Etape du Tour 2012

Like last year, this page will be devoted to the long and winding road to next year’s Etape.


This guide has been proving itself pretty popular since I posted it up a few months ago, so I’ll stick it up top for easier access. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, Tim Marsh  has created an Etape du Tour 2012 Survival Guide e-book over at VeloNomad. He’s ridden several Etapes himself and his whole website is aimed at helping people travel to Europe and ride their bikes with as few hassles as possible. It might be a good resource to have if this is your first Etape du Tour or you’d like advice on logistics and such. Click here to view more details


July 18, 2012. Unemployed Cyclist: Have Campy, Will Travel. Thanks to some of you very readers, I ‘chose’ to do an Etape Double this year (you might remember the poll I took last year) – two stages of this year’s Tour de France; the first being the Alps and this one – Act Two – in the Pyrenees. In these two epic days of racing I would attempt to haul my arthritic knee over 10 categorized mountain passes, with around 9000 meters of vertical climbing over 350km of road. For those not familiar with climbing and racing, I can’t help you, actually. I have no idea how to compare it!

I hope you are in the mood to read today, by the way. Listening to Coach Rob for once, I broke the blogger’s Golden Rule and left my camera behind at the hotel the morning of Act Two, so I could devote all my meager energies to the task at hand. However, I have good news. Because I don’t have any photos to spark my memory I will keep this brief and general, so you can get on with your day. Here are some random thoughts to start us off.

Being Canadian Has Its Advantages

Coming, as I do, from a cold and inhospitable clime, might have benefitted me a little last Saturday. The weather, after the beginning of the first climb (Aubisque), was wet and cold. I know my wet (from Vancouver) and my cold (Quebec) pretty well and I found that I didn’t have the massive shakes I saw all around me, especially on the descents. There were cyclists actually riding with those tin foil things you wear for hypothermia at the end of the race! I’m sure it was necessary, but a metallic cape flowing behind you as you cruise down the finish line is a pretty lame look. Anyhow, I found I had plenty of energy the whole day this time and I’m not really sure if it can be chalked up to the weather, but I think it helped a bit.

If You Come from a Place Named Condom, Leave Your Club Jersey at Home

You all know the famous town in France, I’m sure. It’s at the receiving end of many British jokes, I’m sure, and I’ve heard that the English will travel there just to get a photo in front of the town sign. To make matters worse, the river that runs by Condom is the river Baïse, which, without the double dots on top of the ‘i’, means something pretty vulgar in French, too. In short, when you are entering an event with nearly 50% native English speakers, you might want to wear the training jersey. By the way, this was the only time I was dying for my camera during the race.

The Perfect Training for an Etape is another Etape

I really felt dynamite most of the day on Saturday and one reason might have been the result of the principle of overcompensation, where you push your body so hard in one (or several) go that the organism not only rebounds to its previous condition, but overcompensates for the abuse you gave it by peaking even higher. I have no idea if the timing was correct for this ‘peak’ (the Etapes were 6 days apart), but as I said already, I had energy from beginning to end this race and I’m guessing that the previous race had something to do with it. Here’s my only in-race photo, taken by a pro. He was kind enough to Photoshop a bunch of guys behind me to make it look like I’m leading a giant peloton.

The Human Body is a Pretty Cool Tool

Look, less than two years ago I was a slightly ‘husky’ 77kg, with the idea that I was fit. I am now around 66kg (I’m afraid to step on the scales after 3 days of post-race reveling) and in the best shape of my life. And here’s the kicker, I’m still a universe away from being an elite athlete. To me, my results (scroll down if you can’t take the waiting!) are astounding and, as I probably stated in my last article, beyond the wildest imaginings of this nouveau athlète. Your body can do really incredible things if you treat it right (or abuse it regularly, depending on how you look at things).

Consistency and Hard Work Works. Waddayaknow!

My ‘teammates’ and I (John and Peter) have been riding our bikes hard 6 days a week since January 1st pretty much. This has been hard to do, you may be able to imagine. I think I’m nearly up to 8000km for the year, which is about 5 times as much as I’ve put on my motorcycle and 2000km more than this time last year, which was not light either. Although I knew this reality before I have never applied it with such vigor, so I wanted to share this with you. Without sounding too much like a Nike commercial (they’d say something infinitely cooler anyhow), there are no short cuts.

I’m Definitely Better Than Average

Last year I raced a bunch of times and finished anywhere from bottom 20% to top 30%, but basically I was ‘average’ throughout my first season. My big objective this year was to be better than that. I am pleased to announce that I am now ‘good’. I’ve finished in the top 20% in the few races I’ve done this year and in both Etapes this year I am just about breaking the top 10% (12% in both). Here’s the damage for Act Two:

  • 585 out of 4696 starters
  • 242 out of 1455 in my age category (40-49)

The mind is also a strange creature, if I may say so. It took me literally minutes, after reading the above results, to start thinking that was the new normal, and wondering what I could do next year. The answer is far from clear, but it’ll be a fun road to find out!

Peter is Awesome

According to Rob, Peter has lost 80 pounds since last summer (36kg). You may know his story already from my blog articles, but if not, look herehere and here to get yourself up to date. Peter came all the way from Canada to live his dream of doing the Etape du Tour. He did the exact same training program as I did and stuck to it pretty religiously, from all accounts. He showed up to finish the race – probably the toughest the organizers have ever put together – and with his new wife looking on…

…he did.

Peter spent over 11 hours in cold, treacherous conditions to finish this thing and, although he was walking like he had just escaped from months in solitary confinement, he was, in his own words, floating on air.

Thanks everyone for following along this season. Luckily for this blog (and my sanity), there’s more to come!

Note: Next year I’m planning on running an Etape du Tour Tour, which will include a few days riding in either the Alps or the Pyrenees, accommodation, and most importantly for this event, logistics! Stay tuned to the blog, my website, or simply contact me if you might be interested:

July 11, 2012 – Hurt. Predictably, after an amazing Saturday of sunshine and dead calm, Sunday began with gusting winds and rain. I’m not sure how many fair-weather cyclists jammed on the whole event because of this, but nearly 9000 registered and only 5700 or so started! Maybe they missed their alarms. Here’s the view from SAS #3.

The start was the Olympic Village in Albertville, home of the 1992 Winter Olympics, and they sparked up the flame just for us.

Being far up front compared to last year, I only waited 10 minutes or so after the first pen left to get myself rolling (it was an hour in 2011). Everything was a little different this year, starting with the leisurely ride out of town (last year’s was a mad sprint for 15km) and the 34kph or so paceline to the first climb (well over 40 last year). On the day’s first climb, hors categorie Madeleine, I latched on to the guy in the white below. Turns out his name is Chris and lives in the area. He certainly was a strong climber and didn’t mind me hanging on his wheel most of the way up (I’m a polite ‘wool eater’ – I asked first).

This first ascent felt magnificent and the legs were strong. Erik and John, in pens behind me, were having equally great climbs on that first one. This is further up.

Then, a little above the tree line, the red signs that either put some spring in your pedal stroke or make you feel like riding off a ledge, depending on the number before ‘km’! This one was pretty welcome after nearly 40km of climbing.

The descent down the other side was fast and a little wet, with at least one crash in front of me (saw a guy climbing out of a ditch, his mangled bike forming an unnatural heap in front of him). I reached the bottom, got some raisins and a banana, then tried to wring out my socks from the rain that had thankfully stopped. Shoes on, we headed towards Col #2, the terrible, terrible Glandon.

You’re right, that photo above doesn’t look too bad, and it wasn’t at this point, I guess, but the mojo was already leaving my legs and I knew the worst was to come. I started thinking about the inevitable passing of Erik, John, or both, but made the slow slog up the switchbacks below alone. The last 2 km of this climb are very steep and it’s pretty much like hitting a wall. What did Erik tell me Phil Liggett said the other day? “You round the corner and it feels like a hammer in the face”. I think that sums it up nicely.

This is just before the summit – the hammer is still smashing into me.

There’s another giant in this area; a little mountain pass you might have heard of: Col de la Croix de Fer. Mercifully, we didn’t need to ‘climb’ this one because we were basically there already at the top of Glandon. This is the road between the two, which does ascend, but very gently.

Then the inevitable inevitably happened and I heard the far-too jolly voice of Erik speaking Italian to me. More correctly, he was speaking English, but I was pretty messed up at this point and heard what I heard. Anyhow, he soon switched to English, but it didn’t get any better. Erik suggested waiting for John, for one thing. I politely told him he was insane and that I wasn’t going to get beaten any worse than I was already.

