Darren Comer, teammate, father, pub owner and sponsor extraordinaire had a chance of a lifetime this summer, and now we’re just getting around to the report. I’m assuming it’s taken him this long simply to recover. In Darren’s words;
A wonderful opportunity was presented to me this year when I was asked to be a best man in a wedding in Ireland in July, and my wife, Amanda,suggested that I “go do that stage of the Tour De France thingy”. What she’s referrring to is the venerable Étape du Tour. The Étape is a “cyclosportive” where regular folks like ourselves can set out on a fully supported stage of the Tour de France, on the exact same route as the pros, just a couple of days before they arrive. After an on again off again approach, I did finally secure a number to the Étape du Tour 2010, about 7 weeks before the race itself, on July 18. This obviously did not afford a whole lot of time to get long days in the mountains or shed a few “pub owner pounds” to prepare, but life is short and I did the best I could given the time constraints.
I arrived in the Haute Pyrenees region of France very late on Friday, July 16. The 17th was spent building up my lust inducing LITESPEED Archon C1 and heading off with the rest of the www.onyourbike.ie crew to collect our race numbers and timing chips at a very impressive expo set up on a horse racing course in Pau. After the expo we took an easy spin to the village, had a quick bite followed shortly thereafter by a pasta dinner to get the calories ready for the epic ride to follow.
We headed off on the bus at 5am to the start of the ride in Pau, and I have never toed the line with so many racers. Almost 10,000 riders line up and it was an amazing sight. With my number in the high 8000′s, after the gun went off it took 25 minutes to actually cross the start line. Off we went on an amazing day on the bike through beautiful towns and countryside. I decided to never go hard or into the red zone, as I knew it was going to be a massive day. I was cruising well for the first 4 hours and felt great on the first Cat 1 climb, the Col de Marie Blanc. About 4km from the top of the climb there were so many riders and support vehicles that the ride came to a stop and we could only carry a slow walking pace to the top, this held us up a bit and added some extra time in the now very hot weather. The descent was amazing and the C1 cornered like it was on rails, allowing me navigate the slower riders without any hesitation.
I cruised over to the next big climb, the Col De Solour, about 100km into the race. I felt good for the first half of this climb but then the altitude and lack of hours training on the bike began to take their toll. I had the worst headache I can remember but the views and experience of the day helped to quash the nagging effects. Towards to top of this climb, I was beginning to hurt and still had 40 km to go, and the Giant of the Pyrenees, the 19km Col De Tourmalet, was between me and the finish.
I struggled over the rollers and 3% gradient to the base of the Tourmalet and by the start of the climb I was 7 hours into my ride, and I went into total survival mode. I realized that I was averaging 10km per hour and still had 20km to go to the top. I never believed that I could ride for two more hours but I pressed on. Although the mountain beat me I won the internal battle to not stop on the climb like so many others were doing on the steep slopes. Thanks to the multitude of Tour fans that lined the route ahead of the real race, they kept me cool and hydrated by filling my bottle and pouring cold water over me on this cloudless very hot Southern France July day.
About 10km from the top, the Tourmalet can break your heart, and your sprit. You’re well above the tree line, and you can see where you need to go and it is a very daunting sight. It is a steep climb, but it is the distance traveled and elevation gain that takes its toll. I was able to find the rythm to keep going and made it over the climb to basically then collapse under the shade of a fire truck and regain some strength before the massive descent to the hotel.
Big thanks to Patrick and the team at www.onyourbike.ie for organizing an amazing trip, and to Thor, Ian, John and all the Irish guys that I rode with on the day. Thankfully I had a Litespeed Archon C1 to get me over the 184km, and all the team equipment that made a day like that manageable. But most important of all, I have to offer enormous thanks to my gorgeous bride, Amanda, for affording me the opportunity and taking care of our child Saoirse in Dublin while I was off banging my head against this anvil. It was a day and trip that I will never forget. The Étape du Tour 2010 was without doubt the hardest but one of the most rewarding 9+ hours I’ve had ever had on a bike.