Etape du Tour 2011 – The Hurting’s Over

Warning: this might take some time. Get a cold drink, sit down, and enjoy reading and seeing me suffer….I know you want to.

Pre-Race Prep – ‘The Hurt’ Minus Two

After a long, Swiss-avoiding loop down from Basel (see previous post for the reason), Shoko and I arrived in Modane, the town of my departure two days later. For reasons unclear to me, the organizers decided to put the ‘welcome village’ (i.e. the place you must go to get your bib) several hundred meters above the town, in a ski station only accessible by a series of shuttle buses. I’m sure they had their reasons, but to me it seemed as if they wanted to flaunt their organizational skills by making the process as complex as possible. My French friend would say, ‘C’est Cartésien’, meaning ‘don’t ask – it’s the French way’.

Anyhow, the welcome village was in a pleasant setting, and they really were pretty efficient, so it’s not a complaint, just an observation. The village, other than being the place you get your number, free t-shirt and bum cream, is a showroom for the bicycle industry.

Musettes, not just for feeding stations anymore.

I modeled it, but I didn’t buy it…yet.

(by the way, the jersey and musettes above are from a new, small French company called Ravito. Their designs are great and their website is even in English!)

But we were there for business as well. This is me at one of 12 stalls in place to collect our numbers.

Then down the lane where I got my bum cream and (very cool Rapha) t-shirt.

They want you to stick around and browse the stalls of course, so they had the day’s stage on the big screen, with multi-lingual commentary even. Here is poor Vino on a characteristic attack, one day before he broke his femur and ended up in a hospital in Paris, instead of on the podium, as he was hoping for. It is an unforgiving sport.

Two shuttle buses and a drive up and over our first col for the following day, and we were in Valloire, at the bottom of Galibier, and our base for the next two nights. Even though we were pretty exhausted from all the sitting on our butts all day, we took a spin a few km up Galibier to see what we could see. Not much, as it turns out, since it started raining as soon as we left. This is Shoko on the last climb we could manage before freewheeling it back to hotel for dinner.

And on this ride I had what in other circumstances might have been a creepy occurrence, but in the blogosphere that is my world now seems totally acceptable. A guy rode past me on the climb out of town and said, ‘Hi Gerry. I know you, but you don’t know me.’ Turns out he is a blog reader from the UK who, till today, remains anonymous, since I never did catch his name. Whoever you are, hope you had a good ride.

You can tell it’s the beginning. Humans can still live at this altitude…

Pre-Race Prep – ‘The Hurt’ Minus One

You might remember that Shoko doesn’t drive. Let this be a warning to all you guys (and gals) who might be thinking about the Etape next year. Start driving lessons today! Because it’s an A to B race, you need to have some kind of wheels at the end. The organizers have figured out what seems to be a fairly decent system. They have shuttle buses that take you back to Modane the day before the race, but ONLY the day before. There is nothing on race day. That means you need to get your car to the end (Alpe d’Huez in our case), take the bus back to the start, and hope you have a way to get to your hotel (Karsten and Sarah in my case).

What this means, when you are high in the Alps, is that you need to spend a complete day traveling (again…) just to make sure you have a way to get off of the mountain on race day. Thinking I’d beat the rush, I left early. It was also a good chance at some reconnaissance, since the fastest way to Alpe d’Huez was up and over Galibier. Better yet, I could get some photos for the blog from the car and save my energy on race day!

This is just after you take the sharp right turn over the little stone bridge that signals the start of the real climb.

At the top of the series of switchbacks after that bridge and, unfortunately, not at all at the top of the pass.

The sign says it all. The question is, why am I taking this photo and not driving down the other side of the mountain.

Well, it goes something like this. I get to the entrance of the tunnel near the summit and there are some gendarmes blocking my way.

Gendarme: Good morning. Where are you going?

Me: Alpe d’Huez

Gendarme: Mais non, there is a race happening today.

Me: Mais, c’est pas possible! I’m in it and it’s tomorrow! 

Gendarme: No, it’s another one, named after a famous French skier. You must know him, non? 

Me: Non.

Gendarme: Well, you can go back down, or you can wait here for two hours. 

Me: Merde…

So, I parked in the little parking area at the summit and took the opportunity to get some blog material. Voila!