He accepted this line of reasoning, I think, but instead of flying off ahead (he is an awesome descender) we made the descent to the our next climb – Mollard – more or less together. Mollard was billed as short and not that steep, but I felt like the whole thing was over 10%. Erik and I summited together, him stopping for water, me selfishly taking off on the narrow, twisting, neck-wrenching descent to the bottom of our last climb, La Touissuire.

On the way up Mollard though, we passed this guy. It’s blurry, but he’s wearing #1. I’m not sure I would have liked the pressure of having that number on my jersey.

La Touissuire was, just like Alpe d’Huez last year, l’Enfer. My speed was down to ridiculously low numbers and the whole climb my knees were beyond wondering why I was punishing them so much. They just gave up and refused to cooperate. I just couldn’t make my legs work. The heart rate was low, but I wasn’t able to make my lower extremity understand what I needed out of it. I was being passed by many (but I did pass some) and I felt just horrible.

Somewhere along this Road of Constant Sorrow Erik had enough of the waiting (he kindly insists he wasn’t) and flew off to glory. I plugged on, thinking once or twice that I might not make it, but probably knowing I would. I stopped once for a minute to regroup and it was a little better afterwards. The oom pah pah band in the final village helped, as did the wonderful people lined along the roads, ‘allez-ing’ us all the way up.

Then, a few km from the finish, I heard a woman say a number – seven hundred something – then she said another one, just higher, right after. I looked at the guy next to me and asked if I’d heard correctly. He said, ‘oui, pas mal, eh?‘. This wonderful woman was standing on this bend in the road, counting off each rider’s placing and announcing it to them! I thought she was probably ‘not quite there’, especially since the number she was quoting was all wrong. I was sure my result would be worse than last year (around 2000) by the way I was feeling. Still, it gave me hope and I found some energy to get to the last km, which was far less steep, then, just like the Alpe last year, there was the long false flat that led to the finish line. I gunned it, crossing the line (hand in hand, I might add!) with a guy I’d sort of been riding with all day long – a Spaniard I think – and fell into the waiting arms of Anne and Erik.

Minutes later John crossed and we, the few, the proud, the idiotic, managed a smile.

And here’s the best part. I indeed did finish around that lady’s magic number – 712 out of 5688 starters in fact. This works out to about top 12%, which I never in my wildest dreams (and I have some pretty wild dreams..) thought I could have achieved. My goal was top 1500.

John and Erik finished within a minute of each other and were both in the top 400! I don’t really know what it all means, but I can’t help but think that we did pretty darn good. Someone needs to give us some perspective or it might go to our heads!

And it’s not over yet, I’m afraid to say. In less than 3 days I have to do the same thing all over again, except 50km more. Will someone talk some sense into me, please?

Note: Next year I’m planning on running an Etape du Tour Tour, which will include a few days riding in either the Alps or the Pyrenees, accommodation, and most importantly for this event, logistics! Stay tuned to the blog, my website, or simply contact me if you might be interested: 

Note: Next year I’m planning on running an Etape du Tour Tour, which will include a few days riding in either the Alps or the Pyrenees, accommodation, and most importantly for this event, logistics! Stay tuned to the blog, my website, or simply contact me if you might be interested:

July 10, 2012 – Hurt Minus One.

On the agenda the day before the race was a short ride, a strategy meeting or two, final bike tinkerings and, for me at least, one final big beer (a tradition I have convinced myself that works). The day began with what looks like a Mexican standoff, but actually was a very civil breakfast on the veranda.

Anne had planned a 60km ride for herself, climbing two pretty big cols in the process. Team Slacker rode out with her till the climb began and continued on the flat till we had enough. Here are some choice shots from the morning.

Looks like I’m practicing my victory salute for the following day’s finish line, but this was actually just an expression of how I felt, riding over those gentle rollers through that wide Alpine valley. Not much comes close to it.

July 9, 2012 – Hurt Minus Two. I’m sitting here in Le Sud, a couple of days after what you are about to read, and a sleep away from a rental car and our trip to the Pyrenees for Act Two. In short, this will be short. OK, maybe not short, since I’ve just uploaded nearly 50 photos, but at least more badly written than usual and with fewer words.

On Friday morning I was most graciously picked up by Anne (our logistics chief for the weekend), Erik and John, and less than 4 hours later was deposited here.

This is La Colombiere, (also chosen by our logistics master), a very charming B&B 30km south of Albertville, run by a friend of Anne and Erik’s – the eternally-moving Nyima.

After settling into La Colombiere the 4 of us drove up to Albertville to hand in our medical certificates and confirmation sheets to the friendly volunteers at the ‘village’. Here we are, smiling because we are still two days away from the misery we all know awaits us.

Anne took the camera for the ceremony, so we have a registration triptich for this year’s blog. 

The usual suspects were present in the village: first, the tent you can’t come out of unscathed – Rapha…which I don’t seem to have a photo of. But I do have the Rapha coffee guys.

And my new Rapha Star Wars cycling hat.

We managed to walk by the Treks, Canyons, Crafts and Garmins without buying anything, but, predictably, got stuck here.

That’s right, the Brasserie du Mont Blanc had beer on tap! Being seasoned veterans of cycling, we knew instantly that this was a chance to get the ‘good carbs’ our bodies so badly needed. And just to make sure we we didn’t lack nourishment throughout the weekend, we took 6 liters back with us.

Right around this time I noticed a group of guys I thought I might know.

These are the Kenyan Riders, a group of cyclists who are in Europe to ride the two Etapes, a few criteriums and the Haute Route, in order to showcase their strength and abilities and hopefully find a sponsor or two, I imagine. They all apparently come from a region in Kenya that produces a large percentage of the world’s best runners, and they think that whatever advantages the folks from this place have when it comes to running can be transferred to riding a bike very fast up something very steep. Their goal is to produce the first black African to ride in the Tour de France.

Never one to miss a chance for blog fodder, I gathered our team and got their coach to take a photo.

Satisfied with our purchases and our free Trek backpacks, the Kenyans and us left the village. They, to get some last-minute mileage in, I imagine…

…we, to strategize over a new challenge: begin with the blanche, blonde or rousse…?

And sorry, I really wanted to write the whole weekend in one go, but it’s getting late and my battered body and soul need the sleep. If our hotel in the Pyrenees has its promised WiFi, look for Hurt Minus One (at least) tomorrow. Goodnight!

July 6, 2012. Well, the time has come, Act One-ers! I’m off to the Alps in a few minutes. If you see me on the day, say hi. I’ll be all in black (for intimidation..?). All the best, everyone!

July 3, 2012. Boys and girls, just a reminder that you’ll need a few things with you to collect your bib and goodies bag on the day:

  • Medical certificate (yes, even though you sent it to them already, apparently)
  • The PDF you see on the ‘Rider List’ page of the site (after entering your name)
  • ID
  • 50 Euros for the bribe if you forget any of the above 😉

June 30, 2012. A couple of reconn videos to get you educated on your selected ‘Act’.

Act One:

Act Two:

Act Two, Col Four: Peyresourde. We’ve finally come to the end of our long list of cols for this year’s Etapes du Tour. The Col de Peyresourde is not the finishing line for Act Two, but will be the final climb before the long descent into the spa town of Luchon. Peyresourde is 8.3km long with an average gradient of 7.6% from the side we will be climbing (west) and is 1569m at the top.

These modest stats (except the gradient, which is substantial) taken alone aren’t very scary, but this will be the final ascent of the day and therefore the place where many souls will be searched and there will be much deep digging going on, I am sure.


Peyresourde, just like Tourmalet and Aspin, has been used in the Tour since 1910 and has never had a summit finish. Little photographic drama has been played out it seems, so I leave you with a shot from the Tour of 2003. Here’s a fun game. Can you pick the doper who is still riding?


Act Two, Col Three: Aspin. This little col (1489m) just happens to be between two bigger ones (Tourmalet and Peyresourde) and has acted as the filling in this giant mountain sandwich 66 times in the Tour de France. The way we’ll be doing this climb in the Etape du Tour will be from the village of Sainte Marie de Campan and it will be 12.8km long with a gentle 5% average. This doesn’t mean it’s not going to hurt though, and since it is the 3rd climb of a really long day (nearly 200km) I think we’ll see the mass carnage begin here. Hopefully the handsome cows are out to brighten our spirits.

I am not sure what sort of TdF drama has occurred on the Col d’Aspin because Google hasn’t illuminated me in the last 15 minutes or so of searching. The best I can do is the great Gino Bartali on what might be the Aspin in 1950. How do I get me one of those running water guys, I wonder..?

