Stage 19, L’Etape du Tour Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne to La Toussuire, Sunday 19 July
When I read the big yellow sign by the side of the road saying “Even Contador’s legs are hurting” I had to chuckle. This was one of the motivational messages the Etape du Tour organisers came up with to get the riders push through the 6.5 – 10% climbs.
4,609 meters of climbs
4 challenging mountains
As you will see on Friday the 24th of July when the Tour de France riders race there, this is a stunning but brutal stage in the French Alps. Did I know this
when I bought a ticket in January? Nope. ☺
I also didn’t know how much time I could spend in France après the Denali climb when I started arranging flights etc so decided to
keep it a short flying trip. At 5.30am on Saturday bike in the box, gels piled in my hold luggage and with a friend, we headed to Gatwick to fly to Geneva. Things went pretty smoothly until we got into heavy traffic in the rental car on our way to the race village at the finish line in La Toussuire but fear not we tucked into our pre-made power pasta dish my friend made the night before. Getting to village was quite exciting; we had to drive up the last hill I was going to do the day after on bike. Surely it’s a different route up?!
Just when we got there and parked the car, heavens opened and started chucking down. Still had to register, get my race pack and put the bike together and once we were sorted we didn’t hang around for too long, still had a 40min ride to find the chalet I booked. I was quite restless that night and only slept a couple of hours but Sunday morning I felt fresh like a daisy!
My starting time was 7.56am but wanted to make sure I was there as early as I could to find a decent spot in the pen. Thought the organisers did a great job letting 15,000 cyclists safely through the start! There wasn’t much time to warm up the legs before Col de Chaussy, almost straight into (well up on) hill number one, a 15.4km climb with average gradient at 6.3%. Despite a lower back pain which developed half way up I really enjoyed the first challenge and couldn’t wait for the sprint, this also meant first climb and descent out of the way. Riding downhill felt it was never
going to end but I guess if you cycle up a hill there’s only one way down!
After a 30km flat-ish part the route started curling up again, through cute little villages first. I asked for the time from a fellow rider who admitted he came back the third time to conquer Col du Glandon and Col de la Crox de Fer, the two peaks latter at 2067m. This was also roughly the time when rain was due but somehow the temperature was getting higher and the sky bluer. It was obvious then we were going to have a fab day. It helped mentally as I prepared for rain and wet roads (the weather forecast predicted heavy rain and thunderstorms even a day before!) I needed to think positively as my back was giving me a pretty hard time during this climb. I had no chance but to get off the bike and stretch my back, jump back on the bike and continue up the hill. I started seeing riders walking by the side of the road with their machines and I knew I would only do that if I was really very desperate. And then suddenly, about 5km from the top my bike felt as light as a feather, back pain gone and legs went into racing mode. I got to the top of both Glandon and Crox de Fer sprinting on the climb overtaking bunch of riders. Absolutely loved it.
© copyright 2021 by Alexandra Nemeth