My adventure in the French Alps: L’etape du tour

I always wanted to know how it feels to be part of something like the Tour de France, and be honest – Which cycling noob doesn’t want to be?! So when SKODA and their We Love Cycling project asked me to take part in the L’etape du tour, I didn’t hesitate.

Saturday, hell day..
You may or may not know I’m the worst planner in the world. Thank God my boyfriend always plans our travels or we would never see the plane or even get to our destination. – I always get lost on training too (yes even with GPS), so that says a lot . I left on Saturday, and showed some of my worst planning skills so far in my young life. Although I’m not that bad at math, I miscalculated time. I arrived at the airport at 08:35 AM and my plane left at 09:20 AM. When I looked to the left, the line where I was supposed to be in (to check my bags in) 2 hrs earlier, was longer than Rapunzels hair.

The only thing I was thinking at that moment was, shit BERTON are u kidding yourself. I had to put my sweetest face on, go to the manager and ask if I could skip the line and go directly to the plane. LUCKILY they let me do that (guess i have a sweetpotatoe face LOL), checked in, dropped my bike at the right spot, and checked my hand luggage in, all in less than 25 min, RECORD TIME – My stress level was going through the roof and I never ran that hard (even not when I did athletics and was doing a 800m sprint finish).

Okay bad beginnings don’t mean bad endings… Landed safely in Geneva and had a warm welcome from the SKODA and We love Cycling team. Went to my room and struggled to put my bike together, okay I admit, if there has something to be done to my bike, my boyfriend does it (yes yes spoiled little brat). But I did it with the help from a teammate.

We had a meeting a few hours later with the whole Skoda team. We received our kits from the amazing paralympic athlete Jiri Jezek (you should see what he has accomplished, it’s awesome, a true inspiration! Even besides the bike, the way he and his wife are a team is just great) and were off for an easy spin of an hour (easy,, they don’t know what easy is cause nothing is flat over there).

After a good shower we headed off to dinner and had a meeting about L’etape. 4000 elevation gain, 170km, and 35 degrees was the menu for Sunday. Early start 06:37 AM that meant awake at 03:30 AM, breakfast at 04:00 AM leaving at 04:20 AM. Okay din din, prepping and sleeping it was! 

Sunday Funday!!
As I’m no early bird, the early start didn’t play a part in being and feeling good on the bike. Left with the bus to the start and waited, waited, waited until it was 06:37 time to start my adventure. What an amazing atmosphere, so many cyclists, so many bikes and so many smiles! Suddenly we hear the speaker counting down, 1,2,3 GOOOOO! Goosebumps and off I went. Due to my racing skills I was in no time in front of my group, already a 1000 cyclist started their adventure some minutes before me! The incredible feeling of racing in a bunch that big, there are just no words to describe.

We started in Annecy such a beautiful and actually romantic little town near the French Alps. Along the water there are those beautiful cream coloured houses with balcony’s above, or towards the water, most of them had a lot of flowers on it. Many local people were standing on their balcony to watch the event kick off. The start was along the riverbed so the first 40k were flat. The cold couldn’t bother me cause I was enjoying every k of the ride (and i’m always cold).

I was pedalling in a group of 100 men at the front, and it felt really good to just enjoy the road and the views. Not needing to stop for cars, or being afraid that some drivers want to ride you off the road, ( yes many idiots don’t respect the 1m rule!), that felt great! I think we where all enjoying it a bit too much or some were just really tired because at one moment there were 3 roundabouts and someone slipped against me. No biggie! I was still standing straight and could go on without worries.

The first climb, Col de la Croix Fry 13k – avg 11% – 1477 alt:
I was thinking O GOD this is hard, but ok I can handle it it’s only 13k, 11% here we go. The first k’s were good i could follow the bunch and found a good smooth spinning cadence uphill. My teammate from SKODA WCL passed me and started filming my suffering face, I had to laugh and grasp for air at the same time! We passed a village called “Manigod”, Obviously a calm before the storm. The 3 k’s that followed afterwards were really hard. I’ve never seen those power numbers on my bike computer… I felt my legs burning and it was literally crawling uphill. People I didn’t know where cheering me towards the top. Once at the top the view was so amazing!  Imagine hills, beautiful nature and wooden cabins around you. It fills your heart with joy and brings some kind of peace. At the top I stopped because I didn’t find it normal that I had to push that hard to get to there… Then I saw that my brake was constantly pushing against my front wheel… Tried to open it, failed. On the info we got (sticker on my bike) I knew there was a bike post. They helped me and I could go on. I thought…

