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France 2013

 Pic: Dutch Corner Alpe D’Heuz

I thought it would be of some interest to those club members that may want to do a Sportive overseas next year just to give you an idea of the recent exploits of the four club members namely Cathal Russell, Philip Colleran, John Colleran and myself who participated in the recent L’Etape du Tour.

Pic: L’Etape 2013 Profile

This years L’Etape was held in Annecy and is the replica of the 20th stage of the tour which will be held next Saturday the 20th. The event was 128km long with three major climbs of which the last was a very steep 11km climb to the finish line in Semnoz with an average of 9% and 2km at 14%.

La Marmotte 2013

The four of us organised the trip ourselves not using any tour company etc. We also went at different times to incorporate other objectives. In my case I went for three days down to Bourg d'Oisans to do the Marmotte challenge course. This years Marmotte was on Saturday 6th which unfortunately was the day before the Etape otherwise with a week between the events I could have done both. I know one Irish A2 cat rider who did both and his weaker Etape time reflected the effort of the day before. A tough weekend at the office!


I did the actual course on the Thursday which covers four haut category mountains and over 175km of undulating climbs and descents.

Pic: La Marmotte Profile


It starts with a fast 10km depart from Bourg d'Oisans then after a couple of sharp right hand turns you begin the 26km climb to the top of the Col du Glandon (1924m), a climb that gets harder as you get nearer the summit with the final 7km at places over 12%.

Pic: Col du Glandon

The descent from the Glandon is very poor with very tight technical turns, I understand on race day there were many crashes here, I'm not surprised. You now have over 30km through a valley of relatively flat roads before the 12km Col du Telegraphe (1570m). At an average gradient of over 7% it is your standard tough Alpine climb. At the summit you're just over half way round the course. 

After a few kilometers decent you start to climb what was for me the memory of the week, the fabled 
Col du Galiber. At over 2642m high and over 18km long it is a beautiful snaking road that you can see off in the distance it is truly the picture postcard of the archetypical Tour de France Mountain. With parts of the climb over 12% it is long and hard with the final snow covered 1km very steep. Just after the summit on the decent you pass the famous Henri Desgrange monument normally the highest point of every Tour de France.

On the way down you are faced with a different set of problems, with over 45km descent in high temperatures, it was in the 30's when I did it so no hard braking at speed for fear of hot rims.With only the climb of Alpe d'Huez left you'd think no problem but I can tell you the body is suffering now. I climbed the Alpe twice over the few days and on both occasions it was a painful exercise. After 90mins of pain going up the 13km of Alpe d'Huez I completed the 174km with a sense of awe for those that do this for a living day after day.

 Pic: Alpe D’Heuz

 L’Etape du Tour 2014

I moved north on Friday to Annecy for the Etape. I spent the two days of recovery doing short rides including a ride up the Semnoz Mountain to see the finish. I met up with John and Philip for a coffee on Saturday evening. As we were all off at different times none of us saw each other during the event the following day. I didn't see Cathal at all over the weekend.

Pic: Annecy

The Etape is run by ASO who organise the Tour de France and everything about it is big, professional and colourful, as seen on TV. The roads are closed and every inch of the 128km is marshaled with the official Tour motorbike Gendarmerie speeding around the bunch all day.The start area located beside the race village was broken into numbered pens of which you were allocated based on a brief of you're cycling history submitted with your application prior to the event. This I feel worked in most cases, as you ended up cycling with similar abilitieswith some obvious exceptions.With high temperatures promised I set off at 7.45am. The coursethis year was criticised by a lot of previous riders for not incorporating any famous tour climbs and I suppose from my point of view after doing the Marmotte course and being familiar with a lot of other Tour climbs I didn't feel intimidated by the route but that didn't take from the days experience.

Racing on closed roads is something all cyclists should experience once in their life but to be honest with the volume of participants and the amount of overheating rims with blowouts and numerous crashes you needed the whole road just to stay safe. After about 10km the first of the days climbs started which was two 7km climbs back to back. The descents here were narrow and some poor road surfaces so you had numerous crashes and a lot of shouting, par for the course at most Irish events.

After 70km the longest climb of the day reared up – Mont Revard. For the next 18km we wove our wayup a fairly unremarkable 5% meandering mountain. The only notable fact was the sun was beginning to warm up.

Pic: Mont Revard


Just before the summit was my one and only stop for the day. I choose to bring my own food to save me queuing etc but needed water so I spent about 15mins cooling off and getting ready for the secondpart of the day. 

After a long decent with a lot of corners, so no record speeds, but lots of incidents, we went through 
another 20km of undulating roads. In fairness a lot of the villages had people out cheering and playing music etc. Great atmosphere

We hit the last mountain with 11km to go, in my case just under 5hrs of riding and to be honest I fel
t grand. However with such a steep climb I knew I was over geared but a few long spells out of the saddle didn't bother me. Between 10km and 8km to go was the steepest part of the climb at 14%. I got through that but all around was turning into chaos with a lot of cyclists getting off and walking. The organisers had halved the road to let the finishers come back down the mountain on the other side. The long haul to the top was painful enough but having to go around riders and faster finishers overtaking you on your outside, it was all a bit messy. The only negative of the day. I hit a wall with about 4km to go and struggled to the line but never felt I couldn't finish.

Pic: Mont Semnoz

With 11,500 entries and nearly 1000 non finishers all four of us finished and most important 
arrived home safe. All finishers got a specially minted Tour style medal.

Neil Bradley.