L’etape du tour 2006 ( By Anthony Wheatley)
To avoid repeating this endlessly you can read it instead and stop when you get bored.
In a nutshell:-
Gap to Alpe D’Heuz 191.1 Km (118.75 miles), 3 alpine climbs with a total of 3500 metres of climbing (11500 feet).
7548 riders started, 5477 riders finished. Bruce finished in 5247th place, 10 minutes before elimination time. I only made it to 114 miles and did the last few in an ambulance.
If you want to know more read on…………
Race started , Bruce and I crossed the start line at , it was already warm an early indication it was going to be a hot and sweaty day on the bike.
Bruce arrived at the first feed control (36 miles) a few minutes ahead of me, we both took it easy on this flattish section, (to save ourselves for later) which in hindsight was a mistake. You had to walk 10 minutes to the feed control because of the bottleneck of riders and then had to fight your way to the food tables – it was absolute chaos. By the time we had eaten we were only 15 minutes ahead of elimination time.
5 miles of easy riding before starting the 15 mile climb of Col de L’isoard. Knew I needed to eat more but couldn’t due to the climb and the heat – daren’t stop until the top. Struggled up the last few switchbacks with the onset of the ‘knock’. Reached the col and the drink station had run out of water !!!!! Riders were emptying bins trying to find partially full water bottles.
Very dangerous descent to food control at Briancon (66 miles), met up with Bruce who was 5 minutes ahead of me.
To get to the food tables you had to fight through the ‘rugby scrum’ of riders. Sandwiches had run out and they were busy making more – 10 or so sandwiches appeared and about 50 arms reached out for them. I didn’t get one, missed out on the next lot and the next, then finally I grabbed one, all the time the clock was ticking. Trying to stuff my face as quickly as possible, 20 minutes until elimination was called out, I was quickly on my bike.
Started climbing the Col de Lautaret, passing lots of riders, but with 10 miles left of this 18 mile climb was violently sick and things started going badly wrong. Stopped several times, couldn’t hold any food down, pace dropped.
Elimination time was fast approaching but the col wasn’t.
Reached the col at , 10 minutes before elimination. Looking back there were masses of riders that wouldn’t get here in time. Bought 3 cans of coke to try and keep me going in place of solid food. Left 5 minutes ahead of elimination and hundreds of riders were still lying around with no sign of attempting to get back on their bikes.
24 mile descent to the last food control at the foot of the gruelling climb to Alpe D’Huez. Only 8 minutes to spare before this control closed and I would be put on the broom wagon – not a moment to lose. The control was chaos, hoped to get some power gels to get me up the climb – none left, all gone, along with the oranges, bananas, sandwiches etc. All I could get hold of was power bars, I tried eating one of these and was sick almost immediately. Worse still the bottled water had run out. They were taking your bidons away to a tap and filling them up. Bidons filled and crossed the elimination line with 1 minute to spare.
Glad not to see Bruce at this control at least one of us had a chance of getting a medal (Bruce left here at , 15 minutes ahead of elimination).
We were told the next day that the temperature at the bottom of the climb was around 40 Deg C, www.etape.org.uk reckons it was 44 ! Bruce who likes the heat even found it too hot, and had to take a short rest on every one of the 21 hairpins to cool down. He told me later he thought about me, the heat kills me and he knew I was going suffer – how right he was. He did expect me to finish though.
Started the 9 mile / 3600 foot / 21 hairpin climb – had 2 hours to finish and get a medal, knew it was going to be tough, but I wouldn’t be stopped now, I would finish regardless (or so I thought). It was as hot as hell and between hairpin 19 and 18 I felt so faint I had to get off and sit down. Thought I was going to pass out, constantly sweating, couldn’t cool down. Medic on motorbike soon appeared, then an ambulance. They were trying to put me in the ambulance ! A polite argument ensued (from my sitting position on the tarmac). They fed me sugar cubes and water, checked my pulse, temperature, blood pressure and allowed me to continue, provided I walked.
I walked for a short distance, then got back on my bike, riders were lining the road, given up, waiting for the broom wagon. At about hairpin 12 whilst climbing out of the saddle, I cramped up in both legs – I stopped pedalling instantly, screamed out in pain and fell to the tarmac with my bike on top of me. A medic soon spotted me sprawled across the road and a second ambulance was summoned. I rested and started walking again (after another polite argument with the medics).
After passing hairpin number 8 I had to dismount and rest in the shade, I couldn’t see for sweat in my eyes and couldn’t breathe because of the heat, I lay on the tarmac trying to cool down, knowing that a medal was no longer possible. After 5 or so minutes of rest I attempted to get up and both legs cramped up, I screamed like a baby, rolling around on the tarmac in agony. Never having suffered from cramp I could never understand what all the fuss was about.
Another medic, another ambulance. Two nurses massaged my legs for what seemed an eternity. The plan was to get back on my bike once the cramp was gone. Upon trying to sit up the cramp returned, after several more rests, massages and attempts I realised I wasn’t going to stand up, let alone walk or cycle – it was all over, and I had to fight to hold back the tears. I was lifted onto a stretcher and for the first time in my life into an ambulance. I received oxygen whilst I was chauffeured the last 4 and a bit miles. I was sick whilst in the ambulance and upon entering the medical tent was put on firstly a saline drip and then a glucose drip.
I can’t begin to describe my feelings of disappointment and frustration at the time, I was however surrounded by plenty of other riders who must have been feeling the same.
The only other comments I have to make are;
To Bruce, well done on finishing in time and thanks for looking after me at the finish.
To the Home Office, the Etape should be compulsory punishment for young and first offenders. I’m sure most wouldn’t re-offend.
If you want to see our ugly mugs on the bike then go to www.letapedutour.com
Anthony Wheatley, Race number 6879