Just over 1 month has passed now since our latest Gorilla adventure and what another mega one it was…Here’s a few blogs from everyone on their own experience of the holiday and of course the epic Etape ride….Thanks for giving your time to right these, I’ve enjoyed reading them and if I’m honest, They made me a little emotional at times too.
Steve ‘Beagle’ Burton (me)
Here we are again, back in the French Alps living the dream…So where did that year go? Flown by like a bat in the night… The sun is beating down on us and the endless winding mountain roads have our names on them. After a long, but fun ( kind of ) drive over from England ( Thanks Shad and Dunc for driving and Nick for the entertainment )
We got to our stunning chalet and home for the next week. Thanks to chalet girl Amy on another outstanding choice of venue. You’ll never loose this job.
Although I may loose my place on next years trip, my second night I got very drunk ( ln fact most nights, this one and the last night being my worst, or maybe best? depends who you ask ). Shouting YOU SLAAAAAG at full volume to Amy and Jo ( Gavin and Stacey style ) numerous times, was the topic of talk a breakfast. My memory seems to of lost all accounts of any of it ha ha. Amy’s rendition of my motivation talk to her scared me, hope I didn’t scare you Amy, sorry… The long drive to the top of col Madelaine didn’t do my hangover any favours, it was like driving up to the moon. Plus then I spent the whole descent solo and thinking I’d gone the wrong way. I need to ride faster to keep up! I completely surprised myself though and maybe the others too, on how well I rode the rest of the day. With this stunning ride ( taking in the Laces climb ) and the fantastic recce ride to check out the Norte-Dame-du-Pre climb and descent the day before, I remembered how much I love the Alps. The lovely café stop ( not the one at the top that was closed ) was spot on and the cola went down a treat .
The sign in on the Saturday just reminded us all how hot it was and was gonna be, sweat pouring my back and arse crack like a waterfall.
After a lot more drinking and tweaking my bike, thanks to Westie and Rich. I finally got it set up perfect and on the little ride to check it Westie, found my rhythm on the descents. With the event looming the following day this left me buzzing to crack on.
up at 4:45am, a smooth drive over and perfect parking by Stig, I mean Shad, we get In the starting pen with plenty of time to spare. We’re all laughing and joking, on the outside very calm but deep down all wanting to beat each other to the finish. Rich moved up to our pen from pen 2, so it’s Rich, Dai, me, Westie and Dunc in pen 3 or Gorilla kitted out and ready for action.
Before we knew it we were approaching the start line. As it was time cross the timing mat we all hold off wanting to be the last to over it, Gasman style. Then I reckon someone whipped Rich’s arse like a race horse. I hear the telling whistle he does which means ” Get a move on and jump on the Watson train! ” Man we dominated and destroyed everyone, Gorilla power. That changed on any slight incline though ha ha. At the start of the Roseland climb we did our own thing. I knew I needed to try to get away as I’m a lot slower on the descents but I also needed to be sensible and not get carried away. I know what your thinking “sensible and me doesn’t fit” I must be getting old or something. I did pull away a little though and Westie joined me a couple of times. After the flattish bit at the top they passed me just as we pass the feed station and the start of the descent. They flew passed with the Watson whistle, a bloke obstructed me as he left the feed station and I missed the wheel and had said goodbye to the team. Billy no mates from now on. To my surprise I totally smashed the next 2 descents, hit just shy of 50 mph and found a proper love for descending. I found the second climb fairly easy too and was absolutely loving it. Westie was just leaving the feed station at the bottom of Val Thorens ( the last monster climb ) as I entered it, he said he’d see me up the road. He did and passed him a few miles up the road, he said he’d blown, so I carried on. My left foot was absolutely killing me now, swelling from the heat but I decided to ignore it and deal with it at St Martin feed station. After a painful few miles I was relieved to be at the feed station where I took my shoe off to massage my foot. I’d past Rich a mile before this, he looked fine but also said he’d blown. I was bloody hot and loads of people was laying on the sides of the road, was very tempting to join them. Later I learnt that many had been took to hospital including Nick W. He mad a quick recovery and soon recovered enough to ride the road back to the chalet, had us all worried there mate. After St Martin my ride changed as the pain in my foot got worse,the heat, exhaustion, pain and did I mention pain? man alive that was a mission to keep going. My pace and power had dropped big time, so many people sat and laid out on the side…I just wanted to join them but the race was still on…Rich and Westie was still behind unless they’d skipped the feed station and was in front…Not to mention Shad, Nick and the others still chasing me down too…The show must go on! and on and on and on and on…Talk about the never-ending bloody story… I finally made it to Val Thorens the crowds cheering everyone past, not that they haven’t been all the way but this time it means more, a lot more…My emotions are high I start to smile again, I’m holding the tears back and bursting with pride. Then a downhill through the town yay! a downhill finish I’m buzzing now, new energy. Hang on! what’s this the dirty B”£$!%^& an uphill to the finish NOOOOOOO! I try to sprint but nearly pass out ( the attitude and exhaustion is too much ) I can’t let the crowds down so I dig deep and pass a couple of people and nearly pass out again.
