L’Etape du Tour – 110 days to go: Romme in winter, happiness in the summer?

L’Etape du Tour, the most iconic of mass-participation cycling events, will be celebrating its 25th edition in 2018 – with the demanding 10th stage of the Tour de France from Annecy to Le Grand Bornand. Claude, one of the founders of routeandroots.com (and of L’Etape in 1993), has promised to be on the start line on July 8 and to see it through to the end. Even though he’s planning to take it easy – more tortoise than hare – there’s still no guarantee of making it to the finish line. Since December, he has been taking time out between training rides to talk about his hopes and his plans for the big event.March 19. It’s Sunday. Two days before the official start of spring and two weeks before Easter. Yesterday, Vincenzo Nibali wan a great Milan-San Remo. And like the rest of the riders, it’s 110 days to go to L’Etape du Tour. I’m in my part of Brittany, the south, an area that L’Etape, dedicated to mountains, will probably never visit. It was all very well checking the forecasts, thinking I could somehow find a window of opportunity for a decent ride during all that winter weather – like some experienced navigator poring over his charts. No chance. A snowstorm is raging over the high ground of Quimper on this training day, March 19, 2018. And after two hours in the saddle, I’m exhausted – my shoulders are aching, my back is bent, and my head is telling me that I’m just not prepared for all this…Springtime. That’s all I have left now for any real preparation – by the time we’re into the summer it will be too late. Getting into better physical shape means covering another 3,000 or 4,000 kilometers as a bare minimum. I’ve absolutely got to lose a few kilos. How many of you reading this, and who will aldo be riding the L’Etape, are having the same doubts as me? How many of you are worried that you haven’t done enough? When I started training, it seemed like bad weather was determined to follow me around – rain, biting winds and snow. My bad luck, I guess. But it’s meant that I haven’t managed to do enough kilometers. And I’m a little too embarrassed to reveal just how many I have covered.

And yet, the idea of getting on the bike and riding in conditions like these, despite the fact that it’s too difficult for me, is still an exciting one. The important thing is to make sure you’re well covered, and have the kind of patience needed to climb the Glières or the Colombière on July 8. I’m still enthusiastic about it all, even after seeing on social media the (impressive) profile of the last major section – before the joys of tackling Le Grand Bornand.Of course, the preparation is also about indoor training. A good workout, with dance music booming out, is a useful supplement to the training schedule. But it’s only a supplement. One day, I decided to take a 20-second video of me working out, to the max. Afterward, I listened to the way I was panting – the hoarse sound of an out-of-breath sportsman who hadn’t done their training – and it came as something of a shock. I deleted the video.Cheer up, though; everything will go better next week, next month. Next summer? You have to believe it. But it means getting hold of my calendar and crossing out the Paris-Roubaix Challenge on April 7 – I’ll put myself through that ordeal on the cobblestones next year. Then I remember that I promised to do the Time Megève-Mont Blanc on June 3 and the 3,000-meter elevation of the Medio Fondo version, which is one hell of a challenge. Meanwhile, I need to make sure I take every opportunity when I’m on the bike, in town, to get my legs and my heart pumping. I’ve got to keep focusing on the objective, the whole time.

110 days to go. The temperatures are forecast to rise. You have to keep believing, and find the time to do more training. Like February 6, when I stubbornly attacked the Col de Romme in the Alps with a gear ratio of 30×23 – only to discover that it was too hard on the legs in my present condition. In the depths of winter, it was a strange feeling to see Cluses, at the foot of the climb, from so far up after just two kilometers. The road is so steep that you’re soon high up, which is a big advantage. To be honest though, I only reached the halfway stage of the climb – at Nancy-les-Cluses, just at the end of the flat section, where we’ll be able to rest our weary legs, backs and hearts just for a few moments in July. But in the winter, before I got to the village, the water trickling off the rocks to the right of the road had been frozen solid and it was like cycling in a giant refrigerator. It’s hard to explain. But it felt really good to be there all the same, and to be taking on the elements. You’ve got to keep believing.For the next instalment, follow us on Instagarm @routeandroots. Next stop here, 90 days to go.