It’s early…too early. Any sane person probably wouldn’t consider getting up at four in the morning to do anything, let alone ride a sixty mile sportive event over three mountains. But we cyclists don’t tend to be of the sane variety; in fact we appear to be quite the opposite.
But today wasn’t my turn to ride, today was about support, about getting our hardy souls through the event by providing strategically placed feeds stations along the way. This didn’t make breakfast any easier though as I forced down a croissant and shovelled in some cereal. All our riders had a similar look, that of dazed apprehension as to what they were doing and what they were about to put themselves through. The breakfast tables were quiet, only witty remarks about making it through the day were acceptable conversation. It would soon be time to embark on the journey to the race start town of the Etape du Tour Act I in Modane.
Our preparation had been done the day before, the notorious ‘feed station shop’ had been completed, each van was packed with the required equipment for our two feed stations… the calm before the storm. As we arrived in Modane the riders quickly disembarked as we unloaded the accompanying bike shuttle. The tension was palpable as our guests made their final preparations to their steeds and decided on last minute clothing changes. We were on hand to assist with any final issues before we too had to rush off to get ahead of the race.
The scene reminded me of the hundreds of races I’ve competed in, pre-event rituals, making use of the nearest vertical object as a toilet, and general nerves. As a full time racer you could never admit your fears or weaknesses. To do this would lose you your edge, your psychological advantage, your wall of defiance. But this is a different kind of event, these lumps are genuinely massive and people are scared. We provide council as to the best way to tackle the difficulties, stats to busy the mind and an experienced mechanical hand to ease bike related fears.
As we raced ahead we began to realise that we had been awake for several hours and it was still considerably early. Thankfully we were treated to spectacular views as we traced the event route over the Col du Télégraphe and Col du Galibier as the sun began to rise. After the superb drive down the valley of the Col du Lautaret we finally arrived at our chosen destination, the foot of the mythical Alpe d’Huez. After a small disagreement with the technician setting up the timing strips, we set up camp, putting up the now famous (or infamous) La Fuga gazebo and making us as visible as possible for our guests.
We then finished our final food preparations and made ready the liquid that would be consumed in large amounts on what was to be a hot day. The food for a feed station isn’t perhaps what you might consider a healthy lunch but it’s everything necessary for the ravenous cyclist. Salty snacks, cakes, sandwiches, fruit and energy bars and gels for the more serious competitor.
Then we began the waiting game. The lead riders came through after three hours of racing in small groups before more of a steady stream of ‘spotifs’ started to appear. Our first customer was using our pro support package and arrived well up in the first 100 riders. A quick refill of bottles, a speedy glass of coke, two gels and he was off, anxious to stay well placed in the classification. A couple more riders did the same before the bulk of our ‘Fugarites’ started to swing by the red gazebo. Many simply needed a refill and they were straight off, several had stories to tell of the days efforts and a few needed some extra motivation and stats of the climb that awaited them.
Eventually riders stopped coming through. It wasn’t scheduled as we were still expecting a lot more people to come through our station so we wondered what had happened. After a quick chat with the gendarme across the road we found out that a nasty crash had occurred and the race had been stopped for 45 minutes. This gave us some time to take stock and restock. We needed to as well as once the blockage was opened everyone came just about at once. It was quite manic as we tried to satisfy everybody’s needs with water, energy drink and food. At the same time we were having to ward off the French chancers who wanted in on the La Fuga experience. Eventually the last of our riders came through, some strong words of encouragement were passed on, and they headed up the mountain to our VIP tent at the top.
Then it was time to pack up, put down the gazebo and head on up the mountain ourselves to help with the packing away. This was easier said than done though as our friendly gendarme turned stern as we requested to turn on to the road. We were forced to wait for a couple of hours whilst the French police force lost contact with each other and couldn’t decide whether or not the road was actually open. Eventually we got to the top and aided with the packing by which point our guests were on their way back to their hotel.
We eventually set off ourselves and returned just before dinner. Whilst eating a very satisfying meal accompanied by some fine wine we swapped stories with the guests about how their day had gone. There were tales of woe and of glory, some already perhaps being seen through lightly rose tinted spectacles, but glorious all the same. The vehicles were organised for the next day’s transfers before we headed off to bed to finish what had been a long yet successful day.
To see a few more photos from the day click here.