Best feeling ever crossing that line and was pleased to be helped off my bike. After wading through the crowd of exhausted and broken people I get a bottle of water, some slices of melon and a beer. I then grab my drop bag from stall 2 and for a minute or two I started to believe I was first to finish. Had I passed Dunc? how stupid was I? must of been suffering from the sun. He was sat chilling on the grass waiting, so I joined him and that’s what we both did, we chilled and greeting everyone back one by one, sat on this beautiful mountain in the sun, the helicopter landing and taking off occasionally, flying close past us to give the wow factor and extra excitement.
David had a bit of medical attention after finishing and I think he just me to give him a warm up cuddle. Martin spewed up everywhere and I mean everywhere. This day defiantly showed me how tough we all are and maybe a little bit mental. Another day and week that’ll be with me forever and I’ll never get bored of talking about it. So many great things to say but in Westie style I’ll bullet point a few of my favourite.
-Hitting 49.8 mph and finding a love for descending ( happened on race day ) and passing more people by far than passed me.
-Getting cramp all over my body at the top of Val Thorens.
-Having my chain come off at 30+mph on a descent .
-Eating 9 bananas in one day.
-Listening to music at the chalet while getting pissed and talking rubbish.
-Getting my holiday present off Nick.
-Beating Rich and Westie ( will never happen again )
-Collecting all my friends safely and seeing there emotions as they compute what they’ve achieved.
-The ride to fetch the van. Loved this day and especially the two beers in Albertville, they tasted amazing, felt as good as the beers on my first day 3 years ago. Could of sat there all day.
-Descending off a 2000m mountain with a stinking hangover.
-Shad slinging the van into random spots to park.
-Running from the toilet at the euro tunnel as Shad drove through the barrier.
- Most of all Hanging with great friends that I don’t spend nearly enough time with.
A few words on the Etape: Etape 2019. This was my second Etape. I had trained much less for this one, so on the big day I set out to enjoy it. I kept my numbers low, well within my comfort zone, and it worked … almost!!!! Climbs 1 & 2 were fantastic, I loved every minute. Took some time to take in the views … and even stopping (occasionally I thought but my total stoppage time indicates that I should say frequently) to take some photos
… oh and to drink my coffee and my tea flasks (aka my Yop drinking yogurt bottles) … yes, I really did!!! I had a cup of (black cold – well sun heated) tea under the trees near the bottom of the 3rd climb. I chose the spot specifically as I remembered over heating about 1km after that point as I had climbed this a few days prior … at that point I also checked my WhatsApp messages; I was sad to read that Nick was feeling unwell. I looked for Jo and thought she was not far behind so took a few minutes to do some tracking … I decided to set off again and check again at St Martin. Still feeling great at that point, I decided to up the power numbers a little … and that was probably my big mistake! By the time I got the Les Ménuires I was struggling to cool myself down. I checked Find my Friends and realised Rich has finished … so I called for my motivational talk and got on my bike again. The last 10-15 km were very tough … but I now cannot remember anything about them … erased from my memory it would seem, just like childbirth!!! I felt strangely emotional riding up through Val Thorens, almost like “coming home” as we had skied there several times as a family. I somehow found enough energy to sprint across the line. Rich met me with a beaming smile and lifted my bike over the barriers and handed me a beer. What a husband!! And what a great day. Tough but a fantastic sense of achievement. The event itself was also the culmination of a brilliant week with friends. Like minded people all drawn together by a desire to push themselves to their limits, whilst having loads of fun and banter and keeping everything in perspective. Gorillas are brilliant and I feel privileged to be part of such a fabulous group.
The annual French cycling adventure was finally upon the Gorilla’s. After plenty of training over the winter, spring and early summer it was time to enjoy peddling in the French alps. Spending time cycling and debriefing with mates is the best bit. With a number firmly cable-tied to my bike and pinned to my jersey it was time to see if the legs would work.
Having realised that it was going to be a tough route from our recon rides during the week and with the extreme heat, I knew on the first climb that my legs hadn’t turned up. But using the ‘Beagle-mental-strength’ I wasn’t going to give up. I adjusted my goals and knew if I kept peddling I’d make it to the end. We all started in different pens so it was quite nice to meet Mr Young on the final climb and also be caught by Metronome. But what really made my day was getting towed by the British National Champion Alice Barnes.
It’s a good reminder that there’s only so much you can prepare and it’s comes down to what happens on the day. Sometimes it goes to plan and sometimes it doesn’t. The heat really impacted some of the Gorilla crew and it was a bit scary at times. Sitting around drinking beer and eating peanuts with everyone back at the chalet was the best way to end a full-on ride. We all set ourselves goals and targets but it’s good to remember that it’s just another bike ride and there’s always another one. Here’s to the next adventure.
