What to expect from the Etape du Tour

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Wed, 13/7/2016

The Etape du Tour is the closest an amateur cyclist can get to competing in the world’s greatest bike race, the Tour de France.

Each year a stage of The Tour is selected and 15,000 amateur riders are invited to compete on exactly the same route ridden by the professional. The Etape is always a high mountain stage and this year’s route snaked across the Alps from Megeve to Morzine, climbing three mountains on way – the Aravis, Colombiere and Joux Plane.  

I’m no stranger to the Etape, having ridden it three times, and knew what to expect. The route had been shortened a week prior to this year’s event due to a rock slide on the Col du Ramaz, but at 122km and with 3,000 metres of climbing it would still be a stiff challenge, even for the fittest of riders.

The race started with a 20km flat section before we hit the first climb, the Col de Aravis. As the road ramped up we got your first glimpse of Mont Blanc and the huge glaciers that sit below it. The views were spectacular and kept the mind from dwelling on the 7km grind to the top. We were warned of a tricky hair-pinned descent, but on closed roads you could still reach speeds of 70kph - always a welcome reward for a hard climb.

The temperature was already approaching 30 degrees by the time we reached the Col du Colombiere, a 12km alpine monster that rears its head from the town of Le Grand Bornand. The pros will climb this in just 40 minutes. It took me well over an hour.

After another incredible descent, groups of riders formed and raced across the valley floor for 40km before reaching the last mountain of the day. The atmosphere was brilliant - riders from all over the world, young and old, supporting each other to keep going.

The Joux Plane, tackled from the village of Samoens, has a fearsome reputation in Tour history and has been the undoing of many riders, including the now infamous Lance Armstrong. Often described as the ‘toughest climb in the Alps’, it starts as a 13% ramp doesn’t relent for 12km – crossing Alpine pastures before reaching its rocky summit 1700 metres above sea level.

It took me 70 minutes to reach the Joux Plane summit, remembering where I’d stood in 2006 to watch pro rider Floyd Landis crest the same climb eight minutes ahead of the peloton to win The Tour. The crowds on the climb, shouting encouragement to all riders and ringing cow bells were just brilliant.  

A fast descent now stood between riders and the finish line in Morzine. A 12km narrow road with few hairpins, it was possible to push speeds of up to 80kph to the outskirts of one of the prettiest ski villages in the Alps. Pro riders will top speeds of 100kph on this descent and it’s likely that this year’s Tour will be decided on road into Morzine. 

I finished in 5 hours and 29 minutes, two hours behind the winner - an ex-pro rider from Italy. The last rider completed the course in 10.33, a very long day and an amazing achievement.  

The Etape is always a tough ride but if you’re a keen cyclist and looking for a challenge then this is the event to do. The sense of occasion, organisation and support from other riders is second-to-none and it’s a great way to raise money for charities like Nordoff Robbins.

You can find more information on the Etape du Tour and you can also explore my Etape in more detail.  

Mark Frodsham

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