June 20, 2012. Bib numbers are finally up on the Etape site. Here is the page for Act One. This is it for Act Two. Just input your name and find out where you’ll be starting!

June 20, 2012. The ASO have finally posted bib numbers (dossard in French) for Act One of the Etapes du Tour next month (the one in the Alps). These numbers have some importance, maybe, and are handed out based on certain criteria, including age, sex (I’m assuming), and most importantly, previous results in long, hard events like the Etape. Here is mine from last year, with no races under my belt and my middle age pushing me nearly to the back of the crowd of nearly 10,000 riders.

You might remember that, although this number meant I was starting about hour after the first pen (yes, an hour!), the timing began as we crossed the threshold of the start line, so little damage was done on overall times. I was in pretty good shape then and had lots of fun passing people on most of the ride, till I died a slow and hot death on the Alpe, along with the rest of the world that day.

Well, this year I think my strategy will be slightly different. Because my overall placing was surprisingly good last year (2037) my bib number this year is 2756, and I doubt I’ll be cruising up the ranks like in 2011 (although I’ll try!). My biggest concern will be holding off my partners in pain, John (in the 7000s) and Erik (in the 5000s), who will be starting long after me. Guys, if you pass me, do me a favor and sneak by quietly. I’d rather find out after the race, preferably with something in my hand to drown my sorrows!

But back to the possible pros (or cons even) of having a relatively low bib number. My initial thought is that, obviously (but very generally) you will be surrounded by faster and stronger riders. Now on a flat or rolling course I can definitely see the advantage here, by getting to hide in a fast paceline, but in an event like the Etape, where you are basically just ascending and descending the whole day, I’m not sure how much more I can squeeze out of my surroundings.

On the negative side, it might very well be the case that I get dropped by those in my pen. This, the reverse of last year, could result in, among other things, a search for a short cut, a resort to sabotage (but admittedly, this could be difficult with thousands of cyclists to throw tacks at), or simply a loss of motivation. Luckily, the only way I know how to ride up mountains is to go at my own pace, so I think I’ll be unaffected. Still, it’s a consideration.

My feeling is that being farther up will be that much better because there’ll be fewer riders ahead of me, that is, more open road and, hopefully, a faster ride. Thank you for reading this stream of consciousness post. I feel much better now for getting it out of my system.

June 20, 2012. OK, I’m done. On all levels I can think of, I’m done. As part of my (Coach Rob approved) ‘deeper the valley, higher the peak’ training camp, I endeavored to do a daily 100km for as long as I could stand it. Well, I can’t stand it anymore!

The truth is I could probably do more, but my convenient excuse is that the gas guy is coming tomorrow and anyway, I think I need 2 days off before John and I attempt The Terrible Ventoux Triple on Saturday.

In my ‘training camp’ I managed the above 745km in 7 straight days, with 7200 meters of up (and I guess down, too). Now I must go comfort my shattered soul and eat a loin of something to get the protein I need to dig myself out of this valley!

June 14, 2012.

This year the body that runs the Tour de France and just about every other race around (including, of course, the Etape du Tour), the ASO, has two special ‘challenges’ to encourage people to sign up for both races, I gather.

The first is called the Madone Challenge, named after the famed climb near Nice that Lance Armstrong used to use as his benchmark when training for the Tour. In light of today’s news, maybe the Madone Challenge should be to see who can dope the longest without getting caught…but thankfully it’s not.

The Madone Challenge is simply a combination of your Act One (Alps) and Act Two (Pyrenees) times, listed on a spiffy pdf file on their site. Other than this great honor, you get 15 Euro coupons for Trek (makers of the Madone bike, of course) and Bontrager accessories. To become a participant in the ‘challenge’ you just need to sign up for both Etapes.

The next ‘challenge’ is infinitely cooler and makes me feel a tad less cynical. This is called the Challenge ‘Grimpeur’. ‘Grimpeur’, as you are surely well aware, is French for ‘cyclist with anorexic tendencies who has overcome the problem of gravity’, and if you fancy yourself to be one of these creatures this challenge could be for you.

Each and every major climb of both Etapes (8 in total) will be timed, using sensors at the official bottom and top (we had this last year on the Alpe d’Huez climb) and you will be able to see and compare your times unfavorably with those more grimp than you. Seriously though, this does add some handy stats for analyzing what went wrong or right during the event and could help in determining a better strategy for next year.

So, if you didn’t think that one or two Etapes was challenge enough, now you have even more to motivate you. Bonne Courage, les gars! 

June 13, 2012. You may remember that this season I decided to go with a more traditional cycling weight-loss program; that is, forking out money I really don’t have to lose what non-cyclists might call ‘an afternoon snack’ – One Kilogram. This substantial weight savings was to be achieved by upgrading my wheels and group set. You can read about the progress here and here if you like.

Well, it’s done and I’d like to tell you all about it, if you don’t mind. First, the facts:

Old Wheels:Fulcrum Racing 7s (stock with the Infinito last year)

New Wheels:Campagnolo Eurus

Old Gruppo:Shimano Triple 10-speed

New Gruppo:Campagnolo Chorus Compact 11-speed

  • Weight of the Bianchi before the upgrade: 8.6kg (18.9lbs)
  • Weight of the Bianchi after the upgrade: 7.6kg (16.7lbs)
  • Cost of the upgrade: 1880 Euros
  • Cost of the look on Shoko’s face when she reads that amount: priceless
Before I get to the review section of this post I’d like to address what I’m sure you’re already thinking to yourself: Gerry, why didn’t you just buy a bike that cost 4380 Euros (upgrade+original bike price) in the first place and get an even better machine? The short answer is that I should have, but I see from the thousands of forums out there on this very subject that I’m not the only cyclist to upgrade his/her bike. I really didn’t know anything about the importance of weight and the quality of components when I bought the Bianchi. At least I bought an excellent frame that is light and rigid, otherwise I might be visiting divorce court instead of just the poor house this season.

First Ride Review 

The Weight

Did I feel the weight difference? Yes and yes…I think. You all know how much your bike weighs without probably even knowing the numbers. You can tell when you’ve forgotten your water bottles for your ride when you leave home (assuming you need to lift the bike of course) because of the lack of weight, I’ll bet. As soon as I picked up the Bianchi at the shop after the assembly I could tell immediately something was missing…in a good way!

But I really wanted to know if I would feel the lightness on the hills, so I did a couple of my usuals today to find out. There was a difference, I’m confident enough to say, but I’m not sure if it was the weight or a combination of several things (more on that later). The result was that I was climbing at a faster pace than usual (1 to 2 kph) and this is after 5 days off the bike stuffing my face in Istanbul. A good sign, I think.

The Wheels (Steve, are you reading this?)

Yes, yes, yes! Did I say ‘yes’?! This was the first marked difference I noticed when I hopped on the ‘new’ bike. The Bianchi wants to roll faster now, all of a sudden. When freewheeling it is faster, when pedaling it is faster and when descending it seems much, much faster, so I’m really content with this new addition so far. I’m thinking that the pedaling speed could also be a combo of the new wheels and the new transmission, but the descending can only be the wheels. I was hitting 50kph on the back side of my place with no effort at all and I took one of my favorite corners on that descent nearly 3kph faster than usual, going at it even a little conservatively, I thought.

I’m not really sure about the flats yet because it was blowing so hard today. It has to be better, however, since the descending is. I guess the improved rolling of the new wheels could help my climbing as well, since there should be less resistance theoretically. That’s why I’m not sure if it was the 1kg I have saved or the wheels that made me climb faster. I guess in the end it doesn’t matter.

The Brake Levers / Shifting System

Camgagnolo are famous for their craftsmanship and attention to detail and I found this immediately evident on these all-important components – the ones we interact with the most on the bike (with the possible exception of the seat post if you fiddle with yours as much as I do!). First, they are really ergonomic compared with the Shimanos I had. There’s a left and right that are shaped to fit each hand. Here is the left hood; you can see how the hand would fit ever-so nicely on the top – and it does. To be honest, I don’t find it much more comfortable than the 105s, but maybe over long distances I will.

The hoods are also smaller than the Shimano, even though this next photo doesn’t show it very well. I noticed it right away, though, and at least for me, it feels much better.

In this photo you can also see the curvature of the brake levers. These have been designed  to curve in towards the drops so that braking is easier from them (particularly useful on descents). This was something I got right away because I didn’t need to adjust my hands at all to reach out for the brakes, i.e. they were right there, unlike the Shimano, where I had to sort of wrap my hand around to the outside a little to get hold of them. This won’t be an issue for people with big hands, I guess, but a welcome surprise for little ol’ me.