Well here we are a year on… the same faces, the same tells and bluffs. It’s the night before the A race of 2019. We’re all trying hard not to drink toooo much red wine 🍷(some doing better than others). A few of us are doing cheeky shots of electrolyte and hiding well like seasonal pros 😀 by 9pm all the bs is oozing out, what pen, what groups, friend or foe, hard or soft. It’s funny whenever I set the alarm to wake me up – I never need it. Boooom I’m up awake & turn my alarm off 30 mins before it goes off 🤪. Go go go… Coffee coffee coffee… Christ I hope I can have a (P)apa (O)scar (O)scar before I leave the chalet. Few – dropped the kids off at the pool, showered, and applied udder butter *2. Got my kit on – gorilla green and white, I look in the mirror and thought you’re gorgeous and beagle knows it. Quick trip in the Shad bus to Albertville – he f^^king nailed the navigation did it all on is own you know!! Bikes unloaded… From memory it’s not only bears that sh1t in the woods? (Shad / Amy). Gentle ride to the start pen listening to Air – zero7 & morcheeba. We grouped David, Westie, Beagle, Watie and myself and loaded into the start line to AC/DC thunder (or something similar) we Almost came to a track start waiting for everyone to cross the start line together (marginal gains watie😀). We crossed the start line and the Watson express train was off – all aboard hang on for dear life. First climb beagle and westie we’re out front, we all grouped over the first climb and the decent was amazing (if I’m honest I was on the limit – brakes honking). The second climb was over quickly and before I could blink we were approaching Moûtiers. I hit the bottom of the final climb at 4h20 (brilliant I was going to finish in the 6h something timings) just 32km to go. 15 mins later 31km to go, it was hot hot hot. Udder butter dried out, inner chimp coming out to play. Hardest climb in a long time and every opportunity to dunk my head in water I took. The last 5km took forever before the final 500 metre brutal finish. Collected medal a couple of beers and found a grassy spot to lie down. Waited for physical and emotional Gorillas to complete the race. Beagle was amazing helping gorillas get from the finish to the grassy Mecca. I’ll remember everyone at the end, who had emptied the tank on the ride, and thinking at 2300m that the Gorilla troop are an awesome collective.
Mike (Shad) Williams
So, the day had finally arrived. 18 months of blood, sweat and tears had lead me to St-Jean-De-Bellville in an attempt to conquer L’Etape Du Tour 2019. 135km in length and almost 5000m of Alpine climbing to conquer. The Tour of Flanders, The Tour of the Peak, the mighty Dragon in Wales and a couple of weekends ago, the Marmotte, had all been conquered in preparation for this day. Each event attacked at race pace with a great bunch of similar minded lunatics.
Pre-race prep complete, I lined up in pen 7, ready to attempt to chase down a 30 minute head start the rest of team alcoholic had starting in race pen 3.
As usual the boys set off at pub ride pace – good news for my masterplan to have any chance of working and give me a chance of catching tired riders on the last hill, a brutal 32km climb up to Val Thorens.
Just like the Metronome, who was starting in pen 10, I had to push the first 20km on my own with little to no help coming from the other guys in my pen. Don’t panic, keep eating and push up the first hill! Made it at target power and pushed down the descent, never gone this fast downhill, shitting myself, feels like I’m in a game of Tron – riders and scenery flashing by at stupid speed – got to keep pushing….
Splash and dash in the third feed zone complete, feeling good and catching some of the quicker riders. Made it over the Col De Longfoy in good time and straight into the technical descent. I was feeling more comfortable on the tight corners than the long sweeping fast ones of earlier. Flashed past Dai who was trying to fix a puncture at the side of the road, pretty sure I heard him shout ‘I’m OK’ as I passed. Into the valley, I hoped on the back of a really fast group who towed me all the way into Moutiers. Hopefully the last stop for water, then attack the last climb. Where have my legs gone! Had to take it easy for the first 10km, how can this be taking so long! Need to push!! It is starting to get hot now, using more water than I wanted. Luckily a trough with beautiful fresh spring water came into view, quick stop and it was off again.
I must be catching them by now, through Menuires and I see 2 gorilla tops ahead – chase, chase, chase. Bloody hell, false alarm – keep the power up. Onto the steep part in the last 3 km, bliss I see Prof, normal drills, 500 watts to get past whilst taking a glug of water and trying to look cool, only to blow up 100 metres later. Where is Fatty, he can’t be far ahead – Please don’t let him beat me again, I could not take it J
Into my own private race to the top now, working hard with some bloke called Darren – overtaking as many people as we could. Through Val Thorens, down a short hill and then onto the 15% kicker to the end. Crossing the line. It did not feel real – I think the altitude must be getting to me, lightheaded and a little nauseous, however I finished the race stood on my own 2 feet for once.
Extremely proud of my transition from fat, beer swilling, occasional cyclist to skinny, beer swilling, serious cyclist. And I could not have done it without the best bunch of mates a bloke could ask for.
Right where can I get beer from!
Woke up – bike and kit all ready so no worries there. Just brekkie and pack the car and pump up tyres!
