l'Étape du Tour

A true sporting challenge

The 22nd edition of L'Étape du Tour set a new participation record, with almost 10,000 cycling lovers from 94 countries on the start line for an epic ride through the Pyrenees. The only French cyclosporting event held on roads completely closed to traffic took the bunch on a 148 km quest from Pau to Hautacam.
Its course through the Pyrénées-Atlantiques and Hautes-Pyrénées departments was a carbon copy of stage 18 of the Grande Boucle, due to be held on July 24. The menu featured two big Pyrenean climbs, with the Tourmalet (17.1 km at an average gradient of 7.3%) and the final ascent to Hautacam (13.6 km at 7.8%). By the end of the day, L'Étape du Tour competitors had tackled over 30 km of climbing.
And a human adventure like no other
L'Étape du Tour continues to cherish its raison d'être: giving amateurs the opportunity to live the Tour de France experience from within. Thousands of them had already converged on the start area in Place de Verdun by 5:30 am. Amy from London, one of the many ladies near the breakfast zone, was poised to make her L'Étape debut: "I've climbed the Tourmalet several times in training, but the weather conditions make me a bit nervous." Another rookie, Lea from Brazil, added: "There aren't any real mountains back in my country. I'm not sure I can make it to Hautacam."
The huge peloton, divided into thirteen waves with about 1,000 riders each in order to avoid congestion and guarantee safety, was in high spirits while waiting for mayor François Bayrou to see off the first competitors at 7 am. L'Étape regular Alain Prost and five-time Dakar champion Cyril Despres were a couple of familiar faces at the front of the field.
At the heart of the peloton
Little groups which came together as the race wore on, bound together by the friendly atmosphere. The riders entered Pontacq to the sound of children shaking little bells. Julie from Wales sipped a cup of coffee on a terrace while her husband pedalled on. "I hope everything will be all right", she whispered, her gaze set on the summit of the valley.
Lanne, a village 45 km into the race, was all spruced up with dozens of hanging bicycles. Sheep based on the Côte de Loucrup as the peloton went into the red for the first time. The competitors, cheered on by loads of supporters, enjoyed picture-perfect Pyrenean landscapes throughout L'Étape. "I love France", cried Marylin from Canada. Right next to her, Veronica from Australia added: "It's awesome. It's exactly what I hoped to experience!"
After 70 dry kilometres, the front of the race was battered by ever increasing rain as it reached the foot of the Tourmalet. The last few kilometres were enveloped in fog. Temperatures were as low as 10 °C at the top, over 2,100 masl. The long descent to Luz-Saint-Sauveur was tricky for many riders, who were stiff and barely able to continue pedalling fluidly. Nicolas, who came all the way from Paris to discover L'Étape du Tour, admitted: "Descents aren't my cup of tea. Especially when it's cold and the road's wet. But well, I just laugh it off…"
The final climb to Hautacam saw the strongest riders open the gas on the gruelling slopes. At the back of the peloton, almost every pedal stroke came at the cost of a grimace. However, few smiles were completely washed away. "No problem", explained Eric, "we're here to have a hard time!"
The finishers' reward came at the end of L'Étape and the descent to the Village in Lau-Balagnas: medals and stickers for their bicycle frames, a lasting memento of an amazing day on the roads of the Grande Boucle. Everyone tucked in at the traditional pasta party to celebrate the shared effort. For most of the competitors, chilled to their bones, the refreshments served by the L'Étape du Tour volunteers was a well-deserved breather. Time for some rest!
1. Loïc Herbreteau 4 h 47′29″
2. Peter Pouly 4 h 51′22″
3. Nicolas Loustaunou 4 h 55′23″
1. Magdalena De Saint Jean 5 h 41′49″
2. Pauline Teyssedre 6 h 03′50″
3. Chrissie Wellington 6 h 04′38″
A huge applause for Magdalena De Saint Jean, who won L'Étape du Tour for the seventh time. The 44-year-old mother of four, an eye doctor from Aix-en-Provence, dominated a particularly strong field with, among others, several American professionals and Britain's Chrissie Wellington, a four-time winner of the Ironman Hawaii. To think how cautious Magdalena was before the start… "I'm just riding for fun, today. Not for the win!"
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