Downhill I went, brrrr freezing at 08 AM with only bibshorts and a jersey it was so cold. Also the fact I sweated my butt off to get to the top of that mountain didn’t make it any warmer! On the other hand I could lean in the corners with no worries because the whole course was car free! TOPSPEED 100 !!! I went all out and pedalled as hard as I could just to get warm!
Second climb, Col des Glières (the hardest one) 7.9k – avg 9% – 1440 alt:
After decending, it went straight up, it was like hitting a wall. You may or may not know that along the climbs there are these signs with how many K’s you still have to do, and at one point they were actually mentally breaking me down a bit. I was suffering so bad, pushing and giving it all i got and all i gained was some meters.. It felt like forever, it felt more than 100 K instead of the 7.9k it actually was. The hard part was that we started with 15% section and although i’m not a bad climber that’s more for power people. I managed, kept saying to myself ” the views at the top are worth it, keep pushing, just don’t stop”. At one point I just had to stop, I was thinking to myself why is this so hard, how do these pro athletes do this sh*t for 21 days this is just not possible. And yeap my brake was, again, stuck to my front wheel… Every time I had to brake it kept standing in the same position. GREAT, isn’t it already hard enough?! At the top there was a 1k gravel section and some dream views. I kept saying that it is just worth the suffering! Stopped for some food and drinks.
During the day the temperature was rising, at 10 AM it was already 28 degrees.. I had two bottles of 750ml with me and they were empty after two climbs and only 95K so imagine how the people were pushing and pulling just to get some water or sports nutrition. Like kids in school we were shuffling in lines and waiting until the volunteers were able to refill and reboost our energy. Off I went again, 52 k’s with almost no climbs at least not that steep as the previous ones. trying to give my legs some rest. Groups that rode to fast for me passed me. Till I found my group, there is a group and level for everyone. We passed these little villages were people were cheering you on “bravo bravo les filles”, clapping their hands, blowing whistles it was amazing. This is what the TDF riders have everyday. I never had to the chance to enjoy the support of so many people who don’t know me. In women’s races there aren’t many supporters, most of them are family but never outsiders decide to go and watch a women’s race. That’s what makes the public so small. This event was an eyeopener of how it could be for us..
Third climb, Col de Romme (my favorite) 9.3K – avg 8.7% 1300 alt:
132k’s passed en we were off for another round of Climbing. I Felt that the energy was running out of my body. I never rode this slow, I just had to save the little energy I had left for the last climb. If you looked up, you could see the leaps the other riders already made. This climb was my favourite because it was gradually divided. Once at the top I just let my bike do the work downhill I had to stop so many times to set my break again in the right position that my legs felt like rubbish from the starting and the stopping. I in’t came this far to quit, I wanted to get to the finish line. I could’ve easily turned back to the start at the beginning, or call someone from the Skoda team to pic me up, or just go with a motor rider but i just wouldn’t give in. If my bike doesn’t want to work with me i’ll work with what I have. Let myself down in a haze and even before I realised, I was already Climbing again.
Fourth climb Col de la Colombière (Road to hell) :
Only 7 more k’s to go. I was constantly mentally pepping myself up. “just push easy you’ve come this far after this climb you are done, just some more descending and you finished this one.” That all I wanted after giving and pushing myself to the limit. On the mountain top there was a wooden cabin, if you reach that you reached the top. It was like a fata morgana, further and further away. It was literally like a road to hell.
The sun was giving the best of herself. Climbing in 35 degrees is hard let alone after already 150K’s. I almost cried when I got to the top. I suffered so hard the last 25k’s. I had no energy, cramps everywhere. My back was sore from pushing and climbing all day. The decent was a relief as you can see in my picture. By the finish I was empty I had nothing left every vain in my body asked me to stop riding but i just kept going.

When I finished the race i said ‘never again’. But the dream views and the satisfaction of finishing makes it worth the hard journey. Although i had to push twice as hard and it asked more energy than I’ve possibly could imagine I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.  I would pick a bike designed for climbing, more like a Ridley Liz or Aura. The lighter, the better.

This was all possible thanks to the good care of SKODA and the WLC team, they provided us with everything you can think of. The team vibe was amazing! The team did great, everyone finished, even the ones who didn’t believe in their own possibilities, some did even better than expected! This is a race you should take part of, because it brings you to a higher level of cyclist/rider. If you can finish a ride as hard as this one, you have the feeling you can do almost everything. You get to know yourself, mentally and physically. I’ve never done something this hard, I’ve never had to push myself to a barrier at this level. I know the next time i’m racing and thinking O GOD this is hard, it will remind me of this L’etape and it won’t feel as hard as this did.

If you want to have an impression of  L’etappe, look at the video Cameron Jeffers made on YouTube, link below. He was one of my teammates during L’etappe. He finished this of as 40th, starting in the second group, imagine what he would’ve accomplished if he started in the first group..

1 Comment

  • Great writeup! Exciting tour! What an enjoyable read...

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