After parking up I said goodbye to Amy and made my way to the own with beagle – forever the calming influence! I was in a good place but I’d had a hard couple of days beforehand worrying about my fitness, my bike and my back. Too much had been going on in my head – but I was here now and I could reset. I thought I would start steady and build from there. Mood in the pen was good and I felt bad that Amy was on her own in pen 4 . I was excited when we got through the line – but there wasn’t time for sightseeing as it was all go. Prof pulling us along the street at 25mph dodging cyclists and manholes. We were soon into the first incline and I knew this was it the start of the 40k of mostly up hill to the Cormet du Roseland. The guys were on it and I knew it was hot power. I was reading 230w approx. This was too much and I decided that 200 was max for me. I saw them quickly slip off into the distance… who knows I may catch up . We climbed and climbed and at first I was getting passed constantly, but as the miles went by less people came past. As we got near the top I felt good and I was passing others – it was stunning up there. I saw a water fountain – but my plan was to last till Bourg saint Maurice. As we started to descend I was cautious but then got into it – not totally going for it but reasonably quick passing others topping out at 53mph. I filled up at Bourg with new electrolyte and was off. All good. The rolling sections were uneventful but I tried to do as little as possible but still ended up working quite a bit. Into the col du Longefoy. A shortish punchy hill. As we crested I knew that there was more to do to get to Notre-Dame-du-Pré – another 200m but no bother. I went straight through Notre dame – past the nice café and prepared for the technical descent. I knew I would be good here – get down quickly but safely. I started well passing people, braking hard. The next 10 mins flew and I thought I’ve done well – I’m quick and no punctures and then WOW. I’d been going too hard. The front of the bike was out of control coming into one of the last corners. I’d punctured. I put my feet down to steady the bike and made it to a stop on a corner with no issues. Disappointment but no panic 10 mins lost I thought! I set my bike down and took the wheel off – a chap then nearly rode into me 🤦🏻♂️. I sorted him out and looked at my wheel – the tube was only partially deflated – but I’d forgotten my extender – realisation (oh shit). Do I really not have it? Slight panic – broke my tyre leavers – still couldn’t get tyre off. I asked a mechanic bike but they didn’t have one. I resigned to walking when a guy walking past with his bike had one! Legend. I then saw shad go past About 15-20 mins after I stopped. I thought I had been doing well – bummer. A quick change – gather my thoughts and I was off. I then lost my head. I went hard – pulling everyone down the motorway. I then by mistake went through the water stop – I filled up with isostar. I started the climb and I felt bad. I hadn’t realised how near the line my performance was to this point – going at higher power for 10 mins or so had destroyed me. My back was hurting bad again. After 15 mins I had to stop and walk it off for 2 mins. ‘Cmon David’ was a voice. It was metro and Amy – going ok. I got back on and rode it off I had caught up with Amy near to joining the main road and then I was really spent 40-50% power was all I had. It was going to be a long day. I got to St Martin. I had to get off again and the heat was searing!! I got back on then off near the water stop. This continued for the next couple of hours. Will I finish?
I got to the bridge – yes. Keep going. I was so HOT. I got to the start of the last 5 hairpins – and was off again. Filled a bottle from the stream – I had to drink a bit. It tasted great and I had Gasmans words (it’ll take 2 hours to get Ill ) so no worries. I got back into it – stopping at each corner. I got to VT. rolling through – please no more hills. Then the last part – Maggie passed me flying!! I cramped up my whole leg. I got off 100 m from the line. Am I conscious? Stood near the crowd looking for Amy. I got back on – crawling over the line. I got off, just! The lady with the medal spoke to me – I think asking me if I was ok. I can’t remember. I got to Amy who took my bike – destroyed but happy to finish.
Reflections – I wasn’t on form Etape week, But I was going well on the day until a series of things went wrong. I couldn’t help the heat – nor could anyone else. I think (!) I could’ve shaved 45 mins off my time if not more if things had gone to plan but who knows. I’ve learned loads again and can’t wait for the next challenge.
Friday set the tone. Arrived Thursday night, desperate to get on the long hills, Friday with Rich Emma and Nick down to Moutiers up Longfoy – lovely climb. feeling good about life, nice lunch then down. “We’re on the route now” – finding my descending form – slowly though. Then down to the valley and it hits you. Into a big headwind down the motorway – its hot. But I like the heat don’t I? It’ll be fine. Through Moutiers and there it is a sharp right and onto the climb and it hits you – intense pulsing brooding heat coming off the tarmac off the cliffs and the other side of the valley no wind, shady spots getting smaller and further away. It doesn’t let you go. Everyone sensible taking it real easy. Me not so sensible but still this is going to take ages. A few k’s in then it kicks up 8%/8%/8%. Hang on I thought this was a 5.5% easy one? God that’s only 6k gone.
Up and up feels like 40 degrees, painfully slow across the glaring gaps where there are no trees – desperate for the next lot of shade. I stopped in one. A guy rode past me. “Are you OK?” in English. “yes yes I’m fine” Am I? Grind on. k’s pass slowly and eventually a descent. Hooray!! Normally I don’t like losing the height but this felt like heaven. Down – cooling off to the junction. St Martin’s 2.5k away – should be OK. Bigger road not much respite grinding up the 6% – jeez this is unpleasant – lorries thundering up – rough road surface. I am suffering now. I don’t like this. Then suddenly a pack of gorillas flying down the road. Just about get my wits together to wave at the last one – Amy.
And then – now what? Turn around– bet everyone else went straight to the chalet. Tempting. I get back on the bike and keep grinding uphill. A few steep switchbacks through the village and I find the café. Off the bike quick and slump in a shady chair – staring dumbly at the red and white table cloth. Coca SVP. Merci. And I am thinking – that was only half the climb and I did having done only half the distance and I am feeling shit. And then the small voice inside me “Can you do this?” Shut up. Down the coke, ride down to the chalet for beers fun night and forget about it – but not completely.