Some views from the top, looking down towards Valloire, i.e. where we would be climbing up from.

And then the race came up…

…and over the pass.

And, as promised, they let me go on my way at 10:30. I got to Alpe d’Huez around lunch, ate, hopped on the shuttle and, one more giant mountain pass (Glandon) and 3 hours later, I was back near Modane, where Karsten and Sarah were waiting for me. I did get back to see the end of the stage and Karsten and I did get in a little ride before dinner, so it wasn’t a complete day shot…but nearly. You’ve been warned.

Race Day – Let The Hurt Begin!

More logistics, but thankfully this time not mine. Sarah drove Karsten and I down to about 5 km outside of Modane, where we took this pre-dawn sleepy-pic. I don’t know how Karsten can manage that toothy grin in every photo; I could barely open my eyes for it.

From here, Sarah went back up to Valloire, hoping to be able to pick up Shoko and come back down before the roads closed at 6:45. She had better luck with her gendarmes and, after asking them about closures, found out that she and Shoko could drive up and over Galibier ahead of the race (instead of going back against it – an extra 100 km or more probably) and get to the top of Alpe in plenty of time for the finish.

Of course Karsten and I weren’t worrying much about that. We had our own things to be concerned about, like ‘black or milk?’..

After our morning coffee we made our way to our prospective pens. Karsten, having had some races under his belt, pulled a bib number in the 3000’s, so he was sort of near the front. I was number 8124, so nearly in the next village over. You can’t get a sense of the number of riders, simply because you can’t see the end. But 10,000 is quite a few.

With a two-hour wait, there’s a good chance nature will call.

More novel ideas: This is the bike of a British guy I met in line. The old duct tape the sandwich to your top tube trick!

This might be a good time to refill that drink. The race is about to start!

Le Départ

You might know that I was more than a little worried about starting at the back of nearly 10,000 riders, but my fears were laid to rest by the excellent organization of this event. Each pen was released at 5-min intervals AND there was a little break somewhere in the middle to really spread things out. By the time I crossed the start line, at 8:02 am, the first riders were already over an hour up the mountain. What this meant in practical terms was that I could gun it as soon as I passed under the start gate and there wasn’t the wall of slower riders that I had worried about.

But there were slower riders, I’m happy to report.

The first 15 km out of Modane was a very fast (60 kph or more) slight downhill that thankfully was flat enough that we had to pedal hard to keep up the speed. This meant a good warm-up before the Col du Télégraphe began.

To pass the time on this first section I decided to see what kind of progress I might be making. My reasoning was that, since I started in the 8000 pen, the more riders with lower numbers I passed, the better I was doing. Here are a couple from the 7000s before the climb even began.

Shortly after them I got by this man, from the 6000s.

And it went on like this up the Télégraphe…

Till I met my match with this guy, a 9000 who passed me on that first climb and who obviously didn’t belong in his pen…dare I say ‘either’.

Yes, I was feeling pretty cocky at this point – full of energy and making good progress on a tough climb. Télégraphe was not all that hard, to be honest, but I really thank my lucky stars for having climbed Ventoux 3 times this year. That adds a whole plate full of relativity into the conversation about ‘tough’ climbs. Nothing quite compared (at least till that point) to the Geant de Provence.

Galibier

We crested the col and dipped down for 5 or 10 minutes into Valloire, our base till that morning. Here we are right at the town limits and, incidentally, the beginning of the climb up Galibier (if you don’t include Télégraphe).

And just after this left hander begins a long 9% ramp that happily ended at the first feeding station.

And on the way I passed by a surprising number. Must have had a flat.

After a few long switchbacks the vistas opened up and we were undoubtedly in the high mountains. Galibier is one of the highest passes in the Tour de France and will be the highest summit finish ever next week when they stop on top.

This is the bridge I was talking about above. It’s after this that Galibier really turns nasty.

A little break from the shots of cyclists’ asses, if you don’t mind.

This is a little further up, and a sight I really hate – a full view of where I need to go. The summit is the low part of the U the two peaks make. I know it was a hard slog after this because I’ve got no more photo evidence till the top.

