Etape de Tour 2010 ~ Jason Stolte
what a day!
contrast from the 5.30am bike pick-up
from a field in Pau where Chris and I had to deal with pre-race nerves
in the foggy darkness behind a hedge as the organisers decided to remove
the portaloos to the mad finish at the Tourmalet !
exciting at the beginning and thought the roll out was quite fast
considering the distance and what was coming up. Chris and I started
together but Paul and Phil had left us to our ablutions in the field so
we never saw them again (thanks boys!)
Marie Blanque ~ Big
The first 4th Cat climb was lively as it was
the largest we had done to date. Oh dear! I remember wondering if
it was the Marie Blanque. I was soon disappointed.
Blanque (10k @ 7.5%) came next and my god this started to hurt with the
gradient increasing to as much as 12-13% near the top. After a
while I found myself in the red and tried to calm it down. Not that I
was going hard, but I guess it being the first real mountain climb for
me, my system was just not used to it.
happened, it all came to a halt with around 3k to go to the summit.
I never wanted to have to walk any part of the mountains but I was
rather relieved at this point.
plenty of shouting and noise as an ambulance or two tried to get past.
We were unable to move for a while due to either a bottleneck or too
many riders dismounting on the steep gradient. We then had to walk
some way after that. But will say for the record it cost me about
the same amount of time behind by colleagues Labey and Pirouet!!!.
to remount with 1k + to go and tapped it out in the 28 tooth ring to the
top. Over the summit with great relief and beautiful views I had a
little punch of the air. Fuelled with adrenaline thinking one down two
to go – simples. Fool.
was great fun and allowed me to recover slightly. The hour
and-a-half of rolling roads allowed time to refuel and scratch off
another 35km and take it all in. Things were going well.
The Soulor: 12k @ 7.6%. The good
feeling was soon replaced with “What the f…?”
steep as the Marie Blanque, but the relentlessness was unwavering.
At 11am the temperature on my computer was showing 29c.
ever mountain climb and it’s really
starting to hurt. For some reason my big toes were on fire. Lots of
lower back pain, shoulder blade pain, I was desperate to get to the top
to start on the Ibuprofen.
I’d made a
pact with myself that there was to be no stopping on climbs. I was going
to do this properly. Seeing the kilometre signs tick by, 12k,
11k, oh and by the way the next k will
be even steeper than and last, did my head in. With every
kilometre my body seemed to enter a new world of physical pain I’d not
experienced before. How am I supposed to cope with this, this is
An hour and
a half of climbing and I was at the top of the Col Du Soulor.
Baking hot, I drowned myself in water, refilled bottles – one with a
hydration tablet the other cool water for the head and neck.
stretch and dry of the hands. I chose not to wear gloves which is
something I am still regretting as I still only have partial feeling
back in my right hand! Refreshed I'm now ell up for some downhill
speeding TW flamme rouge style!
gathered some speed as a large and lively wild horse appeared within 20
yards across the road. The descent was amazing and considered one of the
best in the Pyrenees. Registered 80kph max. Into the picture postcard
valley, I was quite shattered at the bottom then the giant Tourmalet
Tourmalet ~ Biggest
Found myself in a group going along at a fair lick, I thought
great I’m making up some time here. Given that we were doing 40kph
on the flat and they all looked far fitter than me (and didn’t have mass
forestation of the legs), I figured I was in the wrong company and using
up vital reserves for the Tourmalet, I let them go.
have happened anyway as some mountain bugs wildlife managed to get
through the vent in my helmet and sting me on the head. It was quite
painful and slightly freaked out I pulled over and poured water over it.
This was all I needed.
worst possible thing for a wasp sting? Climb a mountain for over 2
hours in 32c heat.
the valley before the Tourmalet and the last feed station, I fuelled up.