This top shot shows something strange sticking out of the side of the bars.

This is the shifter that changes the cassette (right) and gear ring (left) and is the most obvious change on the bike from Shimano. I wonder how many rides it’ll take before I realize that the brake lever really doesn’t do anything but brake..? There’s a shifter right beside the brake lever, just like Shimano, but you need to remember to use the thumb, too, which I’m sure will become second nature soon enough, But…

…I’m not sold on the positioning at all yet. From the hoods this is where the shifter is.

Meaning, to shift you need to moved your thumb back then down – a seemingly unnecessary move. It can’t be as fast as using your fingers on (or next to) the brake lever, like Shimano. This is the photo from above to show the position from the drops, just as weird, for me so far. It looks natural in the picture, but I needed to reach up to depress it, and then, because of the lack of control on the pressure, I was shifting down two rings at a time.

This is something I expected, having ridden Karsten’s bike a little bit last year, and I’m surprised I haven’t found other people talking about it in the forums I read before buying the Chorus. This tells me that either it’s going to be a non-issue once I get used to it, or people are too afraid to dis Campagnolo (the Apple – when Apple was cool – of bike components, in my understanding).

But shifters are about shifting, too, and this is where Campy shines. People always talk about the ‘mechanical’ feel or sound to the shifting and this is evident right away. Unlike my old Shimano, where I felt I was always pushing the derailleur into gear, Campagnolo just clicks (or ‘clunks’) and you’re there! You feel the mechanics of the instrument, if you follow me. And it works. Well, today it worked.

Then there’s this little gem: when clicking up the rear cassette you can go three rings in one push, and when going back down (harder) it allows you to skip FIVE. Five, I’m not sure about, but 2 or 3 I can easily see being useful. When? For instance, after cresting a hill with an immediate descent you might want to skip a few as you pick up speed quickly on the way down. Definitely when ‘dancing’ on climbs, since I usually have to go down 2 rings when I leave the saddle. ‘Punching’ up hills, same idea. On the other side of things you might need an easier gear when things suddenly ramp up on a climb and shifting up 2 rings in one shot can save time and effort, I imagine. A handy little addition.

The Rest

I have no idea about what happens around the crankset, other than it propels me forward and gives me no end of grief when I drop a chain. So far everything seems to work just fine with the Campy and I’m assuming I’m getting more power with it, since everything is stiffer and built for more power transfer. But that will remain a guess, I think.

You might know that I’ve gone from a triple to a compact (how glad am I to be rid of that shameful extra ring!), and I’m discovering that I have to re-learn some things. The two main rings on my old set-up were 50 and 39, which were not too far apart. So, when I shifted up to the big ring, for example, I could achieve around the same ratio by just shifting up one or two rings on the cassette (skip this section if your eyes are starting to glaze over). However, now I have a 50 and 34 and the difference seems huge in comparison. I haven’t check any charts yet, but it seems to me that to get the same ratio after shifting to the big ring I need to go up 3 or more on the cassette, that is, the multi-ring shifting capabilities of the Campy will come in handy yet again! If you made it through this paragraph, I applaud you. This is about as technical as I can be, so it only gets better from here.

I’ve already mentioned the multi-ring shifting abilities and I suppose that also has something to do with the rear derailleur, pictured here with the last you’ll see of the shiny chain and cassette, I can almost guarantee.

The last thing I should mention is the brakes. The improved cornering with the new wheels meant I didn’t have to use these things much today, but when I did I noticed two things: they work really well and the levers are very sensitive, i.e. easy to depress. This 2nd fact makes it a joy to brake from the hoods, even when using the middle-to-top of the lever.

Time will tell whether the investment was worth it, but if my impression was right about the increase in speed then I think I could possibly be looking at a couple of extra kilometers per hour, but then again I’m an eternal optimist. At least I now have a machine that demands respect, even if its rider doesn’t.

June 12, 2012. The plat principal of Act Two must be the Col du Tourmalet, the 2nd mountain pass of the day and the grandaddy of them all in Pyrenees. Tourmalet, the highest road in the central Pyrenees, is 19km long with 1404 meters of climbing, with a maximum grade of 10%. Again, comparing to Ventoux, it’s slightly shorter (by 3km) with a bit less climbing (200m). Goes without saying, I guess, but this mountain is hors categorie. Following is copied directly from Wikipedia; I thought it appropriate to the unknown most of us are getting ourselves into with this Etape du Tour!

The Pyrenees were included in the Tour de France at the insistence of Alphonse Steinès, a colleague of the organiser, Henri Desgrange. He told the story in a book published soon after the event.

Steinès first agreed that the Tour would pay 2,000 francs to clear the Col d’Aubisque, then came back to investigate the Tourmalet. He started at Sainte-Marie-de-Campan with sausage, ham and cheese at the inn opposite the church and arranged to hire a driver called Dupont from Bagnères-de-Bigorre. Dupont and Steinès made it the first 16 km, after which their car came to a stop. Dupont and Steinès started to walk but Dupont turned back after 600m, shouting: “The bears come over from Spain when it snows.” Steinès set off. He mistook voices in the darkness for thieves. They were youngsters guarding sheep with their dog. Steinès called to one.

“Son, do you know the Tourmalet well? Could you guide me? I’ll give you a gold coin. When we get to the other top, I’ll give you another one.”

The boy joined him but then turned back.

Steinès rested on a rock. He considered sitting it out until dawn, then realised he’d freeze. He slipped on the icy road, then fell into a stream. He climbed back to the road and again fell in the snow. Exhausted and stumbling, he heard another voice.

“Tell me who goes there or I’ll shoot.”

“I’m a lost traveller. I’ve just come across the Tourmalet.”

“Oh, it’s you, Monsieur Steinès! We were expecting you! We got a phone call at Ste-Marie-de-Campan. Everybody’s at Barèges. It’s coming on for three o’clock. There are search teams of guides out looking for you.”

The organising newspaper, L’Auto, had a correspondent at Barèges, a man called Lanne-Camy. He took him for a bath and provided new clothes.

Steines sent a telegram to Desgrange: “Crossed Tourmalet stop. Very good road stop. Perfectly feasible.”

Tourmalet has been used in the Tour de France more than any other pass – 75! – and has seen its share of drama, including the famous self-welded-fork of Eugene Christophe in 1913. In 2010 Tourmalet was crossed two times in as many days in celebration of its centenary. Andy won on the 2nd day – the stage that ended on the col.

June 10, 2012. To be honest, I’m scared merde-less of this one. Act One is bad enough, with 150km or so, but this creature has about the same amount of climbing (lets say 4500 meters, till I figure it out) and is just about 200 km long. Firstly, I’ve only ever ridden 200 km once or twice in my short life, and secondly, I am pretty sure it was flatter than the Pyrenees. So call me what you want. I’m trembling.

This classic route starts in Pau, on the plains, and dives south on what looks to be hilly terrain, finally entering into the Pyrenees National Park, where we’ll be stuck for most of the rest of the long day.

The first climb is the Col d’Aubisque, a Hors Categorie mountain pass that is 16.6 km and rises 1,190m, an average of 7.2%. In comparison to My Ventoux, it is about 5km shorter and a fraction less steep. Still though, it’s only the first of 4 big climbs this day.

The Aubisque has been used in the Tour de France an incredible 42 times since 1947 (and just about every year before that back to 1910), so it is no stranger to legends; leaders at the summit (when it was not used as a stage finish) include Fausto Coppi, Charly Gaul, Eddy Merckx, Miguel Indurain and Cadel Evans. 

Probably the most famous (or infamous) event that occurred on the Aubisque was the awesome spill that Yellow Jersey wearer Wim Van Est took off a cliff on the descent in 1951. Van Est took a turn bad and wiped out, getting chucked off the mountain and falling 70 meters in the process. He survived, but had to be famously hauled up using 40 team tires that were tied together! Ah…the good ol’ days.

May 30, 2012. The TdF site has just put up the details of each stage of this year’s Tour, which means we now know the exact route of each Etape. Here is Act One:

And Act Two:

For more details, check out the TdF site. They have a list of all the roads that each stage runs along, so you can check on your own Michelin or Google Maps.

May 22, 2012 – Act One, Climb Four. The final long grunt of this year’s Act One is the ski station of La Toussuire-Les Sybelles. This is where we’ll encounter all manner of carnage along the 17.6km to 19.1km (unsure which route we’ll be riding) of road to the finish. Whichever way we climb, this last effort of the day will be 1145m in elevation gain, for a grand total on the day of approximately 84 kilometers of road that goes up, equaling 4600 meters of vertical climbing. If you haven’t started your hill repeats…well, it’s too late, but do them anyway!