The decent down from Galibier is fast and fun. I didn’t reach the insane speeds that I managed on Ventoux, but the turns are more or less evenly spaced and not too tight, so you can get a good rhythm. As I have done all year, I made up a lot of time (against who, I’m not sure) on the way down. I think I can now say that I have some natural ability with this part of the game, or it could be that I’m just irresponsibly reckless and take far too many risks. Whatever it is, I like going with gravity much more than against it.

This is one of two professional photos I bought out of the 10 or so they had of me (and everyone else of course) at different points in the race.

When the decent of Galibier finished we turned right and kept going down, but now on the wide, fast nationale that would take us to what, for many, would be a place of soul searching – I speak of Alpe d’Huez dear reader – but first 40 km or so of more fast and fun downhills. These 1st two shots, I’d like you to know, were taken at over 50 kph. I just wanted you to know the risks I take for this blog.

This was just before I met my linebacker.

This valley had a headwind and I was looking around for a group to hide behind, when suddenly a guy flew by me on my left. I lept after him and managed to catch his wheel after some considerable effort. I’ve learned this year that it’s important to be quick in identifying good riders when they fly by and latch on before its too late. Usually I’m hopelessly too slow, but this time I got him and hung on for dear life for the next 20 km. He was an awesome descender, with beautiful lines through the corners and a vision that was a hundred meters up the road instead of just in front of his bike (I mean he knew where he wanted to go long before he got there, if that makes any sense). It was so gratifying that at the feeding station we both stopped at I had to thank him. His response: sometimes it’s good to be fat!

There was a little bit of carnage on our way down this road as well. There were several tunnels that were, of course, dim, but one in particular was missing some lights and it was entirely pitch black for a stretch. You can imagine what can happen, and it did. When I hit that 50 meters or so we were already going pretty slow because everyone was yelling to slow down. Even so, there was some kind of crash ahead of me. I inched forward as quickly as I could then felt a ‘thud’. I know I ran over something, but can’t be sure what it was. If it was attached to a person, he or she didn’t say anything, so I just kept riding till I could see my nose in front of face again. This tunnel, we are sure, was the place where a ‘serious accident’ happened later in the race. It was so bad that the whole race was held up for 20 minutes.

Alpe d’Huez

It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway. If you take any single climb that we did today and throw a guy on it who has trained all year he might not have too much trouble getting up, but if you take that same guy and make him climb three of these climbs consecutively, finishing on the infamous 21 hairpins of Alpe d’Huez, it’s, how can I put it…evil, perhaps? Yes, evil is apt here, I’d say.

Galibier took a lot out of me, but I never once had doubts about getting to the top and I had enough power in my legs to keep up an okay average speed, at least for me. But as soon as I hit the first ramp on the Alpe (it doesn’t help that this ramp is nearly 11% mind you) I knew I was entering a whole new world.

I just did what I did on the previous two climbs and set myself a rhythm and tried not to think about how far I was from the top. The trouble is that on the Alpe you are constantly reminded of this fact by the numbered corners. Here’s #10, where I stopped (but only to take the shot..really!).

That was the one and only photo I took on the climb. Luckily there was a pro who had plenty of energy to fill the picture void. They say a picture tells a thousand words, but whoever they were never climbed Alpe d’Huez after Galibier and Télégraphe. This doesn’t quite express what was going on inside my soul, not to mention in my quads.

On the sides of the road all the way up there were riders laying down, sitting with their heads in their hands, walking their bikes, and even ending marriages according to Joseph, a guy who was staying at our B&B. I remembered this scene from Tim’s video or photos of last year’s Etape on the Tourmalet and was secretly pleased that this year’s was as tough.

No question, it was hard. The climb is relentlessly steep, or so it seemed to me. Even when I knew it was getting gentle (if you consider 7.5% gentle), I just didn’t have the juice to pick up the speed. On the other hand, I knew I would make it and I had enough experience in races this year to know that my legs weren’t just going to give up the ghost on me. But it was hard.

Till the flame rouge that is. I didn’t remember this, but the last bit of Alpe d’Huez is more or less flat, and is even a little downhill at one point going through the village. When I turned the last left hander and saw the finish line up the slight incline a couple hundred meters ahead, a burst of energy overtook me and I jumped on pedals like a mad man (or at least that’s how it felt), standing up and reefing it to the line.  Here’s the back of me, courtesy of Sarah.