I used to row boats. Big competitions. Intense. Felt like important, big races. Culmination of months of intense training. Gotta execute it right. Bad nervous days and bad sleepless nights before, trying to control nerves, worrying, thinking – crew playing off on one another – everyone coping with it differently. Not pleasant. Never really had that cycling. Except now. Weird day. Too much thinking, not enough drinking. That voice was there “Can you do this?” Look obsessively at the weather. Is it going to be as hot? Will we get some cloud? When will I get to Moutiers? Earlier than yesterday – should be OK – shouldn’t it? Oh come on lets get on with it. Have a beer. That’s better. Gorilla after
The big day
Its here. Tick all the things off that didn’t go wrong. Woke up – tick. Drive down to Albertville – tick. Shad finds a wondrously good parking spot- tick. Didn’t leave my shoes and helmet behind – tick. My bike works – tick. Toilets – tick. All good. Everyone splits to pens. Can’t find Shad – must be at the front. See Maggy behind me (only time all day!) – get a selfie with her.
Into the pen and then a lot of standing around. An hour later through the start – it’s a great start – made me smile with the music. And off. Thank god. First few k’s gently uphill – it goes on for 20k. And that small voice making me ride real slow. I’m a 7000. Some 8000s come past and then some 9000s. Then it goes down hill.
Should get on a train. Try to but its not working. What’s wrong – power high speed low. Weird. I stop convinced a brake pad is rubbing. It isn’t. Damn. I’m just slow or something. Finally onto Cormet de Roseland. Shady and beautiful. Remember to look around. Don’t kill yourself. I’m going really slow. Nick whizzes past wow he is moving fast but I am ok. I’m thinking about that last climb. I stop and take some photos at the lake
– not very gorilla of me but hey. I am enjoying this now. Last pull up to the summit feels good and I stop at the feed station. Someone told me that if you feel tired at the top of the 1st climb you’ve gone too hard. I don’t. Good. I get someone to take a photo of me
then see Emma go by. Better get on with it. That descent. Fantastic. And I went fast – for me. Even overtaking people which I rarely do. Wonderful all the way down. Loved it. Didn’t stop in Bourg and feeling strong along the valley. On to the Col to Longfoy. Get this over and then only one climb left. You’ve cracked it! “No you haven’t” said the little voice. Its getting warmer and I start to obsess about the water trough in the village where we had lunch Friday. How many times did I look at the map? And I still forgot that from the top of the climb there’s another 5k to get there. Damn. Eventually there. Lovely lady marshalling the trough. Dunk head in. Helmet full of cold water. Drink. Go. Down. So much faster than Friday. Fantastic. Somehow easier with more people on the road. Feeling good. And then the valley. Its not that late. Its cooler than Friday. feeling Ok and I push on down the
motorway to Moutiers catching some groups and getting a tow. I’ll have another stop at the feed in Moutiers. Turn left in town and then into the feed station. Chaos. Crowded. Suddenly not thinking straight. Where the hell are the bananas? Can’t find them. Jeez its hot down here. Wow a potato and salt. Shove it down. Too much salt. Can’t face much else. Gels it is then. Full up with warm water and go. Here it comes. Big crowd at the bottom. Turn right Cheering. Bravo! What’s that bloke doing riding the wrong way
down the road? Brain slow. Shit he already finished and came down. Wow. I spend 2k trying to work out whether I feel better or worse then Friday. Better I think – no, about the same. Damn. Take it easy. Lets do this. And then the 8% s again. And this time they hit me hard. This is tough. Push that thought away. Switch back in the second 8% – this is steeper than I remember. Lots of people stopped. I stop for a bit. This is going to be long. Keep going. Lets set some small goals. Stop after the 3rd 8% k. That water trough on the descent before the junction. But before I get there – hosepipes. Yes! Fantastic – stop at every one. I make the junction and then climb to St Martin’s. 6k to Moutiers 16k to VT. Oh that’s not far. Yes it is. Shut up. Stop again in St Martin’s. Come out of the feed stop straight into 7%. Another one. Is this going to relent? Yes. A flat bit. Take a couple of
easy k’s and then a long drag up to Les Menuires. Isn’t there supposed to be some downhill around here somewhere. Stocktake. Legs. Shagged. Stomach. Not so good. Head OK. Power. Pathetic – must be overheating. Keep going. The downhill at last. What happens now? Is it easier? I stop under the bridge. Not feeling so good. But a lot of people aren’t either. And then what seems like and endless set of 7% k’s. Wow each 100m is going past so slowly – spending too much time staring at my Wahoo. Come on. “Can you do this?” Yes. Shut up. Next few ks a blank except I finally see some Gorillas. Someone shouts come on at me coming down hill – it’s a Gorilla – who? Can’t tell – not with it Then later can’t remember when – stopped under another bridge – lots of stops now – Cazza goes past going well “You ok Martin?” Cant remember what I said back – something
ungracious I think – not really with it. Keep going. I reach the tunnel. 5k. We’re there. Except we aren’t. Come out of the tunnel. On a bit. Peddling slow. Look up left. Cyclists – all the way up there. Oh no. Small voice “this is going to be bad” Shut up. Keep going. Long switchbacks. Running out of water now and nowhere to get some. Pass a stream and think. I shouldn’t but everyone else is. I fill up and drink. Bet that was a bad idea. Keep going up and up. I’m getting there 2k. So slow – when’s it going to flatten. It does I’m in VT. Why isn’t the finish here? Bastards. Down and up. God. Steep. Cramp. Come on 200m to go. Over the line. Can’t really get off the bike. Someone grabs it. I manage
to get off and stand up. Someone says keep walking. I should be elated. I am not. And then I find out what is really important about this. And its nothing to do with finishing a bike ride. Steve is suddenly there– give me your bike. Ill hold it. Go there for a beer. Then come back wobbly. I drink a little bit. Steve helps me over to where Gorillas are. Hey congratulations well done high five. Rich looks at me. Sit down. No lie down. Get the blanket. Lie under it. Wow I don’t feel good. I drink some more beer. Bad plan. I try water. Also bad plan. I hear about Dave., Nick. And all the day’s stories. Great achievements and hard days. I go and be sick. I am broken. Someone gives me water.