Like the col before it, La Toussuire-Les Sybelles has been used just once before in the Tour de France, whose sordid story I have already summarized.

So that’s it for Act One, les gars. Climbing these 4 giants is sure to be an experience of epic proportions. Look for me on the day; I will probably look exactly like this, without the impressive legs.

May 19, 2012 – Act One, Col Three. This mountain pass, sitting as it does between all the big baddies of the day, could possibly be the one nobody thinks about before, but never forgets afterwards. Yes, it’s not a giant climb, like the others – 403 meters of up, over 6km – but that comes out to an average of 6.8%, which is nothing to laugh at, especially when you’ve already done nearly 60 km of climbing. If I get the view below though, all will be forgotten.

This little pass has only been used once in the Tour de France, I think, but it was a memorable day. Stage 16 of the 2006 TdF was the day Floyd Landis lost the Yellow Jersey to Michael Rasmussen (man of impossibly long arms – photo below), only to win it back in incredible style the following day (an epic solo attack). Of course, that’s not the story – Landis was quickly found to have been juiced up during that stage and was later stripped of his overall win and suspended from the sport for two years, all the while proclaiming his innocence, taking donations to fight his case in court, and writing a book about it, which is an interesting read now that the good bits are known to be lies (he has since spilled the beans).

Stage 16, by the way, ended on the last climb in this year’s Etape du Tour – stay tuned!

May 11, 2012 – Act One, Col Two. Moving along from our first mountain pass of Act One of the Etape du Tour 2012 (assuming I make it over…), the next legend of the day will be the Col de la Croix de Fer. This 2067 meter high pass is 31.5 km long (gulp) and has an average gradient of 5.75%, with sections of 11%.

The Croix de Fer was first used in the Tour de France in 1947 and has made a modest 15 appearances since then. Here are French and Italian heroes (especially Bartali, who was a real war hero), Louison Bobet and Gino Bartali on the climb in 1948, before they thought to pave the roads, it looks like.

May 6, 2012 – Act One, Col One. As part of my project this Sunday to stay off the bike as long as possible I have decided to start a new series of articles, documenting the many famous mountain passes (cols in the languages of French and Cycling) that I, along with 20,000 or so others, will be hauling our carcasses over this July in the two Etapes du Tour.

Act One, which starts in the Olympic town of Albertville, wastes little time before starting the long climb up the Col de la Madeleine, elevation 1993 meters. According to Wiki, the climb we’ll be doing (from the north) is 28.3 km with an average gradient of 5%, but it is very irregular and has many long sections of 8%, 9% and 10%. This climb from the northern side is said to be more picturesque. You be the judge.

The pass has been used in the Tour de France since 1969 and has been crossed an amazing  23 times in those 43 years. The climb is classified hors-catégorie, which is the highest rating given. Here is Mr. Beefsteak, Alberto Contador, hauling Andy Schleck up the col a couple of years ago.

May 4, 2012. Coach Rob has Team Midlife Crisis off the indoor trainer now and into the great outdoors, which is a great relief and rather intimidating (far more obstacles outside the living room..) at the same time. He wants us to take the leg speed and power that we have built up over the winter/spring (our training mainly consisted of short, explosive intervals) and transfer them into longer efforts on the road.

He has also added a ‘benchmark course’ to our weekly program. The benchmark ride is a route of 45km – 50km that we are meant to ride at ‘race pace’, which, in Rob’s own words this means:

This ride is where you race anything that’s moving on the road.  If someone is behind you, you should do everything possible not to be passed and if they catch you, ride as hard as possible not to be dropped.  And it’s not good enough to just catch someone, you have to catch and drop them.  Riding with this type of “race mode” aggression will prepare your mind as well as your body for race day.

I didn’t see any cyclists going my way, so I had to chase down cars instead.

The course, obviously, should be identical each time you ride it, otherwise it wouldn’t be much of a ‘benchmark’. Again, in Rob’s words:

You should become so intimate with this route that you will know every pothole and bump along the way and be able to identify the 5 stages of road kill decomposition.

As luck would have it I rode past an unfortunate cat that had been run over recently. I’ll now have the chance to discover those 5 stages! I’m saving you the photo of the roadkill, but here’s a stretch of road close by.

Another condition for the benchmark route is that it should contain some ‘moderate hills’. The ones in the photo below (the beginning of the Cévennes range) are more than moderate, so they’ll be reserved for another ride.

This one, however, fits the bill nicely and is just long and steep enough (9%) for me to just about blow a lung out on, while being short enough to be able to ‘dance’ my way up it.

All of these photos, by the way, were taken at, or near, zone 4 (somewhere north of 160 bpm for me). I hope you’ll forgive me for the dodgy quality of shots, like the blurry picture of the village of Vic-le-Fesq below.

Here is the graph to my first benchmark ride. It’s Lap 2. Benchmark #1 01.05.2012 14:23.

Rob has promised a whole new series of fun for the last push towards the Etapes (only 2 months!), so stay tuned – if I have any energy left I’ll be sure to blog about it.

May 1, 2012. Let it be known that I’ve now gone a step further than shaved legs and carbon-fiber shoe soles.

I am now a licensee of the Fédération Française de Cyclisme. I can enter any sportive race in the country with just a medical certificate, but the license adds a bit of legitimacy and integration I thought, and I get discounts on entrance fees to boot. I didn’t know I could do this, but I ended up being able to get the license without joining a club – something I really have little interest in right now.

I wonder what will be next in this journey…?

March 29, 2012. Today I was supposed to be inside on the trainer doing Coach Rob’s ‘World of Hell’ standing intervals. But today was 27 degrees. So today I didn’t.

However, keeping in the spirit of Rob’s evil intervals, I did my first hill repeats of the year. The photo below is a ‘stock’ picture because my wife had the camera (no wet roads today), but it serves the purpose, I think. I did 12 ascents of this 1.3 km climb for a total of 15.6 km, much of it ‘dancing’ (‘plodding’ might be a better description) on the pedals. I amaze myself sometimes when I get off the saddle these days because there would be no way I could have sustained a km or more of climbing on the pedals just a year ago. This training thing actually does work!

Outdoor Standing Hill Repeats 29.03.2012 14:03.

March 28, 2012. My project, ‘How to Upgrade your Bike and Save your Marriage at the Same Time’, is moving along nicely and I now have 4 of the 8 essential components I need to complete my transformation from Shimano 105 to Campagnolo Chorus…and lose 600 grams! There is the little issue of needing wheels to go with this new gruppo, but we’ll cross that expensive bridge when we come to it.

Why do I only get paid monthly…?!

March 19, 2012. Fellow racers of Le Raid des Alpilles 2012, please don’t take this personally, but I’m not sure about your general fitness level. Let me put it another way; how is it possible that I finished in 59th place (out of 304) overall and 23rd (out of 97) in my category? This result puts me in the top 19% of the race and I’m nearly on the verge of calling myself ‘good’, I’ll have you know. Before this gets out of hand, up your game, fellow riders, or my wife will never be able to live with my ego.

Riding buddy Anne taxied John and I to the race this morning and we got there nice and early thankfully because it took me about 30 minutes to figure out what to wear (11C is difficult). John and Anne had it more together and patiently waited while I stalled for time by pretending to want to take photos from my blog.

Hill Start

Today’s course, other than being through one of the most beautiful parts of southern France, started immediately with a 4km climb (1st photo below). This was the first time I had ever experienced such a dastardly thing in a race and I wondered at the malignant nature of the organizer who came up with that idea. This meant, obviously, that everyone was red-lining from the get-go and that hurts, it really does. However, looking back on it, I was helped by this hill because, as usual, I got stuck near the back of the starting pen, with the knowledge that I was going to have to chase down group after group after group (if I could) till I found one I liked (read just about any of my race articles for this repeated story).

The hill is the great equalizer of any race and pretty quickly will show you who’s been doing their step intervals (or Coach Rob’s version – World of Hell) diligently. Well, I have it appears because I could make up many places in those 4km; much more than I could have on the flat, I think. So, thanks evil course planner!

The Importance of the Group

Yet again I realized how essential it is to find yourself a fast-moving bunch of riders in a race, but luckily I was on the right side of this realization for a change. After the uphill battle that started the race I was fortunate to hook onto a good-sized group near the top and smart enough not to blast past them in search of the next one down the road (not that I had the energy to do that..). This meant that I was comfortably tucked into the middle of a bunch of guys, sometimes taking my turn on the front (but not too much – another lesson learned the hard way), and going at a clip that it would have taken super-human strength to achieve on my own.