When I crossed the line I felt a rush of emotion well up and I was nearly…nearly brought to tears. I had no idea how I had done in the race really, but I felt like I had given it just about all I could and a great wave of satisfaction came over me. Then, later, I got the results.

Out of around 6400 finishers and maybe nearly 10,000 starters, my place was 2037. 

In my age category I was 757 out of 2412. 

Both of these placings are around top 30%, a far cry from the bottom 20% of my first race in February, so I am pretty pleased.

My racing comrade Karsten, by the way, ended 3 minutes faster than me and is equally happy with his results.

Looking Ahead

I can’t say I’m hooked on these Etapes, but I think I would like to do next year’s again, if only so I can have the satisfaction of starting nearer the front! 363 days of training left, blog buddies. Who’s joining me..?!

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55 thoughts on “Etape du Tour 2011 – The Hurting’s Over

  1. BRAVO! Congratulations on an excellent achievement and a very entertaining report. Next year, you’ll be proudly wearing a number in the 2000s, chasing the 1000s and fending off the lower numbers. I have no doubt you’ll crush it again!

    • Thanks, Steve. I will definitely be up near the front at the finish next year…at the start. And you’re right, I’ll be ‘defending’ instead of ‘attacking’. A whole new game. Care to come over and give it a try…?

  2. AWESOME !!!!!! you have by far and away exceeded everything you set for yourself this year, time to enjoy the fruits of your labours…..rest in Gaspe!!….then look for a more improved 2012….I enjoyed looking at the numbers you knocked off….anticipating to see even lower numbers next year….Well done young man….

    • Thanks, bro! Yes, I think I have, considering my original goal for the Etape was ‘don’t die’. I’m very pleased, and more than a little surprised, to be honest. I actually did pas some numbers in the 3 digits even, but by that point I had no energy left to reach into my pouch and grab the camera!

    • Thanks Stephanie. I’m glad you appreciate the technical aspects of taking photos while riding. I’m an old pro by now, but it was a little bit harder while racing, I must admit. Watching the stage today? The Tour starts today!

  3. Hi Gerry, I dip in and out of your blog but have never left a comment before. Fantastic effort and brilliant blog post. I just forwarded it to the Sky Velo Facebook page as 150 Sky staff (including myself) are about to take on Acte 2 on Sunday. Your report of how well the Pen system worked will reassure a lot of us who are also further down the running order than we think we should be. It’s good to know you can make your way through the crowds and find your own pace even when there are so many other riders on the road.

    • Hi Tom,

      Thanks for commenting. I’m going to take a good look at your blog in a bit, but from a short glance it seems you should be fairly high up. What’s your number?

      I can’t guarantee it’ll be the same for you, but I’m guessing there are going to be fewer riders in Act 2 so it might even be better. Much will depend on the width of the roads as well. The one you are doing is endless ascensions, so I can imagine that there’ll be plenty of little traffic jams along the way, when things get vertical. The one surprising thing I noticed about the quality of riders overall was that most everybody there knew how to ride, i.e. they were aware of etiquette. Even if there were slower riders in front, a word or two got them quickly out of the way. Most of the time there was a ‘lane’ on the left where faster climbers could get past. I hope it’s the same for you. Good luck and bonne courage!

  4. Hi Gerry.

    Great post.

    I was on Acte 1 too and you have absolutely captured the pain we all went through.

    Whilst I avoided being swept up, I didn’t finish as high up as you (the thin air at altitude really got to me), and in the middle-back of the field people were in serious trouble. One poor grl infront of me literally stopped pedalling, slumped over the handlebars and keeled over – she had passed out through heat exhaustion. The medics lifted her and her bike in to the shade and threw some water over her.

    So many got cramp on the Alpe, and just stopped in the road clutching calves, thighs, groins and then hit the deck. Carnage sums it up perfectly!

    You might also mention being sprayed by water hoses to try to keep us cool, sticking our heads in roadside waterfalls to lower our body temperature, and the tremendous local support which took your mind off the pain for a second or two.

    We got caught up in the tunnel accident you mentioned and had to walk the length of the tunnel. I couldn’t see the person next to me. How you cycled it is beyond me – it would have been like cycling down a road with your eyes shut! There were so many people in the tunnel (walking) they blocked off the light at ground level. The poor guy who had an accident (I hear) was airlifted to hospital by helicopter.

