I have to say that my ride in the 2011 Étape du Tour from Modane to Alpe D’Huez was a pretty epic experience, the atmosphere was great, the weather was pretty much perfect and the scenery absolutely stunning, but it nearly didn’t happen!
The ride started off with a 15km slight downhill stretch from Modane to Saint Michele du Maurienne at an average speed of around 45kph before hitting the first of the days 3 climbs up the Col du Telegraph, around 12km at about 7%.
Following this was a short descent leading straight into an 18km climb up the Col du Galibier, again at a gradient of approximately 7% and topping out at an altitude of 2, 615 metres.
From the top of Galibier there was a much longer descent of about 45km arriving at Le Bourg d’Oisans before hitting up the first of the famous 21 hairpin bends of Alpe D’Huez.
I actually think I rode it all pretty well within myself and was also surprised how well I coped with the climbs and how many people I passed on them. Having never ridden on anything harder than a Category 3 climb, and mostly on hills no longer thean 2-3km long, it was hard for me to judge how to pace a ride which included a Cat 1 and 2 HC climbs.
Having said that the start pens, 12 of them in all, are in order of ability so the fastest riders begin in the first pen, the slowest in the last and, as I was in pen 10, I was amongst the slower riders.
There was also the altitude and, by the time I reached the Alpe, the heat. I found the last 4-5km of the Galibier quite mentally tough as well as the last few kilometres up Alpe D’Huez but physically I held up really and didn’t feel adversely affected by any of it.
The ride in numbers
- Distance: 113km
- Elevation Gain: 3,217m
- Time: 5:33:09
- Elapsed Time: 5:56:14
- Bananas: 3.5
- Alpe D’Huez: 1:24:15
- Start place: 8,169
- Finishing place: 2,598
- Scratch race: 3,217
And to think that with only few days left until the ride I was not going to be able to take part. A compulsory pre-requisite to entering the Étape is that you have a signed certificate from a doctor stating that there are no medical contraindications that would prevent you taking part in the ride.
With three weeks to go I had my appointment at the doctors and it was with some shock that I was diagnosed with hypertension meaning no certificate and no Étape.
I was sent for an ECG, blood tests and 24 hour blood pressure monitoring. Crucially I managed to get a cancellation for the blood pressure monitoring and the results for that came back OK as did the results for the blood tests. Essentially I get what is termed ‘Whit Coat Hypertension’, basically a fear of going to the doctors.
That still left the ECG which showed I had a ‘Probable Left Ventricular Hypertrophy’, essentially an enlarged heart muscle and often the result of having high blood pressure or cardiovascular disease.
A further test on the Friday before the Étape showed that I actually had what is referred to as ‘Athletic Heart Syndrome’. This means the heart has enlarged due to the intensive training I had been doing.
So, on the Friday afternoon, less than 3 days before the ride, I finally had a signed medical certificate in my hand. I can’t tell you the relief.