Rich makes me put dry clothes on. Dave holds me when I puke. Westie puts down a beer and drives up through shit traffic to come and get me. God you guys are great. I am emotional. Even writing this.
The next day
A great day. We celebrate. Cycling is wonderful. Being with friends is more wonderful.
The morning of the Etape was a strange one waking up to the car doors slamming as the rest of the Gorillas departed. A quiet breakfast for 2 with before setting off to join the stream of cars heading to Albertiville. After an hour and half wait in our pen (which was very frustrating knowing that all the other Gorillas were well into their ride) we were finally off. Once over the start line it felt good to be cycling at last. I was determined to stick to my numbers and was being overtook but also doing my fair share of overtaking. Alarm set on my garmin to eat every 20 minutes – not eating enough has been my undoing on many rides.
Loved the first climb taking it steady and having a long chat with a fellow brit (who had been off alcohol for 2 weeks in preparation – clearly not a Gorilla!) although the heat was building most of this climb was in the shade which was a relief The first descent was a fast one and I felt frustrated with myself for not being more free with the speed at the top but I improved as the descent went on. Luckily at the feed stop I heard my name being shouted and Nick was there to hand me water, so a quick refill and a shoe release as my toes had begun to hurt and I was off.
The second climb started to show on some riders and I was able to overtake quite a few but things got a bit congested in places where to road narrowed so I had to pick a line I could get through the group. The heat had really increased and I easily emptied my water bottles. By the time I got to the top the toe cramp had got the best of me and once again luckily Nick was at the top to give me a toe massage. The second descent was brilliant (we had ridden it during the week so I knew what to expect) 26 hairpins which I really enjoyed which was followed by a lovely run into Moutiers with Nick and another guy setting the pace. We had to stop at the feed station at the base of the last climb to fill up water bottles – it was crazy busy but in the heat of the day was an important refill. Both Nick and I agreed we felt really good at this point and ready to tackle the final 20 mile climb. This is when things all went a bit wrong – there were so many cyclists on the road and people were struggling so you felt uneasy, lots of cyclists were walking and due to the heat were laying on the side of the road I saw a coupe of cyclist just fall off their bikes without warning. 3 miles in Nick decided to up his pace to try and clear the masses a little – this was a big mistake as he massively overheated and had to stop. Unfortunately he didn’t improve despite me tipping water over him and finding a little bit of shade. Luckily an ambulance came past and after giving him the once over decided it was ride over for him .
So after a 45 minute stop I was on my way again to try and meet up with him at the first aid tent at St Martin not realizing I had overtaken the ambulance as they had to keep stopping to help other cyclists. I spent a worrying 15 mins trying to locate him and being told he had most likely been taken to a hospital at Les Menuirs further up on the climb so I was off again. My mind at this point was definitely not on riding and I stopped repeatedly to try and contact Nick. Finally I received a call from him to say he was absolutely fine and I continued on the ride trying to enjoy it until the dreaded toe cramp came back in both feet making the last part of the riding very unpleasant. Once at Val Thorens I thought I was at the end but a final 1 km climb was to be tackled before the finish – it took a lot not to get off to relieve the cramp but finally I reached the finish line with Beagle and Duncan there to cheer me, take my bike give me cuddles and beer as the shoes came off and the cramp finally left me.
Joining the rest of the Gorillas with hugs and support from all and hearing about their own rides was a fantastic moment and makes you realise how lucky you are to be part of an amazing group.
L’Etape 2019 du Tour
Preparations had been made, endless lists checked and double checked. We had gone over everything with Amy and David who were brilliant at imparting their knowledge and previous experiences. It was a hot day and the flags and bunting were gently waving in a light breeze, parking the car was easier than expected. The time had come to:- Tackle the French Supermarket. Catering for 12 hungry and VERY thirsty cyclists was going to being probably the biggest challenge of the forthcoming week.
Amy – Chalet Girl
David – Chancellor (T-Rex)
Mike – Shad
Rich – Prof
Emma – Mrs Prof
Nick – Metronome
Duncan – Shunc or Dunce
Caroline – Cazza
Mark – Westie
Steve – Beagle
Martin – Pinball (don’t ask)
Jo – my Jo-Jo, too gorgeous for a nickname and
These 13 are the very lucky cast of a week long social experiment, very similar to Love Island in many respects but in a chalet in the beautiful French Alps all doing what we enjoy most, drinking, I mean cycling and socialising, all with a great group of people I am proud to call friends.