    Congratulations to everyone who finished and if you are reading this and didn’t get to the end (at all or were swept up) you can take some consolation that EVERYONE was on a knife edge and we were the lucky ones. Speaking personally, it absolutely could have gone either way: 6,400 finishers out of 10,000 says it all.

    Excellent blog mate, and thank you for capturing this so my firends and family can read what we went through.

    As a friend of mine says: “We left it all on the tarmac”.

    We ride as The White Knights (4 of us on this Etape), so see you out on the roads.

    Mark

    • Hi Mark,

      Thanks for the comment. That kind of thing adds a lot to a blog post. Also, you’re totally correct about the local support and water sprayers. Did you have the family with big water bottles running after you around 4km from the finish? There was mom, dad and two daughters, from what I could tell. They were having a blast running after us and dumping 1.5 liter bottles on our heads. That, as you said, took the pain away momentarily. Thanks for reminding me.

      Too bad about the accident and being held up like that. I entered with a small group I guess, so that’s how we all got through unscathed. This oversight (not noticing the burnt-out lights) by the organizers was a major mistake, in my opinion. The tunnel was dark enough in the fully-lit bits!

      I didn’t see anything like you described with the girl falling off her bike – only walkers and sitters – but I can totally believe it. If you haven’t had the proper training, haven’t eaten enough, haven’t drunk enough, didn’t sleep enough…or any combination…Alpe d’Huez would have been a fiery hell.

      Are you planning on doing it all over again next year, or is it too early to ask!?

      • Hi

        I think I’m going for the “too early to ask” option, if I may!

        I’m struck by how hard it is too train for those mountains. I live in Surrey near Boxhill, Ranmore, Leith, Pitch, Ditchling and other ‘big’ hills. I’ve also (3-4 weeks ago) done the Deloitte JOGLE, but NOTHING compares to those mountains.

        I guess the answer is to simply go up and down these hills to get the total climb figure? But the thin air is the killer for me. Perhaps cycling with a face mask on, replicates the lack of oxygen!

        Mark

  5. Well done Gerry !

    Good to see all went well for you.

    @Tom : I agree with Gerry, the pen system worked well. I’m not sure what time I crossed the line, but it was probably just before 8am ( Back of pen 8 ) so the start took a little longer than suggested. Then the fast downhill spread everybody out nicely. The fast boys, and some were Very Fast, were able to fly past easily and leave the likes of me to form our slower trains on the right hand side. The first climb closed everybody up again, but even then we were able to pass and move happily. Riding in a bunch is fun at the best of times, but the etape is an “endless bunch”. You can drop onto a faster passing wheel and start moving up the left hand fast lane. Normally you would soon find yourself at the front and taking your turn, but a couple of times I looked up to see 1000s of people ahead and the front of the “bunch” nowhere in sight. My thoughts wandered to the idea that rider #1 was up at the front, towing a bunch of 10,000 riders along :o)

    There were also plenty of people who used the usual club-run hand signals for obstacles, pot-holes and the like ( is this an international standard ?? ), but after the first 10k we realised that pointing at every pot-hole was a bit much :o)

    Very well organised and a great day all round.

    • Thanks, Tim, and better luck next year!

      Yes, many pushed it hard on the first downhill and I was one of them, just because I knew my climbing abilities are not up to scratch yet. I agree about about the ‘bunch’, as well. I was never lonely on the road, like my last race close to home. Sometimes I thought I took a wrong turn off the course 😉

      And I think those signals are pretty universal, at least between France, the UK and N. America (3 nationalities I’ve ridden with this year). I’m hopeless at it, but may get better with practice.

      • It is weird how speed spreads people out; I came over the Galibier with loads of people and then stopped at the water station next to the Galibier tunnel exit ( you can see it in one of your excellent photos above ). When I started off again, I hardly saw anybody on the descent. There were a few of us bunched up when they stopped us near the accident in the dark tunnel, but other than that I was time trialling down. I really felt I was “off the back”.

        I was also shocked by how cold I felt on the descent. Physically shaking for a lot of it. Probably a lot to do with the contrast to the heat on the ascent.

