L’Étape, Oh Crap! – Part 1

Please give a warm welcome to our guest correspondent Gareth, my husband and chief typo spotter. I roped him into telling you about his crazyass cycling plans for 2012. Take it away, Doc!

Bloke and bike, recovering after a long ride.
Bloke and bike, recovering after a long ride.

I've been into bikes since I was a little kid. Anything with two wheels, with or without an engine. I've been riding bicycles from the age of four and motorbikes from fourteen.

When we were weans a bike was a huge part of our lives. We spent days racing each other, jumping over piles of bricks, jumping over other kids like stuntmen and generally hooning around. Sometimes we'd cruise around in pairs like the Californian dudes in the TV show CHiPs. There was much less traffic on the roads back then today so our parents were a bit more relaxed about letting us roam free.

My brother and I raced motocross bikes as teenagers (thanks dad, it must have cost you a fortune!) and I started mountain biking when I sold my motocross bike to raise some funds for university. Mountain biking is brilliant fun and, as long as you don't crash too often, a good way of keeping fit. It's a pretty chilled out sport with ample opportunities for mucking about and jumping over things like the big kids we've all grown into. We're really lucky in Scotland as we have amongst others the 7Stanes mountain bike centres which provide blue, red and black trails with obstacles ranging from easy to deranged!

I slowly became interested in road riding through watching the Tour de France on ITV4. Shauna and I had also made some new friends (hello Gillian and Jason) who were big time cyclists. After a bit of dithering I bought a road bike, a Specialized Allez Sport. It's nothing fancy but after riding a mountain bike for years this thing felt so fast and responsive that I was an instant road riding convert!

Gareth in a knights helmet at Greenwich Museum, because: "if you're going to put a picture of yourself on the internet you may as well use the one when you're wearing a cool helmet!"
Gareth in a knights helmet at Greenwich Museum, because: "if you're going to put a picture of yourself on the internet you may as well use the one when you're wearing a cool helmet!"

Road cycling has its own distinctive culture which to the relative newcomer such as myself seems to be based upon the art of suffering! Suffering is big in road cycling, the ability and willingness to suffer is a badge of honour. Pro cyclists have perfected the art of pretending to suffer in order to dupe their rivals into an misplaced state of relaxation or will strive to appear strong and relaxed whilst feeling like their legs and lungs are on fire. These tactics are used in order to try and gain an advantage on the beautiful and iconic climbs and mountain passes in the Alps and the Pyrenees during the Tour de France.

The names of the mountains sound so evocative and, well, so French: Alpe d'Huez, Col de Tourmalet, Col de Madelaine, Mont Ventoux. Many iconic cycling battles have been won and lost on these mountains, amazing athletes have lived and died. Sometimes when I'd ride up Cleish Hill or up the street back to our house I'd pretend I was leaving Cadel Evans et al in my dust up the slopes of the Galibier! When I watched the Tour on the telly with Shauna I'd say, "I wouldn't mind a go at that!".

Unfortunately about two months ago Shauna called my bluff! I've been given the opportunity to ride in the Etape du Tour which allows mere mortals to ride a stage of the Tour de France a couple of days ahead of the Pros. Shauna dared me and I couldn't look like a chicken, could I?

So, I appear to be entered into Acte 1 of the 2012 Etape du Tour!

The route is 140km or 87 miles up four(!) mountains. Proper mountains. In the French Alps. We don't have Alps in Scotland. And it's never 40 degrees celcius in Scotland. And I've never ridden further than 70 miles in one day. And I didn't have to ride up any of the Alps when I rode 70 miles. And I was knackered. My legs were weak. I bonked.

Here's a picture of the stage:

Etape-Route
You may have guessed that I'm feeling a bit apprehensive so Shauna kindly suggested that I contribute some blog posts to Dietgirl in order to keep myself accountable. After all, who'd want to explain that I skipped a training ride to all of her lovely readers!

So, if all goes according to plan I'll string together some incoherent ramblings over the next six months or so and let you know how I'm getting on.

Well I'd better get back on the spinning bike and get some miles in. Au revoir, a la prochaine!

