Should I ride in the Etape du Tour?
A question thousands ask themselves every October. The answer is probably “yes”, I’ll explain why here. The Etape du Tour and the Tour du France are organised by the same people. ASO (Amaury Sport Organisation), ASO organises a dozen or so huge events (Paris-Roubaix, Critérium du Dauphiné and the Vuelta amongst others).
They partially release the route for the Tour du France for the forthcoming year in October. The stage that will be used for the Etape is announced on the same day. Generally they choose the “Queen stage“, the hardest day on the tour. If you are interested then you probably have a month or so to sign up. In 2015 the 15,000 places where all allocated by the end of December.
There are lots of reasons not to sign up. I guess that’s the same with any big sporting event. It is easy to think of excuses not to go.
- I’m not fit enough.
- It’s too big, you’ve heard of terrible queues and holdups.
- It’s dangerous, you are surrounded by thousands of wannabe bike racers who probably aren’t safe in a group.
- The logistics and expense are too much.
Not being fit enough is probably the weakest reason not to go and the best reason to give it a try. True, it is a hard day out. Generally not harder than any other Grand Fondo in the world though. Between 120km and 170km and with between 2,000m and 4,000m of climbing. The winners often complete the course in 4hrs and the last arrivals in around 10hrs. There are various “cut offs” along the course where the organisers will insist you stop if you are riding too slowly.
In general this equates to an average speed of 14km/hr. It is definitely not an event that you should consider turning up at and “having a go” without doing the training. Thousands of people realise this every year. Of the two Etape’s I have taken part in 25% did not turn up in 2016 and 30% in 2012. I suspect they will have realised they had bitten off more than they can chew!
The fact that this has 15,000 people entering is a daunting. I have done plenty of Gran Fondo’s and normally the participants are measured in the hundreds and not the thousands. I have heard all sorts of rumours about being forced to walk because of heavy traffic, massive queues getting to the event, holdups because of crashes. I’ve been fearful of these things myself. In the two Etape du Tour’s I have entered I have not come across anything like this.
The organisation has always been exceptional. You would imagine there might be issues but I have not seen them. I’m sure they exist but they are the exception rather than the rule. The start is staggered. The fastest riders set off first (7am) and then tranches of 1000 will set off every 7.5 min from then on until almost 9am. When you enter they will ask you for an estimated time to complete the event. They will try and use this to put you in the relevant “pen”. If you put “I just want to finish” they’ll put you at the back. If you desperately want to ride with a friend and you find yourself split up then don’t stress, there is some discretion at the start.
Cycling comes with dangers. Cycling over the Alps or Pyrenees comes with extra hazards. The long steep and twisting descents add issues. The weather often plays its part too. In my experience you’ll have to deal with all sorts of cold and rain whilst training and on the day will be faced with a heat wave. There are crashes and if you are involved they will hurt. I’m pretty sure most of the crashes are caused due to user error though, not other riders. Not all but most. If you don’t want to “mix it up” with the boy racers it’s easy to back off and find some space.
Remember the whole road is closed so you have twice as much tarmac to play with compared to normal. You will see plenty of crashes and lots of medical staff helping out. But then there are thousands of riders and thousands of chances to fall off. The guys in the Tour de France crash much more often than people taking part in these events!
I think the entry fee was about 100€. For this you get closed roads, an incredibly well organised event, a nice medal (if you finish), a hat or a t-shirt or something like that. In 2016 a rucksack of sorts. 3 feeding and watering stations and 4 extra water stops. There is even sports drink available if that is what you are in to. At the start there is coffee and Madeleine cake and a pasta party at the finish. Saying that I have never been able to face eating at the finish. The smaller events cost less but are not better value. They do tend to be circuits though which makes your own personal logistics much easier to organise.
The fact that most Etape’s are “point to point” does add a big logistical issue. The organisers do arrange plenty of buses on the day and the days before too. Saying that a support car and a willing driver would help immensely. There are plenty of large organisations that will sort things out for you too. Ranging from a weeks holiday, rental bikes, top spec hotels, exclusive support during the ride for up to $5k or camping at the start and riding back after (there are plenty that do that!).
I’ve not spoken to anyone who has not been immensely impressed with the Etape de Tour. The organisation, the route and the atmosphere. So stop thinking of reasons not to do it and get on and ride!