      • > and better luck next year!
        unlikely 😉
        It was an interesting experience, but as you say, I don’t think I’m hooked.
        Being part of something that big was amazing, but not enough for me to want to go back. The Alps are a wonderful place, and I would like to go back in a more informal way and just ride for the pure love to riding. (Something that I have forgotten to do recently). I am starting to feel the need to go back to slay a few demons hiding around hairpin #10 !
        ( It has also cost me a fortune, so I don’t think The Boss would be too pleased if I suggested doing it again! )

    • I’m lucky I live in France for this game, there’s not doubt. Alpe d’Huez is only 300 km from home, which is a bit closer than you and a whole other feat of logistics for some of the Aussies and Kiwis I know were in the race. Still, it (and the races leading up to it) pretty much shot my vacation budget for the year, so I understand what you’re talking about.

  6. Salut Gerry!!

    Compliments man!! great result (really impressive!!!), great pictures (taken while riding … man!! good job!) and nice reading your story from A to Z!! also … very impressed by your wish to do it all again next year 🙂 Looking forward to seeing you soon!
    Gros Bisous!!

    Ienke

  7. Great blog. I did a do-it-yourself entry, which involved 1466 miles of driving to/from Surrey and bivvying in the woods above Modane the night before the race. I started just behind you (#8734 – 08:06) and got held up by the big accident. It actually wasn’t in a tunnel, but at the top of the little rise just after La Grave. No obvious cause. There were about 100 riders already stopped ahead of me, and I was held up for 32 minutes as the helicopter came and went, so some must have lost nearly 40 minutes. Your superior descending must have got you through a few minutes ahead of the carnage. Agree with all the above comments, especially about the support on Alpe D’Huez – anything to distract me from the treadmill.

    • Thanks for correcting our assumption about the accident, Hugh. Sounds like you got jipped for 12 minutes then, since I read the organizers subtracted 20 sec from you all. I can certainly see the advantages of starting nearer the front now, i.e. fewer chances of getting stuck. Will you be doing it all over again next year, you think?

    • I’m speechless, Tim. No, actually not quite speechless. You’re insane, mate! Dude, I thought my logistics were a nightmare. At least I had transportation at the end. Doing another col after all the damage we went through in that race is pretty impressive. Glad you lived to blog about it.

  8. I rode the etape as well. 8 months of training meant i had to hawl 2 less stone up the cols. Agree that telegraph was ok and i was going strong on galibier up until the point when cramps hit me. i had forgetten/didn’t appreciate the salt loss. so instead of aiming for a sub 7hr time i limped in in just over 8hrs. i’m siure you passed me i and may well have even lapped me. Far from being dissapointed though I’m totally motivated for next year…and i will do both stages.

    fantastic day and awesome scenery means i will never forget my first etape.

    cheers

    Nick H (8162)

    • I must say I’m motivated for next year as well. Really, for a first Etape, finishing was a worthy goal. There certainly were a bunch who didn’t make the time cut. You should be proud to have done it. I’m guessing that next year’s event will be in the Pyrenees (if they go back to only one). Any predictions / hopes?

  9. Gerry —
    Kudos, congrats, good job, good on you and chapeau!
    The blog was great to read, also the comments. NEVER will I be a racer, plan to continue on slogging up passes.
    Am hoping for the Pyrenees in September this year, enroute from Atlantic to Med.
    Really good job and thanks for sharing it on blog. Loved the photos!
    Cheers,
    Suze

    • Thanks, Susan, and I’m glad you are hitting the Pyrenees this year. Maybe you will get in an interesting day or two in the Languedoc part of them…I need more routes on the site!

  10. Gerry, imagine my surprise to see my friends backside in your blog! no. 5624, I was 5625!! It is now his Facebook photo! Found your blog whilst looking for something else.Great time by the way, I was 8hrs 4 minutes. I don’t think there was any logic to the start pen allocation. It was my first etape and I was in pen 12 I think. I cramped on Galibier like one of your mates, and had to stop 5 times on the Alpe to prevent a full cramp on!! Good luck with your other rides.
    Ash.

    • It is a good shot of his, butt, I must admit. Where were you at this point? And you’re right, there did seem to be a randomness to the pens. Did you have any races under your belt from back home, though? That seemed to push people up a few pens…sometimes. I’m lucky that I almost never cramp, but I’ve had a few so feel your pain. It must have been a slow slog up the Alpe.