Unfortunately for John, that’s what happened to him. After not attaching himself to our group on the climb he couldn’t find one of his own that was big enough or fast enough to chase us down and he was doomed. He explained the frustration of being tantalizingly close to a bunch for mile after mile and just not being able to get to the tail end, no matter how hard he tried. For me, I had a similar experience, but my little peloton was big enough to eventually catch the next one on the road after 1.5 hours or so and that made us even faster.

The bunch. It’s all about the bunch.

Photo Intermission

I didn’t take any photos of the race, but I thought you might like to see what we raced through (I know I certainly didn’t on this occasion!). Thank you Raid des Alpilles site for the photo loan. These are some of the many little climbs we had on the route.

Group Character

I’ve written about this before, I think, but I was hit again today by the amazing variety of riders you find in a peloton of any decent size. I had, in various manifestations:

  • The Rouleur. This is the guy who can really hammer on the flats and false flats and can’t seem to stop himself from charging to the front of the group when things get horizontal.
  • The Grimpeur. The Rouleur’s polar opposite of course. This rider appears out of nowhere when there is even the hint of a hill and dances by The Rouleur, usually without even a ‘merci’ for the free ride he’s been given by him.
  • The Descender. This is often The Rouleur, I’ve found, since it’s usually a lad with some weight to him. Not always though, and it’s really the fearless and ambidextrous that makes good descenders.
  • The All-Rounder. Needs little explanation, but I really appreciate these riders because they just have the whole package.
  • The Slacker / Wheel Sucker / Wool Eater. Again, no introduction necessary. This is the guy who will hang 3 spots back in a paceline and NEVER take his turn. He is oblivious to name calling and disdainful leers, so is hard to get rid of.
  • The Unshaven. These creatures, I am coming to learn, cannot be trusted. Some guys with hairy legs are often are strong, but many don’t know the rules of the road, or they sometimes make sudden erratic movements that put those in their proximity at peril. Stay away from The Unshaven (early season is the exception since they could be seasonal shavers.).

The Echelon

A first for me today was having to ride in a strong crosswind in a group. The phenomenon you see below is called an echelon and I discover that it is naturally formed in such a wind because, as you can guess, when the wind is coming in from the right (to the riders) like below, after the lead guy the next rider will want to shield himself from it, forcing him to tuck in behind, but at an angle. I was surprised how quickly the echelon was formed once we turned right into the wind and also surprised how fast I got gapped when I found myself outside of it once! You can see from the photo below how crosswinds can destroy a peleton. Once you are caught out it’s very hard to get yourself back in. I hung on for dear life after that little faux pas and made sure I found a big-shouldered rouleur to hide behind!

After the race ended and we got changed into our civvies, John came up to me with an excited look, saying that my name was on the first page of the results. And right he was – the very last name on the 1st page. I took this photo in case I never see the first page again.

As always, our race ended with a nice group lunch where we could share war stories and complain about the Wheel Suckers – this time with a great pile of paella with chicken and seafood.

I might be taking April off from racing because I’ve got a little trip planned that will hopefully produce a few blog articles, but we’ll be back at it in May, French riders. You have been warned. Get out on the bike or you might have an unwanted Canadian on your first page again!

February 29, 2012. I can finally speak with a little experience on the matter of training for a massive test like the Etape du Tour, so I will say this: if you haven’t started seriously training yet this season, do so now! I began just after New Years last year and even with over 6000 km before July I suffered badly on the Alpe d’Huez (the last climb of the day). This year’s Etapes are longer and higher than the stage I did in ’11, so…you can figure out the rest. Really, if you’ve never done anything like this distance and, more importantly, elevation gain, you need to train like a pro from Right Now.

But, here’s the thing; you shouldn’t just jump out on the road (or trainer) and start putting in miles (although it would certainly be better than nothing). You need a structured training plan that takes you up to your goal in early July; one that will work different energy systems at different points in the season and that will ensure that you are at your peak when it counts.

I’m lucky because I have a coach/brother who takes care of all this for me, but there are plenty of great books out there that will help you train properly, too. I got my hands on The Cyclist’s Training Bible, by Joe Friel, a few months ago, and I’m finding it an invaluable gem. Friel not only gives you a step-by-step way to plan your whole season, but has some really excellent information on nutrition, riders with specific needs (age, gender, etc), and plenty of scientific nitty gritty that I find is a great resource when I need to reference something. Get this book (or a coach) and start today…you’ve been warned!

February 25, 2012. With one season of sportive racing under my belt and a new intense training program taking up my free time, I went into this first test of 2012 with a touch of (self-imposed) pressure to perform. I’m happy to report that I don’t need to stand in a corner and flog myself in penitence – skip to the end if you can’t wait for the results!

This race, around 2 hours north of home, involved more complicated logistics than normal because joining me (more correctly, I was doing the joining, I guess) were John, Erik and his wife Anne, cycling friends from Le Sud. Because of the early start and earlier wake-up, I stayed with Erik and Anne and was well carbed up with pasta, apple crumble and 11% beer (‘because beer has the good carbs’, John informed us).  Their place is in a small village and is completely silent. That fact, along with the beer, ensured an unusually good pre-race sleep. Thanks again for your hospitality, A and E!

A few chilly before-race shots: Anne and Erik.

Your author, before the strip down.

John, braving his first race with a chest cold, I might add.

The Strategy

My goal for this race, other than finishing, was to get as close to the front as I could in the beginning. I found out the hard way last year that it’s nearly impossible to escape from a bunch that is too slow for you to one that is faster and down the road, since, as you all know from watching Eurosport, it is at least 30% easier to ride in a group than alone.

The strategy worked fairly well for a while, but there was an unexpected obstacle (a truck transporting a building of some sort) after a few km and it funneled the peloton so that the first ones through had a good gap on anyone left behind. I tried getting back up, but not good enough because I never really saw those front guys again. Sound strategy, though, so I’ll give it another go next time. The same effect separated me from Erik, John and Anne (who were behind me) and the next time I saw them was at the orange slice station after the finish line.

The Legs

But the race must go on and as I turned right onto our first climb I found something nice; I ‘had the legs’. I remembered the 1st two climbs well from last year and in particular how much they hurt. This time I was tearing up the first at a decent speed, with pain in the legs, but they just kept working…how novel! The same thing happend on the 2nd climb, which was a substantial 7km long. I never once thought that the hams would just give up the ghost, like just about every climb early last year. I could count on them. On the flats, too, when I needed to sprint to keep up with a group, or maybe bridge a gap, it worked also. It’s fun to ask your body to do something and find it responding positively. Maybe I wasn’t using the right tone with it before…?

The last climb was the one I didn’t get to do last year because my race ended in the broom wagon, and I was a little apprehensive about it, even with my new-found obedient legs. This climb, the Côte du Rocher du Sampzon, is a short 2km, but at an average of nearly 8% it’s still scary. But there I was, hitting the bottom with a group of 20 or so riders and I found myself passing most of them! Again, it hurt, but the pain didn’t result in a complete breakdown; it just hurt till I got to the top. Amazing.

The Results

Last year I ended my first race in the bottom 20% of my category. This year I finished 101/251 overall and 33/77 in my category, or around top 40% for both. I think the program is working and I take back all those awful things I’ve screamed at you, Coach, while pounding out those World of Hell intervals.

Done and dusted, the group settled down to the best part of any race. Food.

And although I nearly never partake, I love the fact that wine is always on the menu in French races.

The view outside the food tent. Notice the guy in the shorts. It was well over 20 degrees today. Finally, Le Sud is back to normal.

So, although there won’t be any teams knocking down my door to recruit me just yet, it’s been a promising start to the season. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back on the bike and start cursing.

February 23, 2012. 

No, I’m not selling something on Ebay, this is my new purchase: a Campagnolo Chorus rear derailleur and 12-27 cassette. I’ve been humming and hawing over an upgrade of my drivetrain for some time and I found a nice ‘middle path’ way about going at it. Instead of forking out 1000 Euros in one shot, I’m securing the marriage by buying a couple of components at a time. Surprisingly, it’s the same price as a set; the only problem is that now I have to sit and look at these beautiful new pieces of hardware till I get all 8 components bought!

Still, it’ll be worth the wait. I’m going to gain a whopping 1kg by upgrading the gruppo, plus buying new wheels, and that translates into some massive savings in pain and suffering with the 9000 or so meters of climbing I’ll have to do in early July.