We had bombed down to the Alps on the Monday to make the most of the time. 150 miles of delays in England, A14, M25, Dartford Crossing. Under the Channel then 550 of lovely French motorway tarmac, clear all the way. We made great time and arrived in the evening to a very welcome beer and cold Rose thrust into our hands by Amy and David who had also prepared a cracking evening meal. We were shown around what was to become our home for the next week and Amy had done us proud, the chalet was superb. Unpack and into bed early, ready to tackle the busy week ahead.
Tuesday – Get the bikes assembled as quickly as possible and get out to explore a little in the beautiful sun filled French Alps where you can understand where the the phrase fresh as mountain air comes from. Amy and David led us up to the very beautiful and picturesque town of St Martin de Belleville where they had sussed out a great little bar/restaurant in the town square the previous day. Amy had formed a great relationship with one of the waitresses and for the rest of the week this was our regular haunt with Amy receiving one, two and would have been three kisses (French style) is she hadn’t have left here hanging. The pizzas we had were great and definitely made with a bit of extra French love.
From there we decided to have a little pootle up to see the final finish line in Val Torens (dammit VT – another euro in the pot).
VT alt. 2365m, the highest Ski resort in Europe and the finish line for Sunday’s main event, though at this point it seemed an age away. We climbed steadily drinking in the amazing landscape that unfurled around like some amazing travel brochure. A quick stop in Les Menuires for a well deserved Coke and then onwards and upwards at a sedate pace, all of us wanting to save our legs and work our way into things gently.
Time for a supermarket sweep in Carrefour filling 2 large trollies with all the essentials, 1664 beers (that’s the brand not the quantity, though not far different) and then back to the chalet to make a homemade chilli con carne before the Tranny from England arrives. That’s not Lily Savage but a Transit van with the next wave of thirsty etapers in it.
Beer? Go on then
Wednesday- We break into two groups and we head off to practice the technical decent of the Norte-Dame-du-Pre with its 21 steepish switch backs and then head up towards half way up VT to discover part of the Sunday Etape route. I love the way the French stack their wood (that’s not a euphemism by the way) and no holiday wood be complete with a photo in front of a wood stack. St Jean de Belleville in the distance.
Westie arrives that evening.
A short French stubby one? Not Toulouse Lautrec but a small beer. Go on then
Thursday – A big day if you wanted it, Les Lacetes, Col de Chaussy, then Col de Madeleine. I opted for the soft option missing out the last climb of the Col de Madeleine. However I could not miss the opportunity to descend the Col de Madeleine. 12 miles of superb down with some sections of the blackest, stickiest French tarmac you could ever wish for. I love Les Lacetes climb, or The Laces and you can see why it is called this as it is like someone had threaded their boot with a lace. It always amazes me in France how some Francois would say (in French accent) ‘I ‘ave un bon idea, let’s build a rue up this vertical cliff face and then in a hundred years time we race the push velo up it’
Rich, Emma and Martin arrive later that afternoon. Nearly a full house
Beer? Go on then, rude not to.
Friday – Getting close now to the big day now and everyone’s thoughts are starting to focus on Sunday. Today we opted for a gentle little ride up to St Martin de Belleville to our favourite little restaurant in the centre of town.
Later. Beer? Go on then.
Saturday – Etape Eve. Never had 13 such clean bikes been seen together. Loads of faffing. Lots of talk about; what pen are you in? Will you drop back to join XYZ? How are we going to get there? How many cars will need? It was like planning a Normandy landing. Jo and I had realised very early on that with being in pen 14 and an 8.45 start time a lot of the others would be nearly finishing before we started. But hey we got an extra hour lie in bed. That morning we were woken by the others leaving and looking out the window at that time of the morning, still night but the sense that dawn was about to break, there was a steady procession of tail lights heading down the valley. The funny thing was when we left later we met a steady procession of the same cars coming back up the mountain all with dutiful wives driving.
We arrived in Albertville probably a little early than required and had a long wait until our start time. One PortaLoo per thousand anxious and worried cyclists was interesting to say the least.
The time came when we to shuffle slowly down into the starting area draped with bunting and then listen to a rousing and motivating presentation before the sounder goes to be off.
