Stage 19, L’Etape du Tour Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne to La Toussuire, Sunday 19 July

21st July 2015
When I read the big yellow sign by the side of the road saying “Even Contador’s legs are hurting” I had to chuckle. This was one of the motivational messages the Etape du Tour organisers came up with to get the riders push through the 6.5 - 10% climbs.

In numbers:
4,609 meters of climbs
4 challenging mountains
15,000 riders

As you will see on Friday the 24th of July when the Tour de France riders race there, this is a stunning but brutal stage in the French Alps. Did I know this when I bought a ticket in January? Nope. ☺

I also didn’t know how much time I could spend in France après the Denali climb when I started arranging flights etc so decided to keep it a short flying trip.
At 5.30am on Saturday bike in the box, gels piled in my hold luggage and with a friend, we headed to Gatwick to fly to Geneva. Things went pretty smoothly until we got into heavy traffic in the rental car on our way to the race village at the finish line in La Toussuire but fear not we tucked into our pre-made power pasta dish my friend made the night before. Getting to village was quite exciting; we had to drive up the last hill I was going to do the day after on bike. Surely it’s a different route up?!
Just when we got there and parked the car, heavens opened and started chucking down. Still had to register, get my race pack and put the bike together and once we were sorted we didn’t hang around for too long, still had a 40min ride to find the chalet I booked. I was quite restless that night and only slept a couple of hours but Sunday morning I felt fresh like a daisy!

My starting time was 7.56am but wanted to make sure I was there as early as I could to find a decent spot in the pen. Thought the organisers did a great job letting 15,000 cyclists safely through the start!
There wasn’t much time to warm up the legs before Col de Chaussy, almost straight into (well up on) hill number one, a 15.4km climb with average gradient at 6.3%. Despite a lower back pain which developed half way up I really enjoyed the first challenge and couldn’t wait for the sprint, this also meant first climb and descent out of the way. Riding downhill felt it was never going to end but I guess if you cycle up a hill there’s only one way down!
After a 30km flat-ish part the route started curling up again, through cute little villages first. I asked for the time from a fellow rider who admitted he came back the third time to conquer Col du Glandon and Col de la Crox de Fer, the two peaks latter at 2067m. This was also roughly the time when rain was due but somehow the temperature was getting higher and the sky bluer. It was obvious then we were going to have a fab day. It helped mentally as I prepared for rain and wet roads (the weather forecast predicted heavy rain and thunderstorms even a day before!) I needed to think positively as my back was giving me a pretty hard time during this climb. I had no chance but to get off the bike and stretch my back, jump back on the bike and continue up the hill. I started seeing riders walking by the side of the road with their machines and I knew I would only do that if I was really very desperate. And then suddenly, about 5km from the top my bike felt as light as a feather, back pain gone and legs went into racing mode. I got to the top of both Glandon and Crox de Fer sprinting on the climb overtaking bunch of riders. Absolutely loved it.

rolling into the feed station, top of Col de Crox de Fer 2067m

A very long and technical downhill followed where I am not very confident (always something to improve on) but managed it without falling off the side or riding into others in one of the millions of hairpins.
We had another climb to push up to called Col Mollard, at the top fresh bottled water was waiting for the half cooked and thirsty riders. I grabbed my GPS from the front of the bike and went to fill up my water bottles, not wanting to waste time I got back in the sadly and continued riding, another descent. I heard a cracking noise and when I looked down at the handlebar about 10 minutes later I noticed I forgot to put my tracker back. Oh, so that was perhaps the crunchy noise, oops!! This downhill section went past the chalet I stayed at, must admit I was rather tempted to stop and run in to pick up some painkillers!
Still going downhill, arms stiff, toes numb I knew the next section would be the route we drove on out and into Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne. Windy, technical, scary but stunningly beautiful.. I was pleased to see the 50KM to FINISH sign along with other messages like ‘What is 1km in a lifetime” or “Men play rugby, gods cycle”.
And here we go, the last climb. 18km long, from S-J-d-M to La Toussuire, physically and mentally challenging. Weirdly, my legs were feeling great, it was my back that was giving me grief.
At the bottom of this climb I decided to break it down into 6 stops so I can get off the bike and stretch but ended up stopping once or twice only. When I spotted the sign for 3km to the finish, like a madwoman I started sprinting, it just felt natural and amazing to finish strong.
In 2012 Froome famously attacked Wiggins on this climb, well 'attack' is how the media described it, Froome was clearly the stronger climber.
Having done one stage of the Tour, hats off to the Tour riders!

Pasta party was next on the menu before driving back to the chalet where we cracked open a bottle of champagne, went out for late dinner and crashed in bed after 1am. Flew back the following morning, wish I stayed for a few more days to watch the pros!

My friend asked me straight after the ride if I would do it again. Ask me in a week I said, and I will say yes!