  11. Hi Gerry, What a fantastic read. As an Act II’er this year (and virgin etaper), it was fascinating to read about Act I. The similarities and of course the contrasting nature of the parcours. This has given me a real taste for the high mountains next year. I have written about my experience, which involves needing to procure a bike on the eve of the race having written off my pride and joy the day before!! All I can say is Salute the Etape village!

    http://danrisk.wordpress.com/2011/07/24/etape-du-tour-2011-act-ii/

    As a virgin blogger, if you found the chance to take a look, I’d love the feedback.

    Cheers,

    Dan

    • Dan,

      Thanks for the comment. I checked out your blog and will leave a comment right away. I agree, it’s great to read an account of the ‘other’ race. You all had it worse from the start, in my opinion. My mag rated Acte II 5 stars and Acte I only 4. Add to that the cold and wet and good on ya for finishing!

      Gerry

  12. Hi Gerry, What an extraordinary result! I cannot believe that after having seen you just a few days after you tackled this epic event you were walking as well and looking as fit as you were!
    Congratulations and well done. Seriously, as a novice cyclist with no racing experience, what you have achieved in such a short time is inspirational. even more so when you share the journey so publicly!
    Congrats and well done Mate

  13. Steve, thanks very much. I find it hard to believe myself. I think the real test will be next year, when I start back into the local races. I’m not sure I can count on results in the top 30% in those.

    Still, I’m more than happy with what I did in the Etape. It’s far better than I ever imagined. Rob’s training program was a big reason, plus all the motivation I got from all my blog friends, of course 😉

    Cheers

  14. I just saw this while creating a presentation for my work-mates. My jaw dropped at how close we were: you started 1 minute, 35 seconds behind me. You beat me by 44 seconds, which was 50 finishers behind me. I half expected to see me in some of your pictures (in fact, I am going to look harder at full resolution).
    I went through that tunnel alone, and literally just hoped. The only thing I could see was the rider ahead against the opening. I could not see the road, my bike, anything. I just hoped there wasn’t something there. I suspect that the utter darkness is partly because we come into to it from bright sunlight. That was easily the scariest moment of the day.
    I stopped 3 times: to add arm warmers and gilet at the top of Galibier for the descent (3 minutes), at the Bourg d’Oisans feed area (5:17), and to take a break on Alpe-d’Huez (5:18). I ate a banana, drank some and pushed off again. I wonder if, given these times, whether we crossed paths a bit. I did see some nut taking pictures while riding…
    I was over-geared with a 39×27 low, so I struggled a bit on the Alpe, The hardest day ever on a bike for me (at 53). Thanks for the report (and comments). This is the first I heard that the crash was not in the tunnel, and in fact L’Equipe reported that it was.

    • Thanks for the comment, Jack. I’m sure we were riding beside each other for miles and didn’t know it. There were a few riders on the road that day….

      I’ve seen a few people mention gearing, so I’m glad I had the triple. Once I get rid of that granny gear in a year or two I suppose I’ll have to start thinking about what to take along on big climbs. Sounds like a hassle.

      Do you think you’ll do it again? I heard a rumor of a rumor that next’s year’s race will be on the cobbles. Having done some earlier this year I’m crossing my fingers for something easier, like anything in the Alps or Pyrenees! Definitely won’t subject my Bianchi to such punishment.

  15. I definitely want to do it again, but the little family vacation around it cost me about $9000, and it will be hard to justify it again. I know that I will be thinking hard how to pull it off though. A few of my riding buddies here are interested.

    I read a bunch of the rest of your blog. After Etape, we went down “Sud” and stayed in Sanhilac for 4 days. I was able to ride almost every morning, seeing Ventoux in the distance, and went up to Lussan, the Bouquet climb (steep), Uzes, and even Nimes the last day. Strange seeing the picture of your bike on Pont St. Nicholas after having just been there. I wish I had found your blog earlier, I would have tried to meet up with you. I think one of the surprising things about the Etape was feeling lonely in a group of thousands. (There may have been 10,000 registered, but L’Equipe reported “plus de 7000” starters).

    I would take my carbon bike on the cobbles, just with tubular tires and a little less pressure. Carbon is much better on cobbles than anything else. But I wouldn’t do the Etape on cobbles. I want the Pyrenees next.

