Allez les filles
L'Etape du Tour. An epic blend of faff, fun and f**k me this is hard.
It's a sportive not a race. In 2017 it was 180km and 3800m up, finishing on the infamous and seemingly never ended Col d’Izoard.
Below are four pieces of advice you're likely to read when you google L'Etape du Tour. But often, our sassy human minds and real life get in the way of simple theory. So underneath are stories from the weekend without the censorship. Salty arses and all.
Good advice 01
Fuel well. Don't wait till you're hungry.
Don't rely on hotel breakfasts (I consumed something that resembled half omelette half cake). Locate the local bakeries. You’re probably going to eat cheese with every meal. Go to the supermarket, buy provisions and set up a work table in your hotel the night before to make ‘back pocket picnic’. Brioche rolls filled with warm cheese and melted guacamole may not sound appealing, but you’ll prove yourself wrong 100km in. The food stops should only serve as top ups. Putting overnight oats in a McDonald's cup ready for the 0500 breakfast is absolutely fine. The only thing shittier than the progressively terrible toilets would have been dehydration. Keep drinking. We went through 10 bidons each.
Good advice 02
Jump in with a group for the long winding flats. Don’t smash the first incline because you get carried away when the French crowds are screaming ‘allez allez’ or because everyone around you seems to be going faster. Find your rhythm and stick to it. Forget about the clock. No one actually cares apart from you (well, maybe also your boyfriend who is waiting at the end in a car parking space due to expire).
Good advice 03
Take in the atmosphere. Look around you.
Watch the tour on TV because those pirate camera views are much more spectacular than the handlebars you’ll inevitably be staring at during your ride. You won’t be able to ‘take in the atmosphere’ when half way up another 15km climb, sweating through your helmet and hunting out the next km marker. Instead, make friends with the flats. Chat to more people. We only had two meaningful conversations with strangers even though we were surrounded by 10,000+ people. You’ll more than likely pee in a bush with thousands of people riding past and you're more than likely to have salty sweat marks in places you'd prefer people not to be looking... take in that atmosphere too.
Good advice 04
We laughed at the guy who had packed toilet paper into his jersey. 130km into the ride was a bad time to realise he was right. Take time to prepare your finish line backpack with the precision you aligned your socks with that morning. Makes sure it includes food, drink, a hoody, face wipes and fresh socks. Pack layers - this is one ride where you’ll have to get over the aesthetic rule of bulging back pockets. The start line was freezing. Lara and I sat on the floor wishing we’d brought a cheap jumper that we could throw away once we got started. There was one guy with cardboard taped to his legs. Interesting. But do what you have to do so you can feel as comfortable as possible before the 180km of discomfort commences.
If you're obsessed with this beautiful sport, taking on the Etape will give you another level of profound respect for the pro peloton. As you're taking a week off and recovering with all the beige foods you can find, they're back in the saddle racing again. Without the indulgent food stops. Without the novelty of a melted cheese baguette at 80km. And without the possibility of pacing and picture taking procrastination.
If you’re looking for a new challenge, then wear the cleats of a pro rider for a day. Be inspired by the superhumans and ride your own great race, and by doing that you'll no doubt inspire someone else.