Feeling sick on energy gels and the heat and effort etc, I was soon
humbled by the gent that rode up to the medical tent, sat down and
unscrewed the bottom ¾ of his leg. At this point I told myself I
will finish and not moan a word!
son. With 7h 42mins on the official clock and 100 miles down I started
the ascent proper of the Tourmalet (20k & 7.5%).
by the last climb I said to myself that I would do this, but as the legs
got tighter and tighter, the next pedal stroke could spell the end.
Thoughts of my two young boys and not letting them down brought waves of
emotion. The fight was on. I was never going to give up or
walk. It was going to be physical breakdown or collapse that was
going to stop me. After all, how could it get any more painful?
and a few miles into the climb I did not appreciate the cyclist coming
out of the pub at Barege like some advert with a pint of Coca Cola full
of ice. My horizons had shrunk
to barely a few yards. I dared not look at the markers that informed me
of the next round of punishment. 12k @ 9% etc.
The last fuel
stop with 10k of this Tourmalet beast to go and I refuelled for 10
minutes. It was now painful to get off the bike, barely able to
walk, my body was happier in the position I’d been in for the last 9
hours and so I remounted and said to myself “come on J, you’ve cracked
it only 10k to go”.
enthusiasm turned to despair when I looked at my computer that told me I
could only manage 7kph. Err, that will be over 1 hour of climbing left.
Cyclists were frozen astride
their bikes, their heads slumped over their handlebars. Others had
retreated to the shade of a rocky overhang, each folding his body into
any crevice to escape the mind-numbing heat. Several more were
glassy-eyed, sprawled on the verge with
the odd smattering of vomit.
it the thousand-yard stare: they were hearing but not listening, looking
but not seeing – and I was on the verge of joining them. In the
distance the summit of the Tourmalet shimmered tantalizingly. It
was near, but as I began to veer across the road, overwhelmed with
exhaustion, perhaps too far.
you just pull over and the pain will stop?" said the voice inside my
head, getting louder and more persuasive with every turn of the pedals.
Yet as I got closer and the deal stronger there was to be no stopping.
Thousands of supporters at the side of the road cheered encouragement,
“Allez”, “Chapeau” and doused cyclists in cold water from the mountain
streams. I took every opportunity to accept the cooling.
With 6k to go
I must have entered some world of delirium. Convinced I was looking for
the 5k to go marker I next saw the 3k to go sign. What a relief but it
still meant some 30 minutes of climbing. I remember looking up to the
finish and shaking my head in disbelief at the sheer gradient wondering
how on earth my now tortured legs were going to push the pedals.
hairpin bend and 150 yards to go, the gradient rose to +12%, I got out
of the saddle to relieve the pain and my inner left thigh went into
spasm and forced me off my bike. A new dimension to my pain and
with muscle cramp to deal with, I had to start walking.
My leg was
locked straight. Barely able to walk up the gradient I pushed the
bike up to the shouts of the ever increasing crowd. With the
finish line in sight I’d walked 80 metres and told myself that I had
not come this far to walk over the line.
to go and I got back on, asked someone for a push and pedalled over the
line to a triumphant roar and punch of the air. I made it and
joined the ranks of grown men and women now sobbing like babies.
hours and 11 minutes in total. 2 hours,
18 minutes to climb the Tourmalet. I never thought it would be so
painful but the experience, the camaraderie and sharing it with my
mates was well worth it and I learned a lot about myself. As a
friend said to me, “if the house burns down the first thing you do is
save your Etape medal”.
Many a time
on the day I said never, never again, but as the pain subsides I’m
already thinking of the next challenge. A cyclist for life!
Thank You Thank You Thank You
Big thanks to my Etape buddies Chris, Phil and Paul. Great
that we all finished and to share the experience with you.
training mates at home Al, Spencer, Smithy and Tony Williams who coached
us there. (Tony, I will get 100kph on a descent one day!).
And lastly of
course, thanks to my wife Lisa and boys Jake & Byron to whom I owe a lot
of time following six months of
dedicated training. Don’t worry love,
Tour De France finishes this week. Football starts soon !