a dozen with puntures or blow outs due to heat in the rims as the surface was fine.

Phoned Val up after I had got down to the village to let her know I was Ok and had finished the thing.

Found the coach OK and then it was time to find out how others had done. One of our group got put in the ambulance 2 km from the summit and he was way ahead of the broomwagon. They wanted to send Deano to hospital but he was ok when fed.

I’ve been informed by Eamonn ( a climbing god) that this ride was a 9.5 out of 10 and who am I to argue, it was really hard but over 7000 did finish.

If you’re looking to do an Etape you either need to have exceptional organising skills or go as part of a group. The logistics are very complicated if you haven’t done one. An organised trip/ride is expensive but you do get support. Spare a thought for the Americans who pay about $5,000 for a ride like this, turn up on custom built bikes and have supplies dotted around the course.
It matters nought when you are half way up the Ventoux confronting a few personal demons. 


Just going through the numbers on the garmin 20 odd days after the event,
25 minutes stopped on 9 occassions in the woods.
Walked 3 times @ 4 km/ hr, allways get back on the bike.
12 minutes at Chalet Reynard.
4 minutes after the Tom Simpson memorial which I remember stopping after but didn’t think it was that long.

24 thoughts on “L'Etape du Tour 2009”

  1. Hold fire Dave, the first thing is to get the pictures on Flickr. I’ve also got to get some more rides in. There is an option to ride to the Ventoux on Saturday but knowing how crowded it’s going to be It might be better to take the bus.
    The hard part is done it’s now a question of enjoying the rest of the trip. Stinking hot today.

  2. Nice one Frank, Knew you would do it. Me and Barb picked up our bikes today ( Chris Boardman Team Carbon for me and a Team for Barb) They kindly put a pair of Shimano pedals on mine for free, 25 quids worth, but Barb’s pedals were both Left sided so they said they would have to order her some. After a bit of pursuasion we got a set of 75 quid Shimano’s for free ( the only ones they had in stock ). Only problem now is Quinns let us down with her shoes so she had to try her bike out with my MTB pedals. We only did about 10 mile but the difference riding a proper road bike is fantastic. See you in work on Saturday.

  3. Great write-up Frank. I’ve been silently following you for your commentary on cycling and weight loss for a few years now.

    The “L’Etape” is on my “Someday” list as well, your excellent descriptions and fantastic photos are making this even more desireable. Sounds like you are having a fantastic time.

    Greetings from Cyprus and keep up the good work, with all you do on this website (weight loss info, Garmin, ride descriptions, L’Etape, etc etc)!


  4. Thanks Loukas, I’m about half way through the write up but the site went down and I lost email as well so there is more to come.
    It’s a fantastic event but you wouldn’t believe how hard the Ventoux becomes after 90 odd mile.
    I’ve had a fantastic week but how can anyone beat finishing the Etape on the Ventoux.


  5. Frank brilliant description, more realistic than anything I ever read on this type of climb before – congratulations !

  6. Frank, fantastic write-up and your website is a huge inspiration! I’m hoping to ride up Ventoux in October… I have a few more pounds than you, but then won’t have done the rest of the Etape prior either!

  7. Well done Frank. And a good time too; a long way ahead of the lantern rouge and in front of long time Etape enthusiast Ron Cutler (www.etape.org.uk).

    I heard a story that people kept coming up alongside Chris Boardman saying ‘Hi Frank, great to see you here’.

  8. Congratulations Frank. After getting a 705 for Christmas 2008 (best present I’ve ever had!), I looked around for a decent site that explains how to get the most out of the thing and have done close to 7000km with it. Your regular updates have been a great help – and also led me to following your efforts to get ready for the mighty Ventoux. I live in France and love cycling here (Loire Valley) – and you’ve convinced me that the Etape du Tour is a goal I should aim for. Sounds hellish – but the satisfaction of the achievement is only greater as a result.

    Well done – and keep up the good work! Have you figured out what your next challenge will be?

  9. Lost a reply yesterday so here goes,
    Bryan,getting off 13 times was better than not finishing.
    Chris, watch out for the weather you may not make it that time of year.
    John, do it sooner than later. If your wife doesnt ride it’s going to be hard to justify that this is what you want out of life, I didn’t expect to be here the state I was in but I’m 50 next month and have now done an Etape and finally acheived something.

    Stan, less than 3 minutes is waaaay too close for comfort. But he was within time. I saw one finisher that was 3 seconds inside the time limit.

    Michael, it’s a fantastic event and I don’t know what is next. Another Etape is now on the cards but I won’t leave it to the last minute.