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42 thoughts on “L’Étape, Oh Crap! – Part 1

  1. Apparently lots of flapjack is the way forward, in terms of providing the necessary energy hits on a ride. *nods* You can totally do this!! Also, you’re located in a suitably hilly country, so I’m sure you can find some large inclines to practice on! :)

    I previously sent Shauna the link to my friend’s blog when he was training for cycling Alpe D’Huez – but if you want me to fire any questions at him (he’s not an elite cyclist, but rather just some bloke who’s conquered an alp on his bike…!), just let Shauna know. x

  2. Sharmaya – I reckon that blog will be a very comforting read, hehe!

    Thank you for your comments guys, I know G will be dead chuffed… he is computerless in Wales today so I will read them to him tonight :)

  3. Hi Gareth. Nice to meet you:) Even though I think cycling rocks this is not rocks it’s mountains. Mountains are there to be conquered. Go you!

  4. Brilliant Gareth! You’ll be great! I have a friend here in NL who is mad into cycling and this past summer he went from Leiden, NL to Rome. CRAZY but cool. This will be an amazing adventure for you!!

    (if you want to check his story link to cycle2rome.com 25 days he spent on the bike with his dad! really cool stuff)

  5. I think an oh wow, oh crap reaction would just about summarise my reaction too. That is my dream, to do that too, but I know I’d need a lot of work to get in shape. I hope the spin bike has got a good resistance dial if you’re practicing for those hills!

  6. Go Gazza! Always good to throw a challenge out into the future that you can work towards.
    Great that you two are encouraging each other to be your best. This is what a relationship is about.

  7. Gareth, methinks you have a delightful & humorous way with words too…I suspect your Etape du Tour will be a bit like Shauna climbing a munro ie curse, effort, curse, effort, and finally surprise with much elation! Love the motto on the back of your training shirt – BiC – Because i Can. Looking forward to your updates.

  8. How exciting – count me in as another Dr G cheerleader! I can’t wait to read more about the training and the big day. (I am also a little jealous – what an amazing opportunity!)

  9. Inspiring Dr G….Will enjoy reading about your training. I was a terror on two wheels ( and 4 ) as a kid – my first bike ride I crashed and had a concussion ( stole a bike with training wheels at age 5). Age 11 riding home from the corner store for a bag of chips, I was hit by a car. On a trip to my childhood home recently I showed my husband the massive hill that I’d crashed on a few times. ….oh..um…..not a hill. not a hill at all. blushing a bit. YOU, will not have that problem.

  10. This cracks me up. I read Shauna’s entries in an American accent but Gareth’s entry sounds completely Scottish! It’s like going on an international vacation from my living room!

  11. I’ll join your cheer squad Dr G (I bought a bike this year with the intention of looking cool while suffering, but the flaming red cheeks and immenent heart attack seem to give it away).

    I am more impressed, however, with Shauna conning you into writing posts so she doesn’t have to ;)

  12. This is great! Good on you Dr. G, I will look forward to reading about your cycling adventures.

    I love the psychological warfare aspect of racing, never thought of that before… I’m sure you’ll be a success! hee hee

  13. So looking forward to your training reports. My hubby is hoping to do the Tourmalet in September. Go Gareth!!!

  14. Yeah, you took up cycling, and then left us for dust – no fair. I’m so impressed you’re doing this…

    And I love the Because I Can interpretation!

  15. what is brilliant here is both that Dr. G. has accepted the challenge, and is taking a proper DG approach to the ordeal/excitement, but also that i now feel inordinate fondness for someone i will never meet due to his association with someone else i will never meet. go team, and go internet. allez allez, tous ensemble!

  16. Thanks for the kind words everybody! I was out yesterday for the first training ride of the year after having the cold (man flu) for about four weeks.

    It was cold and windy but I did 31.5 miles before it got dark. The legs were a bit tired when I got back so it looks like I’ve got a bit of work to do! Oh well, at least I’ve started!

  17. Way to go Dr. G! How cool to ride a stage of the TdF a couple of days before the race! My husband would loooove to do that. He’s an avid roadie/triathlete. Looking forward to reading more posts on the subject!

  18. Hi M.R.

    The natives don’t say hooning but Shauna has had an influence on my lingo over the years! However, she’s picked up a good number of Scottish phrases to provide a counterbalance. We’ll call it a cultural exchange.

  19. Awesome opportunity, Mr. Shauna! Here’s my second favorite blogger’s take on his trip to France to ride a few TDF stages with Andy Freaking Hampstead. And Shauna, if you are really wanting to get in Gareth’s head, there is also a series called “I have never suffered as badly as when….” link to bit.ly

  20. This is very timely…my husband is riding the public leg of the Tour Down Under here in Adelaide this week. I pointed him in the direction of your post and his first comment was “I’ve been looking at getting one of those Bic jerseys”.

    Have you read Tim Moore’s “French Revolutions”? Very funny and quite a bit of general Tour info. included as well. We’ll both be watching and enjoying!