    • It was even expensive for me and it’s only a morning drive to get to the start line. I feel your pain. Yes, too bad you didn’t know about the blog before. It would have been great to see you on the roads of Le Sud.

      No, I wouldn’t do the Etape on cobbles either. I think that’d be a big mistake if the organizers decided to go with something like that, but I could be wrong. I agree – Pyrenees it must be for 2012.

  16. Hi Gerry (and everyone else)
    Can anyone make head or tail of the Diploma published on the official Etape site?
    I’m struggling with some of the translations so if anyone can help, it’d be appreciated…
    Cheers
    Mark

  17. Easy. Left to right, top to bottom:
    Last name, first name, number
    Actual time, actual place
    Number of finishers, average speed (km/h)
    Time to climb Alpe-d’Huez
    Finish time (uncorrected), finish place
    Category (gender + age), placement in category
    Number of finishers in category
    Diploma obtained (or-gold, argent-silver, ?-bronze)

  18. Cheers.
    Probably a silly question, but what’s the difference between Actual time and Finish time (uncorrected), and also Actual place and Finish place?
    Can you tell it was my first Etape?!

  19. There is one clock. But we all start at different times, when we go through the gate. Then we all finish at different times. Your actual time, what you are ranked based on, is the finish time minus the start time. Your actual placing is ranking all those actual times and figuring out who did better.

    Time zero is the first start. So I know that I (#7463) started 57:08 after the first guy, because my finish time (6:38:34) minus my actual time on the course (5:41:26) is 57:08. And I can look up Gerry (#8124), and see that he started less than 2 minutes behind me, and finished just 44 seconds behind me. So he beat me.

    I do wish they would publish all the split times, though. Although I have a complete record of the day because I was using a power meter with GPS, I would like to know how I did certain sections compared to others. As it is, all we have is overall and Alpe-d’Huez time.

  20. I did some research that might be interesting to other 2011 finishers. It turns out you can get “splits” from the video streams. So I went in and got mine, and compared them to Gerry’s. If you go to the results section of the etape database, and look up your videos, the link will have your split times at each camera. The video application just looks up the video stream for about 15 seconds around your passing time. So you can take those numbers and compare with others. So here is how Gerry and I were through the day:
    Location, Jack, Gerry, difference
    Start, 57:08, 59:27, +2:19
    Telegraphe, 2:12:16, 2:15:24, +3:08
    Galibier (halfway), 3:37:23, +7:28
    Galibier (top), 3:50:00, 3:57:28, +7:28
    Alpe 9, 5:50:31, 5:53:32, +3:01
    Alpe 3, 6:24:00, 6:25:18, +1:18
    Finish, 6:41:35, 6:43:00, +1:25
    Diploma Finish, 6:38:34, 6:40:09, +1:35

    The last two have me scratching my head, because one is the camera and the other is the diploma. But there was only one RFID reader that I know of, so I don’t know how they get different times.
    The interesting thing is Alpe switchback 9. Gerry was 3 minutes behind me here. (I spent 5:17 at the food stop at the bottom, he probably spent less or made up time on the descent from Galibier). But I had to stop between switchback 8 and 7 (I think, need to verify that), and sit in the shade and eat a banana and cool off. The stop was 5:18. So he would have passed me. But I am 1:18 ahead of him at switchback 3, so I must have passed him. If we look at diploma numbers, his time to climb the Alpe was 1:33:55. Mine was 1:33:31, but subtracting the break, was 1:28:13. So it is plausible. The only thing I am foggy about is whether it was between 8 and 7 that I stopped.

    • Jack, nice work on the splits. I didn’t realize that the videos had times on them. We seem pretty evenly matched overall. I certainly didn’t take 5 minutes at the food station at the bottom, and I was descending like a madman as well, so that might explain the catch-up there. I also took a break on the Alpe, but just long enough to run and get some water from a little public toilet – maybe 3 or 4 minutes max.

      Speaking of times, I don’t know if you knew but Vélo magazine had a pullout section in this month’s edition and they put out a list of all the finishers with their times – scratch times, that is. I can’t for the life of me figure out why a scratch time means anything at all, considering you and I started an hour behind the front group. Is there something I’m missing here?

      Anyhow, thanks for the tip on the splits. I’m sure that kind of info is going to be appreciated.

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