‘The Etape was an amazing experience. I will never forgot the crowds cheering at the top of each climb, the kids running alongside and giving you a high five, and the ladies in the villages you cycle though passing you fresh bread to keep you going. It was truly memorable. I can however say with absolute sincerity that a great event was made even better by La Fuga. The support you receive is second to none’.
Andrew Steel, 2012 Etape du Tour Competition Winner
I entered the Garmin–Sigmasport–La Fuga competition on a whim one lunch-time, and, to my surprise, won! It was not that surprising, given the prize, that lots of friends were able to clear their diaries and be available for the weekend. My friend, Barry Crichton, had just completed the Maratoma in the Dolomites and was happy to accompany me to France.
I will happily admit at first to feeling nervous; my preparation had been limited due to time restrictions, and although I had ridden many sportives in the UK, this was my first in Europe. La Fuga guide Phil met us at the airport in Toulouse and transferred us to our hotel. On our way we learned that he had been a pro-rider for a number of years on a French team and gave us advice on nutrition, tactics and how to get through the stage. He clearly knew what he was talking about and any nerves dissipated as I instantly felt like we were going to be well looked after.
We arrived at the Hotel Continental at Pau, the best located hotel for the start of the race, and over a delicious dinner, got to know our other guide, Jared, and the other group members. Our introductory meeting let us know exactly what was in store for us over the next few days, including our 40k warm-up ride the next day, and we were given welcome extras like La Fuga jerseys and bags.
That evening Jared and Phil unpacked and built our bikes, one bike needed some serious work to it’s internal cabling, and the other had a very dodgy sounding bottom bracket – neither of which posed a problem for the La Fuga staff.
After a restless night, due to nerves, we had an early breakfast before the start of the 2nd Etape of 2012, from Pau to Luchon. A mere 201 km with 4 major climbs including the Col du Tormalet. Jared led us down to the start, had some final words of advice and then we were away. The weather wasn’t on our side this time and at the top of the Tourmalet, we could hardly see each other! We certainly felt the chill on the high-speed long descent on wet roads. Despite this, every second of it was both thrilling and amazing; we were cycling over roads where previous tour winners launched devastating attacks. I could faintly make out the names of cyclists written on the road, and reading “Allez Wiggo” when descending the Tourmalet put a very big smile on my face.
Unfortunately, my smile wasn’t enough to keep me feeling cold at the bottom of the Tourmalet. After battling against two mountains, and with two still to go, I was over the moon to see La Fuga’s first feeding station. We had been advised to pack two bags the previous night; one to keep us going at the half way mark, and the other for the when we passed the finishing line. I had fortunately had the foresight to pack a gillet and some leg warmers into my half way bag – heaven sent at this point! After taking on fresh water and a plethora of food, we were ready to set off again.
The second half of the stage was, to be frank, a bit of a grind. My legs began to get sore and the two final ascents, whilst not as long as the first two, were steep and unforgiving. Barry and I, kept each other motivated by cycling the whole way together. There was one memorable climb where we talked about anything and everything other than cycling to take our minds off the gradient. Our strategy worked and before we knew it (after 9 hours and 57 minutes) we’d crossed the line. We covered 201 km and almost 5000 meters of vertical ascent over 60 km. Of the 5000 starters we finished inside the top 1750. It was emotional to say the least.
Once again, the La Fuga support came into its own, while other riders were obviously in some discomfort trying to get warm, we had our guides waiting for us with chairs, blankets, dry clothes, baguettes and beers. Amazing. Two glasses of red wine at our celebratory dinner and I was ready for bed!
The next day Jared packed our bikes and dropped us at the airport. Our guides had given us support when we needed it, loads of useful hints and tips – they were key to us getting through this race. I definitely have picked up the bug to cycle more and more famous mountains and I would encourage anyone who is interested in cycling in Europe to give La Fuga a try.
On the back of this experience, I have got the bug to cycle more and more famous mountains and have already secured my place on the 2013 Etape du Tour.