Etape du Tour 2018 blog

Posted by Julian Wall

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the new golf

Well that went alright, after last year’s debacle where I limped round and sat on my backside for 30 minutes in the shade of a supermarket truck at the bottom of the Izoard, I tried to make sure this year’s Etape was an altogether different experience so I didn’t have to suffer like again on what is supposed to be a nice day out on the bike.

This year's route looped through the Alps from Annecy to La Grand Bornand via the Col de Fry the Plateau de Gileres and finished off with the two hour ascent of the Col de Rom and the Col de Colombiere. Distance 169km and 4017m of ascent. It was a biggy.

During a short trip to Girona in March I saw a photo of myself that was shared in the Whatsapp group and all I could see were my Moobs, and having just been dropped from the front group as usual on Els Angels it prompted me to lose a little more weight this year.

My main vice (addiction) is alcohol and after I’ve had a drink in the evening I get the munches after dinner and rummage through the ‘treats’ draw in the kitchen and steal the chocolate bars meant for the kids packed lunches.

I needed motivation during the week to stop this.

So I bought another bike...


More like Nora Batty than Emily Batty

Last year I rode a few MTB races at the Wednesday night #Beastway series on the Open UP but my body took a beating so this year I invested in a Trek Top Fuel 29er full suspension bike to make life a little easier and also to find out how a modern mountain bike works. The first race in May was preceded by a day of heavy rainfall and I slithered around Hog Hill took the lead at one point and then punctured and had to pull out. In the dry conditions the following week I was knocked back in to 4th place, that was my motivator! From then on there was no alcohol or nibbles between Sunday and Wednesday as I valiantly chased the GMV’s (Genetically Modified Vets) Sam, Russ and Charlie around the hot and dusty course and finished a perpetual 4th place. I was 5th overall in the series and I received a nice handmade trophy. I don't think the 75 minute ride through London helped though.

The Wednesday night MTB races were the highlight of my week and great training for the Etape, the ride from Cyclefit in Covent Garden to the course in Redbridge through East London took an hour and a quarter plus twenty minutes to check out the course then an hour’s racing flat out followed by a forty five minute time trial to Stratford station to catch the 21:47 train and all of it done on a pair knobbly Racing Ralph tyres and a 21lb bike. All in all just over three hours of riding that on a road bike would probably equate to four hours plus. After the race a biscuit and a cup of tea and at home in the kitchen while the family slept two slices of toast and marmite and a pint of milk at 11pm!

I would need two days off to recover afterwards so that I could ride at the weekend with a spin on the Saturday and a longer MTB ride on the Sunday. I would then rest until the Wednesday race as i vainly hoped to catch the GMV's.. I have to say that the Top Fuel is much more liberating than the Open UP as you can ride it anywhere and climb anything with the 32 x 50 gearing and double lock-out (the lock-out is a switch that turns off the suspension so the bike is rigid). Not as fast on the road as the UP but very smooth off-road and able to tackle any terrain.

That was the training then, nothing too scientific, just good quality hard rides and with a last minute 4.5 hour panic ride the Sunday before the event. I took the remainder of the week easy and went out for a fast 1.5 hour session on the Thursday just to liven myself up and check the bike was OK.

The differences to last year were:

Me: Fitter and more accustomed to intense one hour efforts and 2.5kg lighter at 65kg.

Bike: Trek Emonda SLR 2.5kg lighter and with an easier 1x11 gear set-up of just under a one to one ratio.

Also: I didnt ride uo two mountains on the two days preceding the Etape.

I was fresh!

The Trip

Day One - 6th July

I decided to drive to the Alps again as it is a lot more convenient (and cheaper) than flying I dropped the boy off at school and popped in to Morrisons to buy some rations and ice for the ice box before heading to Dover to get the Ferry it takes a little longer then the Euro Tunnel but is much more reliable and less claustraphobic.

Rather than blow myself out driving all the way to Annecy I found a campsite in Dole that fortunately had room for the Transporter, I turned up just after France had won their quarter final match so there was a lot of flag waving and car horns blaring. I ordered my baguette for the morning and then headed out for a quick spin to loosen the legs with a delightful ride along the river. Not that delightful though as my right knee was hurting – it had been for some time – and I was worried I wouldn’t last through the Alps. So, like all good bike fitters I moved my cleats back 5mm 48 hours behind a major event and went back out and immediately felt the benefit, risky but it worked.

I also upgraded the accommodation with a camp bed and portable toilet, 5 star!

Day Two - Saturday 7th July


Eat Local


Campsite football fever


Pastoral beauty just off the Auto-Route

It was only a few hours drive from Dole to Annecy and I thought I would chance the Municipal Campsite rather than spending the weekend in a lay-by like last year and struck lucky, I had a nice shady pitch, showers and toilets. Luxury.

The rest of the day was mostly faffing, checking my cleat position, signing on, and most importantly getting my number upgraded courtesy of Trek to the front pen for being a great customer, watching some more football and then a nice evening meal with friends in the evening. A then bit more faffing, pinning on my number before bed, getting the coffee pot ready and hoping I wouldnt oversleep before I crawled on to the camp bed in the van.


Huge bike park at the Village

Etape du Tour Day – Sunday 8th July


In the pen


First climb of the day

The first pen was scheduled to start at 6:30 so up at 5am' shuffling around in semi-darkness with lights on in the neighbouring tents as wiry frech men prepped their bikes and ate their muesli.