February 8, 2012. It has been said that balance is the key to life (by a non-cyclist, I’m sure). With this thought in mind I started wondering why I needed to go through the pain of physically losing more weight in order to ride faster up hills (my main goal this year because of the vertical nature of the two Etapes du Tour). Heck, can’t I lose pounds any other way?

Yes I can, and all I need is money (sometimes more readily available than the willpower needed to stay away from chips and beer). Take this real-life example:

My Current groupset (Shimano 105 – Triple): Weight = 2700 grams

Campagnolo Chorus groupset (compact): Weight = 2106 grams. 

My Current Wheels (Fulcrum Racing 7): Weight = 1949 grams

Mavic Ksyrium Elites: Weight 1550 grams.

There is the little matter of 1500 Euros for this upgrade, but the weight savings would be 1 kilogram. That’s like, how many bags of chips!? This calculation doesn’t even figure in the ‘awesome factor’ of riding Campy equipment, by the way. Imagine owning bike components that aren’t yet made in Taiwan or China (no disrespect T and C).

Stay tuned to find out how itchy Mr. Patterson’s ‘Buy’ finger is. And remember, it’s all about finding the equilibrium…and the money!


January 23, 2012. As my 4th week of proper training starts and Le Sud hots up a bit (it was 20 the other day), my mind lazily wanders to the season ahead and the long list of warm-up sportive races that I’ll be doing before the Etape…then, I look at the calendar and realize that the first one is only 4 weeks a away! Geez, these things do creep up on you.

It could have been worse, though. This year I’m skipping next weekend’s France season opener (which I huffed and puffed through last year) and will start with my 2nd, the infamous Les Boucles du Sud Ardèche; in 2011, a race of wrong turns, road rash (thankfully, not mine) and a slow ride in the broom wagon.

This year, along with at least John (I’m working on other friends, including last year’s victim, Karsten), I’ll have the confidence that comes with knowledge and I will know where to turn right (at the oom pah pah band / food station) and will get to ride up and over the short-but-formidable Roche de Samzon (only watch this video if you can stand Journey) in front of the voiture-balai. 

For those reading in France, you can sign up on their site or go to Velo 101 straight. As with most sportive races in France you’ll need a medical certificate or racing licence.


January 17, 2012. I’ve been forced to ride on an indoor trainer recently, much to the chagrin of my butt (see ‘bad’ below). However, I never thought I’d say it (like I never thought I’d shave my legs, I suppose), but riding on a bike that goes nowhere can be good, and bad.


1. If you have a training program which asks you to hit and sustain a specific heart rate, power output or speed, an indoor trainer can’t be beat. No matter how flat a stretch of road is, there’s usually wind, stoplights (or roundabouts if you come from a civilized country) and other obstacles that will prevent you from keeping a steady pace and staying in your zone.

Here’s a recent workout I did on the trainer: HR Intervals 10.01.2012 14:15.

And here’s one on the road, trying to something similar. No contest in terms of consistency: pyramid 04.01.2012 14:21.

2. The view is still not too bad, depending on how many cycling videos you have stockpiled at home. Here’s what I see from the saddle. No, I’m not staring at the ostrich painting (although it’s quite nice); look closer. That is Cadel Evans trying to chase Andy Schleck down on the Galibier in last year’s Tour. When I’m not staring at my top tube in agony I can watch and learn more about my new sport.

3. I probably can’t get run over while cycling in the apartment.


1. Refer to the lyrics above. Since you can’t freewheel on a trainer, you tend to feel the need to keep pedaling. Add to this the unfortunate fact that my current training program calls for a cadence of 90 to over 100 rpm and it becomes hazardous to try and ‘dance’ on the pedals at that speed of rotation. The result is a lot longer sitting on the saddle and the associated pain/numbness that comes with it (for me, at least).

2. Running out of clean towels. You don’t realize how much you are probably sweating on your bike outside until you go indoors and spin. I’m glad I’m not in a gym full of beautiful women (did I just say that?) because it’d be embarrassing. I need to hit Ikea for some more things to mop up with.

3. Time warps. Yes, sadly, even with the excitement that comes with watching other people in tight shorts suffer, the time really goes by pretty slowly, I have to report. I went out today for my Sunday long ride and the 100 minutes flew by compared to the marathon 110 minutes I struggled through last night on the trainer.

Here’s a shot from this afternoon along the fast and smooth D999. Sorry about the clouds. The weather gets pretty bad in Le Sud in winter 😉


1. Riding on an indoor trainer is hard, there’s no question about it. I’m getting a much more concentrated workout that I have been on the road. Of course there is no substitute for the many challenges of real roads, but just in terms of fitness it seems to be more beneficial. I’m a slacker at heart, so I haven’t figured out if this is good or bad.

I know I’m missing a lot, so if any of you have anything to add to this new, stationary world, comment away!


January 9, 2012. This could be old news to some of you, but I thought I’d share it anyhow. Cycling Weekly has put out an overview article on the two Etapes next year, with two more, taking each one in more detail. Find the main article here. The other two can be found from that first article, but here is Act One and Act Two, if you want to skip ahead.


January 5, 2012. Life can be ironic sometimes. I moved to France to ride the open road, but where did I find myself pedaling today?

In The corner of my living room.

Here’s what happened.  See, last year I shaved my legs and from that point on I started doing all sorts of odd things, like using the word ‘fartlek’ more in one year than really should be necessary, or having meaningful conversations on the relative merits of chamois cream brands.

Recently, you’ll remember that I received a heart rate monitor and cadence thingamajig. Now, the transformation is complete and I guess I can be officially considered ‘a cyclist’. An indoor trainer came in the mail this morning.

Yes, there is the little matter of doing the actual training that Coach Rob has prescribed, but looks are important and having a bicycle taking up a good portion of your living space must be considered impressive.

I already have some things to say about this new contraption, but I’ll save that for another article. Until then, if you have any favorite cycling videos you’d like to recommend, I find I have lots of viewing time these days!


December 13, 2011. Today I started my training for my two 2012 Etapes by doing an Anaerobic Threshold Test on the bike. Now, I don’t want to get too technical – mainly because I can’t – but your AT (AKA Lactate Threshold) is the point during a hard effort at which there is more lactate being produced by your body than your blood stream can carry away, i.e. you get a build-up of the stuff and then you feel The Burn. Essentially, going above this threshold signals the end of whatever you are doing (e.g. climbing a hill hard) because you just can’t stay above that line long. You either need to cut back or very quickly ride yourself into a throbbing, heaving speed bump.

Finding this threshold is important because one of the goals of training will be to push that threshold up higher and therefore be able to produce more power at the same HR (or something like that…I’m still new, so be kind). It’s also used to find your training zones (along with resting heart rate and other factors). These zones are key to successful training because each zone (a ‘block’ of heart rate, e.g. 154-164: my Zone 3) trains a different energy system in the body and smart coaches (or smart athletes) will know which zones to be working in, according to the time of the season, your objectives, etc. I was doing this last year, but without the aid of a HR monitor.

So, without further ado, I give you my AT Test. The middle two ‘laps’ are the test and the first and last, warm-up and warm-down. My AT is 176, that is, the heart rate I can hold for 20 or 30 minutes without puking up a lung. The test, by the by, is simple (and can be viewed on Coach Rob’s page of great training advice): after a suitable warm-up, do a 20-min ride at the pace explained above (just below the ‘red line’) and average your heart rate over the last 10 minutes.

Training Result 13.12.2011 14:16.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go and apologize to my knee for the beating I gave it today.


Nov 23, 2011. Tim Marsh, a mad, multi-tasking (he’s got more websites than I can count) Aussie cyclist, has an Etapes du Tour 2012 Survival Guide e-book over at VeloNomad. He’s ridden a few Etapes himself and his whole website is aimed at helping people travel to Europe and ride their bikes with as few hassles as possible. It might be a good resource to have if this is your first Etape du Tour or you’d like advice on logistics and such. Click here to view more details


Nov 17, 2011. Well, the results are in and they aren’t pretty. You might remember I did a little poll last month, asking readers to suggest which Etape du Tour I should do next year. Unsurprisingly, since ‘both’ was on the poll, 65.63% of my blog ‘friends’ went with that. 12.5% suggested I do only Act Two (in the Pyrenees) and a measly 9.38% wanted me to enter only the Alps race (Act One). Interestingly, 12.5% came out as ‘other’, which I’d love to know about, but there is no indication as to what it could mean.

