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Alumnus Report - L'Etape du Tour
By:  Arno Turk   (2006/07/24)

I believe it was ex pro cyclist Bob Roll that once said something like “You can’t say you’re a cycling fanatic until you’ve suffered on the mythical Tour de France climb of L’Alpe d’Huez”. Recently I was able to take Bob up on this challenge. I participated in an event called L’Etape du Tour. It is a yearly citizen’s event organized by the Tour De France organizers, where everyday cyclists can ride an exact stage of the Tour on completely closed roads, much like it is for the pros. This year’s event was stage 15, from the town of Gap to L’Alpe d’Huez. The distance was 188.5 km and climbed 3 mountain passes, the Col d’Izoard, the Col du Lautaret, and finished at Alpe d’Huez. The event took place a week before the pros would ride the same stage.

I arrived a week before to get accustomed to the heat of southern France and preview some of the climbs. At the registration, J.C.(my training partner here in Ottawa) and I were given a preview of the number of cyclists in the event. An enormous expo area was set up in the town of Gap to accept all 8000 entrants. In comparison to other mass participation events here in Ottawa, my $90 registration bought quite a bit: my shuttle ride from Alpe d’Huez to Gap(93km), pre race dinner (with free beer!), my registration package (t-shirt, backpack, waterbottles, good adhesive fabric numbers for my jersey, plus the usual assortment of stickers, powerbars, etc), an amazing assortment of goodies at each feed station, a finishers medal, and a post race pasta feed.


One complicating factor about the event was that it started the Monday after the World Cup Final. J.C. and I were honestly hoping that it would’ve been Germany and Portugal in the final, that way we knew we’d get a good night of sleep. Unfortunately for us, it was France and Italy, and even though Italy won, the French fans still had to get rid of all the fireworks they bought anyway. I’ll just say I was at least happy to be able to lie down the night before the race.

What a relief it was to see the official Tour De France coffee supplier, Grand Męre, giving out free hits of caffeine before the 7am start. At the start, it was a bit nerve racking to know that I was going to be in a pack of 8000 cyclists. I’ve ridden in packs as large as say, 160, but the size of this pack was unbelievable.

The first 50 km were on generally flat terrain, and there were no unfortunate incidences in my area of the pack. Riding relaxed proved to be difficult, as there were often slowdowns and re-accelerations as we rode through narrow villages and across bridges, etc. More energy than normal was spent focusing on what was around the next bend and anticipating what it might do to the pack. I was actually looking forward to the first climb of the day to thin the pack out.


Once the road went up for the first time, I was able to actually appreciate the surroundings a bit. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and I got a taste of our 35 celsius high temperature that we would get that day. On the descent, a rider in front of me took one of the switchback turns too fast, and hit the guard rail after exiting the apex of the turn. He hit it in such a manner that he actually bounced back out to the other side the road, so I didn’t have to even try to avoid him.

On the Col du Lautaret, the grade wasn’t as steep, so I was riding bigger gears and actually trying to draft some of the riders I was with, as it got quite windy near the top. I was starting to feel the fatigue setting in at the top of this climb. Unlike the previous climb, there was no feed station at the top. After this, the road was 40km of descending until the foot of L’Alpe d’Huez. It was not a technical descent, but at times it was very fast. My computer registered a max speed of 81km/h.


When I arrived at the foot of L’Alpe d’Huez, my bottles had been empty for about 30min already, - not good. I filled up both bottles at the feed station, realizing that the 14 km climb would probably take me more than an hour, and the heat would be tremendous on the steeper sections. This climb really does deserve its mythical status. There were times my speed actually went below 10km/h. After backing off my pace, drinking a bit more and eating some of the ju-jubes from the feed station, I was actually starting to get a 2nd wind near the top. In the last 3 km I passed about 50 riders and finished in 7hours 9 minutes.


The winning rider of the event was from the AG2R pro team’s development squad. This 21 year old guy finished in 6 hours and 1 minute, and rode most of the race in a three man break-away. Former F1 driver Alain Prost finished 207th in 6 hours 59 min. A week later, Team CSC’s Frank Schleck would do the same distance in 4 hours and 52min.

Arno and stage winner Frank Schleck.

Thor Hushovd and teammate Julian Dean.

Eventual Tour winner, Floyd Landis and his Phonak team, at the start of his toughest day Stage 16 Bourg d'Oisans.


Interesting Reading. . .
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