I breakfasted on a bowl of Fruit and Fibre cereal with warm UHT milk and two mini Brioche washed down with a strong coffee. I filled my two water bottles with electrolyte and rolled down the Semnoz to find my pen and wait for the start. I met the guys from Trek UK and also John Burke the owner and son of the founder of Trek who not only sponsors the Etape du Tour but also rides it every year, chapeau John.

The start is always the best bit and we had to circumnavigate Lake Annecy before the first climb the Col de Buffy and off we went at 50km an hour, woo hoo! It was a bit sketchy and a bit stop start but after the turn at the southern end of the lake it lined out and the goal was to stay in the wheels and out the wind. When I hit the climbs though I backed right off to save the legs.

My first stop was at the top of the Col de Fry where I filled a water bottle from a fountain just outside the feed zone helped by three young French children who were fascinated by the whole process. Just before then I had bumped in to Gretchen and Jason with whom I had dined the night before and was to ride with them on and off for the rest of the day.

Over the top and the first fast descent and the game of wheel sucking through the valley began until the ascent to the Plateau de Gileres a steep 15% track cut out the side of the rock face, steep and getting warmer. It was quote uncomfortable I have to say and the last ramp to the summit really hurt. The gravel section at the top was a nuisance, I just wanted smooth tarmac to role down, it did arrive eventually and I was treated to another exhilarating traffic free descent.

In to the Valley


The overrated gravel section


Just before Gretch did her Philip Gilbert attack


A slow grind to the top of the Colmbiere

I checked the Wahoo and I was 3.5 hours in, I did some mental arithmetic and realised that I could finish under my eight hour target, and then after a really fast ride through the valley I couldn’t hold the wheels in the group and could only potter along on a slight uphill that actually turned out be a climb, thank God for that, I'd thought it wal all over. Over the top and Gretchen appeared again and we jumped on the wheel of a big Frenchy for a tow, whizzing round the corners and through the villages, allez, allez the spectators shouted, we took our turn on the front for a while. I turned around and their were a hundred riders behind me, that’s enough of that I thought and pulled over, G decided to attack and rode off with some blokes. I tried to keep my powder dry for the last ascent.

We hooked up again at the feed station at the bottom of the Col de Rom and topped up on fluids, I was self-sufficient this year and took my own food as I didn’t want to have to fight for some warm cheese with th other riders. I broke etiquette and used the top tube bag provided by ASO to store my cliff bars as I don’t like to have too much in my pockets.. Nutrition wise I managed to get round on the three Cliff Bars (crunchy peanut) and two caramel waffles and four 750mm bottles of Electrolyte. I had needed a wee since the start and as it takes me a while on the best of days I waved on my companions so they didn’t need to lose any more time than necessary.

The Col de Rom was steep from the start, the downy bit before the Colmbiere was greatly appreciated, the start of the Colimbere was a very civilised gradient and then it steepened and I weakened. The last three kilometres to the top were very hard and very slow and I'm not sure if seeing the chalet at the summit was helpful or not. ASO awarded us with another smooth fast descent to the finish in Grand Bornand and I pottered over the finish line… only the 30km ride back to Annecy to tackle now, but first I needed a beer, thank you Trek Travel for the deckchair and the hospitality it was much needed.

In summary

Over dinner that evening (my second) my ride buddies stalked my Strava account and noted that I had ridden 10% of my annual total that week... 280km. If only I had ridden more I could have finished in the top 1000. Next year I will double the riding and lose another 2kg; but before then there is work to be done; I am on the reserve list for the 3 Peaks Cyclocross and aim to improve on my London League showing of only one race last year and on my 5th place overall at Beastway.

This year I finished in 7:07:37 and most importantly thirty minutes in front of my forty-something strength and conditioning coach, if you need any tips on pacing a ride Tony, let me know.

Equipment review

The Trek Emonda SLR frame and Lightweight Meilenstein wheels are a perfect combination with no flex out the saddle and solid descending.

The 1x11 combo worked well with a big enough gear for the fast start and just enough (but never enough) for the climbs enabling me to spin easily and keep the watts down.

The disc brakes were brilliant with no fear of over heated rims and punctures.

I used innertubes, shock horror!!

The San Marco shortfit saddle was lovely and cupped my glutes on the climbs nicely.

Bontrager gel tape and the Zipp carbon bars worked well, though we did have to smooth out the transition between the Ultegra Di2 lever and the handlebar. The hoods are much squarer now and the gap between good and handlebar was making my third and fourth finger go numb. A small piece of Sidas footbed did the trick.

The Emonda was fitted with an 11-40 XTR cassette and rear mech (that’s the max it can take) and a 42 chainring and I didn’t spin out on the fast flat start or the descents.

For next year I will run an 11-46 with an XT mech and a 44t chainring to give me a higher and lower gear. I didn’t find the larger gaps between cogs an issue (as many think they will) and amended my cadence accordingly.

The naff top tube bag was a game changer.

About the author

Julian Wall, Co-founder

Co-founder, general manager, bike fitter and bike designer. Jules rides an Open U.P., Seven 622XX, Trek Top Fuel & a Trek Emonda SLR. Jules enjoys riding off-road on his U.P. and MTB racing. When he's not on his bike he tries to keep his garden under control, walks his dogs and enjoys nature.
Julian's Cyclefit bike-fit speciality is that he leads Cyclefit's work with professional teams and riders. In his element when he is calmly working through complex problems with someone whose livelihood depends on the outcome.

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