Etape du Tour Acte 2 – 2011 – Issoire to St Flour – Sunday July 17th
Serial sportive rider from Down Under and friend of La Fuga, Lew Targett describes his experiences on what promised to be a beautiful ride through the Massif Central but turned into a day of survival.
Final event/Race for this year’s European Campaign.
The 2011 Etape du Tour which this year had two editions for first time, ASO making more money!
Acte 2 was between Issoire and St Flour in the Massif Central, the stage on which Vino retired after a big off, and the new Dutch hero, Johnny Hoogyland had an argument with a barbed wire fence. 210 kms distance, and 4000M of climbing, par for the course, and I was about as fit as I can get. Which is not very. Had a great week before with a couple of guys at my hotel who were also there for the Etape, reccy the course a bit looked OK.
Sunday morning in the waiting pen, good start number, 2222, out of about 8500 I think. However weather report VERY iffy. Sure enough there we all were, six thirty in the morning, everyone looking slightly worried, and the rain started, not too heavy but ominous, jumped fence to Bar for a coffee X2, but looked it looked bad. Usual hectic start, should be used to it by now, only difference, French riders not Italians. Now, if your cup of tea is riding in driving rain, freezing temperatures, and a relentless headwind for 210 kms then this would be the race for you.
However if not, then you would be better off opening the second bottle of red and staying by the fire, getting fat. It became pretty obvious that things were not too good when by 30 kms cyclists were abandoning and turning around. It was so bad as to be unbelievable. I’ve ridden in some pretty ordinary weather, the Three Peaks, and last years Gran Fondo Campagnolo to name just a couple, but nothing like this !!, unbelievably bad, a particularly bad days for cyclists with white knicks or white bikes, and aero wheels, it was terrible.
After awhile there were more people stopped/collapsed with hypothermia/turning around, than there were riders going forward. By the first food stop at Aranches, 70 kms, Ross Muir, our guide, was told later, 4000 riders had abandoned. Only 140 kms to go. Five climbs, particularly nice at the top of Puy Mary, (see above, and that was on a nice day, imagine it in bad weather), the biggest climb, with all the ice/hail in your face, almost made for an interesting descent in the rain and fog, at least you didn’t have to worry about the other riders , you couldn’t see them anyway.
Stopped at our own foodstop midway and bumped into a couple or riders I knew, they sure looked bad, kind of a blue white colour with this unusual shaking, I hope I didn’t look as bad as them. Two guys in the Van not going anywhere. Only 115 kms to go.
On the assumption that it could’t get worse I continued on with a mate who could ride with only a bit of shaking. After awhile I think the entire French Ambulance Service must have gone by, very tempted, I thought maybe if I just ride into a ditch they will feel sorry for me and I can get rescued. Finally got to our last foodstop at 160 kms, really, really was over this ride, could hardly get off bike,Tom, another guide manning the stop, said only 60 kms and one more climb too go. Easy. By this time an alarming lack of other cyclists around.
Finally, finally, 15 kms from finish, the sun amazingly, came out, sort of, it was still raining, and windy but just merely cold, not freezing. I had also discovered that waterproof cycling gear does not exist, and that Robbie McEwan was right after all.As I crossed the finish line in St Flour after 10 hrs and 40 mins, I can can tell you, dear readers, that I am really over Sportif’s.However,what made this ride truly memorable, apart from the the appalling weather, distance and climbing, was the thousands upon thousands of spectators that had come out in truly awful conditions to cheer us on, there were people everywhere on all the climbs, in the villages, kids, grown ups, cheering us. Something you would never, ever see in Australia, they really cared about the riders and I think it was about the only thing that kept me going.
The other great thing was all the roadside artwork (see above), from the Tour stage a couple of days before, so much work, just for a few minutes as the riders flash by. Well, my 21st, and I suspect, last, Gran Fondo. Time for golf. Just so I won’t be tempted to ride bike again, left it over here.
Of the 8500 or so riders that started, less than 2000 finished. The winner (a pro), finished in 7 and a half hours, and even he couldn’t get a Gold medal time!! A record low number of finishers for the Etape du Tour. ASO should pay us than rather than the other way around.