Therefore, at exactly 12 noon today I (and about 14,000 others, I gather) started the long process of getting registered for both long, arduous, and just plain scary races. I think I was lucky to be in there quick because it only took 30 or 40 minutes of windows crashing to get mine done. Others weren’t as fortunate and the Etape server completely crashed sometime around 2pm.

Question: haven’t these people been running the Etape for decades and hasn’t it always been extremely popular? I don’t need any answer, by the way.

Anyway, that’s out of the way. If anyone who reads this is still on the fence I would suggest getting off soon. Both Etapes will fill up pretty fast.

Nov 11, 2011.

If you are and endurance reader of my blog you may remember that late last year I assessed various issues that I had going before embarking on my first Etape journey. Age was one, which couldn’t be solved unfortunately; weight was another, and that one I did pretty well with; the last one was a knee problem that had nagged me for years and had gotten worse over time. After x-rays and an MRI it was concluded that I had the beginnings of osteoarthritis, a degenerative disease that seems to be all too common with athletes.

My overweight, chain-smoking sports doctor (he also has a most worrying nervous twitch), after wading through my poor French, figured out that I really wanted to do something about this problem, and after seeing the tan line on my legs he started taking me seriously (“Ah, it’s true, you ARE a cyclist!).

What he prescribed was a treatment of Viscosupplementation, which involves 3 weekly shots (into the knee) of  hyaluronic acid. Sorry to repeat an early article, but I’m getting to my point soon enough.

After the 3-week treatment my pain virtually disappeared and, as is always the case with such things, I totally forgot I ever had a problem. For the first time in years I could push as hard with my left knee and with my right – pretty important for racing, I thought.

Well, it was never meant to last forever and it didn’t. Around the beginning of September I started feeling vague pains in the knee, and now I’m nearly back to where I was before the treatment.

What I want to say about all this is; this treatment really works miracles, at least for me (my doctor said it’s more effective in the beginning stages of osteoarthritis), and I’ll gladly fork out the couple hundred Euros it will cost for my next round of shots, which, if I wait till December, should get me through my 2012 season pain free. I just hope he can control that twitch for 3 more injections…

Oct 29, 2011. Now that the results are basically in on which Etape(s) readers would like to see me do (unsurprisingly nearly everyone voted for BOTH), I thought it might be an idea to find out which ones you are thinking about.

Please vote then comment (after you vote you’ll see ‘comment’ on the bottom) on why you settled on one or the other, or both.

Oct 23, 2011. Still over three weeks before any of us can even register, but all the hotel rooms in Albertville (Act One) are booked out! I’ve just managed to get one in a suburb of Pau (Act Two), but otherwise that city is totally reserved as well.

I had this same problem last year (but in November), so I’d suggest getting on it if you have any hopes of getting a place to crash anywhere near the start (or probably finish) of either Etape.

Comments are welcome and may be helpful to anybody else reading this.


Oct 22, 2011. Act II of next year’s Etape du Tour is from Pau to Luchon, in the Atlantic Pyrenees. From the very beginning of the announcement of the Tour de France route there’s been talk of this stage being ‘classic’. I even used the word, not really knowing what I meant (this, I assure you, is not the first time). Since it looks like I’ll be doing this stage in 2012 (unless my poll takes a drastically different turn) I thought I’d look into how ‘classic’ this route was anyway.

First off Pau-Luchon has been used no less than 20 times in the Tour de France, with the first time being in 1930. A certain Alfredo Binda won that inaugural stage. Binda was one of the best pre-War riders and won the Tour of Italy 5 times, along with the 3 World Championships. Never won the Tour de France, at least not as a rider.

The stage must have been popular with somebody because the Tour wasted little time in bringing it back – the next year…and the one after that, too!

It was brought back from ’35 to ’38 before WWII brought a halt to cycling activities. Well, most cycling activities.

The first Tour de France after the war was run in 1947 and Luchon-Pau (they flip-flop the stage depending on which way the Tour is headed in a given year) was again on the route.

In 1949 the TdF had national teams competing and the Italians had two of the best cyclists in the world at the time, Gino Bartali and Fausto Coppi. This Tour, which of course included our ‘classic’ stage, saw Coppi beating Bartali (who came 2nd) under the direction of none other than Alfredo Binda, Italy’s Directeur Sportif.

Fast forward to 1954 and Pau-Luchon played an important role in the Tour’s overall outcome. On this punishing stage, with a strong attack by a rider named Bauvin distancing all the favorites, Louison Bobet was the only one of them to counter attack, limiting his losses to Bauvin (who found himself in the yellow jersey after the stage) and taking time on all his main rivals. This would be Bobet’s 2nd of three Tours, the first to accomplish this feat.

Then there’s 1956, 1960, 1961 (the year the great Jacques Anquetil won his 1st Tour), 1964 (the year the great Jacques Anquetil won his 5th Tour!), 1966, and 1967, which takes us up to my lifetime! In 1972 the best rider ever to wear tight shorts won the Pau-Luchon stage (and the Tour of course) – Eddy Merckx.

The stage was again included in the 1973 Tour de France, but then gets forgotten for 25 years somehow, only to reappear in 1998, the year Marco Pantani won his Tour and, more importantly for the sport, the year the lid was ripped off the secret-society of doping in the peloton – The Festina Affair. 

Then, organizers turned their glance from the stage again, waiting 12 years to include it again. This Tour, which would be the final swan song for Lance Armstrong, had a Frenchman,Pierrick Fredrigo, wining the stage into Paul.

I’m glad I took the time to do this little experiment; at least I now know what ‘classic’ really means. The only question remains is, will I be classically beaten to a pulp on this stage, or will I finish in classic style (for me, that’d be on the bike, I think)?


Oct 20, 2011. A month before registration even opens and all the hotels in Albertville are booked out! I remember this game all too well from last year, so I am going to see what I can come up with near the start of both ‘Acts’ over the next few days.

If this is your first Etape think carefully about the logistics of this. If you are solo with no car you’ll have many more headaches than if you come with a buddy and have an extra driver to ferry you around.

Still though, in general I think it’s a good idea to be near the start (as opposed to the finish), since it’s a very early morning and you’ll probably want a decent night’s sleep. Good luck, and if you have any tips on good places to stay, I’m all ears!


Oct 19, 2011. Next year’s two Etapes du Tour have just been put up on their website. Here is what we are looking at:

Act One (Alps): Sunday, July 8th. Albertville – La Toussuire-Les Sybelles (Stage 11 of next year’s TdF).

Act One is, as the French translation says, ‘dense’ with mountains; similar to Act 1 in 2011, but longer and with more climbing. It is a relatively short stage, at 140 km, but will cross 4 Alpine passes (Madeleine, GlandonCroix de Fer, Mollard) before a mountain finish at the ski resort of La Toussuire-Les Sybelles.

This is a map I made up based on the towns the Etape site lists along the route. It is probably very close to reality, but there could be some errors.

Act Two (Pyrenees):Saturday, July 14th. Pau – Bagnères de Luchon (Stage 16 of next year’s TdF)

Act Two is a monster and will most likely be an important stage in next year’s Tour. At nearly 200 km long, with 4 of the most famous climbs in the Pyrenees (Aubisque, Tourmalet, Aspin, Peyresourde), this stage is, without a doubt, a classic.

This is a map I made up based on the towns the Etape site lists along the route. It is probably very close to reality, but there could be some errors.

*Registrations for both Act One and Act Two start on November 17th at noon. Be quick, they get gobbled up quickly!

I haven’t had time to digest it yet, but even though I said I’d do the one in the Pyrenees this year, the distance scares me a little. I’m still leaning towards it though and, if I’m not a complete wuss, I might even try for two!

Anybody care to share their thoughts?

5 thoughts on “Etape du Tour 2012

  1. Gerry: I think your route for Act 1 is not right. I stayed in a Gite very near Col du Mollard the night before last year’s Act 1, and I don’t think they will go down the very narrow, twisty D80, but instead take the D110 on the left side leaving Albiez-Montrond. Either way, these are very technical descents, about 100 times more difficult than Galibier. But the area is great.

    I am wishing to go back, but I need someone to handle logistics on the French side. Patterson Etapes?

    • Thanks, Jack. I had no idea about that area and just winged it. There certainly won’t be much recovery time after that last descent – looks likes you turn around in St. Jean and start back up the final climb. Legs won’t like that.

      Strange you should talk about logistics. I was just thinking I should expand my infant guided ride business here to include some for the Etape. Probably not this year though, since I want to do them both myself. If I were smart I would though, considering the logistical nightmare I know it will be again, i.e. there is definitely a market!

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