It was good to get going at last and the legs turning, both Jo and I had agreed to stick to our numbers. Others were going by us but we weren’t concerned as both of us felt good and it’s amazing how many were reigned back in after climbing for a while. I loved the first climb, Cormet de Roseland, Alt 1968m, with the road snaking around the reservoir with its bright blue water reflecting off the sky on this stunning July day. We didn’t hang around at the top, straight over and what a descent! Very fast all the way down into Bourg Saint Maurice. A quick take on of liquids there and then on the go again on the way up to Notre Dame du Pre. Jo was suffering with bad cramp in her feet, so we stopped at the summit and I gave Jo a foot massage and it seemed to ease. The technical descent with its twenty six hairpins we had already practiced earlier in the week so we knew what to expect and we flew down with only one person overtaking me as we followed one of the security motorbikes down, slower on the corners, faster on the straights. Then the dual carriageway into Moûtiers, we had said earlier though very tempting to gun it, previous experience of this stretch was a strong headwind so we said we would tuck in and conserve our energy. So what did we do, we gunned it, no body wanted to work except one bloke and we had a bit of fun heading down. Looking back this could have been the first part of my undoing. We stop at the last feed station before the final climb. I found the feed stops though very busy better that bottles of water were ready to collect rather than having to queue to get your bottles refilled. We mastered a fine art, I would get the feed stop grab what was required then back to find Jo and top up all our needs. This time I trapped a large bottle of full fat Coke and gulped some down and filled my second bidon, always good a bit of flat coke to see you through. Into the last climb and from the side we here some Brits shout ‘come on Gorillas’ which surprised me but it’s amazing the effect a little support gives you. That is something that is great about the Gorilla kit, it is really noticeable. Not long into the last climb it became apparent that we were going to have to take it careful and concentrate really hard. The first few kilometres had some tough sections of 10% plus gradients and the road narrowed, this is where the carnage started. Weather* it was just me but it felt hot, it was about 3.00 pm and the sun had been beating down on the road for a good few hours, this reflected up, there was no breeze, and I started feel a little uncomfortable. Just in front of me someone’s peddle stokes became a little erratic and you think to yourself ‘there is no way you can continue going up this slope with a cadence like that’ and plop, down he goes right in front of me. I manage to miss him, but then there is his mate who shouts back at him to see ‘are you alright XYZ? Which is perfectly fine and understandable but he stops and manoeuvres his bike into 90 degrees of the flow of us climbing, I just manage to get round him avoiding second narrow disaster. By now it was apparent that the road was just not wide enough for everything that was going on. There were a number things going on, we had noticed an increasing number of contestants cycling back down the climb, obviously decided that it was too tough and heading back into Moûtiers, these on the left of our climb up. We then had the abundant number of walkers, these were then split into 2 groups, walkers on the left and walkers on the right. Why? I can only presume that walkers on the right were French and were doing it correctly and the walkers on the left were Brits who also thought they were doing it correctly but were not in fucking England. There was obviously the slower climbers and the slightly faster ones that wanted to overtake, then there were the ambulances and the motorbikes going by. All of this made for some congestion at times, I tried to get passed and find some clear road and Jo said I was pushing on a bit hard, though I wanted to get out of this melee. This act was definitely my downfall. I started to feel distant and feint, my temperature was rising and I could not get it down and I had to pull over. I found a safe gap and pulled over. Jo stopped as well and I remember not really being able to get off my bike. We found a little shade next to someone else lying on the side of the road. I couldn’t lift my arms or string a coherent sentence together and Jo was starting to get a bit worried. Jo kept pouring water over head and back trying to get my temperature down. I had managed to stop her phoning the emergency number a couple of times as I really wanted to finish but after about 30 mins I still wasn’t coming back round and with the bloke next to us throwing up she decided totally correctly to flag down a passing ambulance. The paramedics took my blood pressure, heart rate and a blood sample to see if I needed to go onto a drip, they helped me into the ambulance, took out a lock and locked my bike up and left it on the side of the road. Game over. I insisted Jo should carry on. In the ambulance I was give a large handful of ice. Wow this was the best thing! why couldn’t I have had this sooner, if I had, I am sure that would have got my temperature down and I might have been able to continue. If I had been offered a drug at that moment that would have got me going , I would have taken it as I really wanted to complete it. That woulda have been cheating I know but you can really see in a moment like that how easily it could happen. In reality ice was all I needed. After 45 minutes I felt fine but obviously I could not continue, we were making our way up the mountain and my bike was down the mountain, left there for someone to hopefully pick up later, the finer details of how this was all going to happen were a bit sketchy especially with the language barrier. We passed Jo on the way up which I was pleased to see. The ambulance driver came sooo close to knocking people off their bikes but it seemed we stopped every few meters to look after some other poor soul. The ambulance was full. No more room but still they stopped to help some poor victim. It took nearly 2 hours to get to the temporary makeshift outside hospital at St Martin de Belleville, unbeknown to me, Jo had reached this point before me and was concerned when she couldn’t find me there. Shortly after arriving at St Martin they closed the road for all riders at 5.10, I only hoped Jo had made it, not knowing as I hadn’t seen her. Around 6.00 pm, thankfully, and by some amazing organisation my bike arrived, I had actually given up hope that I would ever see it again. I was given the all clear to leave and I trundled back to the chalet. When I got back a quick check on find my friends find everyone still at the top of VT. It was great to see that Jo had made it. Later when everyone returned I learnt of the problems that others had experienced.
The following day was great to talk over the previous day and analyse what went wrong. Was it pushing too hard down into Moûtiers? Was it pushing too hard to try and get by the carnage? Was it wearing a back support which kept the heat in? Was it lack of training? To answer this it was probably all these things. When catching up on some of the days Tour de France I noted with interest that they were all given blocks of ice to put on the backs of their necks.
The following day we ventured up to our favourite bar for a bite to eat. I felt good and was determined to complete what I was unable to finish the previous day. After lunch I mentioned I was going on the extra 20 odd kms up to VT and to my surprise Rich and David both said they would join me. It always amazes and humbles me the friendship that this Gorilla group has. Long may it continue and long may I get invited to join in such adventures.
Nick (the not quite so good Nick) White.
L’Etape…this is one of those events that I was pleased to see the end. When I looked back I can say that I really enjoyed it, it was very challenging and took me to places that I have not been before (mentally), also it made me appreciate that I need to learn new skills. Will I do it again? Hell…yes.