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L'Etape du Tour - What It Is and Why You Should Ride It
By Janna Trevisanut
Date: 12/7/2002
L'Etape du Tour - What It Is and Why You Should Ride It

By Doug Hurst

L'Etape du Tour. Literally translated means "A Stage of the Tour" and thatís pretty much exactly what it means practically as well. It's a sanctioned ride of one of the Tour de France mountain stages.


L'Etape du Tour is sponsored by Velo, France's leading cycling magazine. Velo has been sponsoring the "Etape" since 1993. The Etape is always a mountain stage and it's always difficult at best and impossible at worst. In hopes of whetting your appetite for the Etape, the profiles of some of the previous Etapes, as well as 2003's, are included below.





Impossible at worst he said? This is true. In the 2000 Etape, the wind was so strong, gusting to over 60 mph, that the police closed the course. Riders who didnít make it to the top of the Mont Ventoux early on were not allowed to continue.


This is a bit of speculation on my part, but my research shows that Etape stages are picked as much for how they fit the Tour de France schedule as they are for any other reason. The Etape is usually run on or near the second rest day for the Tour. The stage selected for the Etape is always one or two stages ahead of the Tour. For example, in 2001, the Etape was stage 14 of the Tour and took place on the rest day July 19. The Tour did stage 14 on July 22. In 2002, the Etape was stage 17 of the Tour and took place on the rest day of July 22. The Tour did stage 17 on July 26. There are good logistical reasons for this.

Many of the resources that would normally be tied up for the Tour can be used by the Etape because it falls on the rest day. The roads used for the Etape stage are completely closed just as they are for the Tour. Most of the barriers and advertising strips are up in anticipation of the Tourís arrival. The Etape has the same Mavic maintenance support and medical support as the Tour. If you crash and really break your bike up badly, Mavic will give you the same bike they would give a Tour rider to finish the stage. They also have wheels available for both Shimano and Campy equipped bikes. This is not to say you can ride the Etape with nothing but food in your jersey pockets. Iíll cover what you need to take in the third article in this series entitled "Doing L'Etape du Tour."

Why You Should Ride L'Etape du Tour

Itís probably presumptuous of me to tell you why you should ride this eventÖ but Iím going to anyway. For me, I can sum it all up in just a few names that are going to cause my spell checker to throw up.


"Coppi? Is that the one we followed in the Giro del Piemonte? The guy who is as skinny as an asparagus? He doesnít lack courage, Iíll give him that, but I think heís kind of fragile." Ė Gino Bartali, on his first impression of rival Fausto Coppi


"A rider has to go to his limits and beyond to win such a tour as the Giro, and then finds himself able to go even further in the Tour de France." Ė Jacques Anquetil


"I didnít have any typical teammates. There was no particular criteria. I refused to have any racers who were even rumored to be on drugs or steroids. I placed importance on spiritual and moral values. Those who are with me must possess an inner sense of the race, know when to fan out at the proper moment, when to control escapes without my intervention. I hate to give orders." Ė Eddy Merckx


"Thereís a terrible delight in watching a rival shrink without a trace." Ė Bernard Hinault


"Rightly or wrongly, riders are judged by how well they do in the Tour de France." Ė Greg Lemond


"Iím the reference point. If they beat me they win." Ė Miguel Indurain


"Today, I rode with the strength of two men." Ė Lance Armstrong, after winning a Tour de France stage to honor Fabio Casartelli two days after his death

When I crossed the summit of the Col du Tourmalet in 2001, I was beaten down, but at once I thought, "I might very well have just ridden through the wheel marks of Eddy Merckx." I saw the same tavern Iíd seen in Tour de France videos for years and years. Through the sleet, I looked back down into the valley toward La Mongie and felt a sense of accomplishment that Iíd never known before.

Look, my time riding these stages would make these champions laugh. This year it took me 7 hours 25 minutes to do stage 17 from Aime to Cluses. Dario Frigoís winning time was something like 4 hours 2 minutes. But thatís not the point. It seems to me that only having ridden the same stage or route can one fully appreciate the effort and talent required of these great champions. And remember youíll be riding just one stage of the Tour. The Tour riders are doing maybe 6 or so mountain stages plus the time trials and flat stages.

If you want the challenge of climbing, you could go to the Rockies or Sierras in the United States and climb higher and probably steeper ascentsÖ but it wonít be the same. You just wonít get the same feeling from it. No matter how much more severe it is as a physical and psychological test, it wonít be the route of the Tour. I see that the more I try to describe the feeling, the worse job Iím doing so Iíll stop trying. Itís indescribable! In fact, thatís me to the right feeling indescribable as I near the summit of the Col de la Colombiere this year.
Your reward for finishing the Etape will be a small bronze medal handed to you when you cross the finish line. Worth nothingÖ and everything. You can win a silver or gold medal if your time is fast enough. More on that in the third article to follow.


The next installment of this three article series will be Training For LíEtape du Tour,† followed by Doing LíEtape du Tour. Look for these soon.



The Quotable Cyclist Ė Bill Strickland (ISBN: 1-891369-27-X)

Read Part Two
Read Part Three

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