  10. Hi Frank,

    Chapeau – I was on holiday last week and actually turned roaming on so I could see how you did on my phone.

    You have convinced me that I want to do an Etape and I have now signed up for my second Manchester 100 in September as my first training ride.

    Keep up the good work and well done again!



  11. Etape last week, Tattenhall ice cream farm next week, sublime to the ridiculous!!
    Well Frank, it has to be real congratulations for that finish. It would be a lifetime achievement for anyone let alone someone who came from your starting point. I must admit you had me wavering that you could do it but I now know that was just pre-match nerves and self doubt. And quite understandably so as I’m all sure we would be worrying at the thought of that mountain.
    I will look out for you riding down Huxley Lane, just don’t throw your empty gel into my garden!
    Cheers and thanks for blog.

  12. Thanks John, Stans Mills Hills Audaux is worth a look I did it last year and just got back in time. His Aquaduct Challenge has the distance and the climbing and I’ve done it twice now.

    The route is out in October and I’m not going to prat around this time. A late number puts fear in you from the start. The broomwagon drew alongside our pen and we hadn’t even started.


  13. Thanks Tony, I was flying after the start and felt good to be slowly moving up through the ranks. Most should be able to do the Ventoux one way or the other but to do it after 95 miles is the real challenge. I was a whole chainring down on what I’d normally use over here.
    A Compact chainset would have been too highly geared for me. The damage was done in the forest to Chalet Reynard, the moonscape looks daunting but is the flatter part of the climb.

  14. Well done Frank!

    Sometimes the hardest thing in big events like that is not to overcook things in the early stages so that you struggle later on.


  15. Frank Mate I’m in awe of you I really am, I got a road bike yesterday, Nothing special, just a cheap Fuji but its ideal to get me into it and at a shade over £400 I can look to get some hand built wheels if I enjoy it, Not sure I can commute on drops but wow the feeling of being able to kick in a 52t rin on drops is pretty special, A far cry from a 42t MTB.

  16. Well done Frank, a great achievement. You’ve got some incrdeible pictures. You can really see the pain in the riders’ faces. I regret that Mont Ventoux is a bit ambitious for me at my age, but I did manage Jubilee Tower from Morecambe last Saturday.

  17. Great read Frank, really well done. As I’m at the start of the process (7 weeks in) seeing something like the photos and the article you’ve written make me all the more determined. The 5 mile climb from Selly Oak to home where I arrive totally broken has just been put into some kind of perspective and highlights just how bad a condition I let myself get into. Maybe not the Etape for me, but the climb off road to the top of Long Mynd is now a target for early next year.

    If it means anything, I remember back in the 90s Steve Worland a MTB journo from MTB Pro doing an event like this on his MTB. The article made for fascinating reading. Yours was every bit its equal.


  18. Clive, this isn’t half of it. How can I write about over 9 1/2 hours of riding and still do it justice. 3 hrs 20 for 21Km, I don’t know where to start. The thing is you are among equals, you are all suffering because you are all at the same ability.
    The first 95 miles has sorted us all out.
    The Ventoux really sorts you out. No dancing on the pedals here, it was utter carnage in the trees. For those that climbed it straight out, chappeax.
    This year I’ve not done the miles, left it late but on the other side haven’t lost too much. Until the Ventoux that is, nothing here can prepare you for it. Do a 95 mile ride then tackle it. Everything went out the window, I was right to feel fear on Stan’s Aqueduct Sportif. (Same distance, same climbing)
    Above 9%, I can blow up on a climb, anything less is doable within reason. 22×34 is what I should have used.

  19. Hi Frank, I was there too and had forgotten some of the experiences until I read your excellent account! Thank you for it.

    It took me back to the surreal nightmare that was the Ventoux forest. It felt like something akin to a war zone; ambulances everywhere, guys begging for water, vomit….

    I just made it in time and will treasure my medal for a long time.

    Great pics too.



  20. Thanks Simon. I’ve had my Maindru pictures come through and they do look good. People marvel at the moonscape but the hard part was that 10km in the forest. I was nearly in tears at one point thinking it was all blown. Cramp meant I couldn’t even walk if wanted to.
    Going to remember that section for a very long time.
    I though the ride had sorted us well by the time we had hit the bottom as I don’t recall many if any flying past me. You were moving along with a group of similar ability sufferers.
    Just had a look at the timing of the Ventoux climb.
    25 minutes stopped in the trees with 3 sections of walking.
    12 minutes at Chalet Reynard.
    a further 4 minutes after the Tom Simpson memorial.
    Your looking at 40 odd minutes stopped for one reason or another bringing the time down to under 3 hours. I’ll update the blog on the analysis.

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