BT’s assault of the etape du tour

They say a good story starts a the begining , this one has several, where to start then ? at registration, and the first bad news of the day was Etape organisation neglected to arrange bus transport back to Pau.That would mean anyone such as us in campervans would be without a means to get back…BTs level of anxiety rose to level 10 ..quickly back to zero when Phantom volunteered Mrs Phantom to drive their campervan to Luchon and make the collect..all formalities over in a flash, then leaving the ER team at a loose end in a trade hall containing all major bike brands and time to spend spend spend. First port of call was the Rapha stall, chequebook open…noughts rolling of the end of the pen…Mrs P making more than one visit, YHC purchased a jacket, shirt, gillet, shocked at the price but gently reassured that good stuff is worth it, anxiety level back at nail biting level.

Being a hot day, Half had taken off up the Aubisque, strava entry asap..current wifi crisis, the campsite router being routed means a forray to find free wifi elsewhere.

Team ER back to campsite and training beers, along with some brie, smoked mackeral and salad, then back to town and a second sally round the trade you can never have enough Rapha gear. At 5 returnng to camp to hear how ideal conditions were en haut..a perfect day for climb, 80kph winds aloft, BTs weather eye noting indicators of a rapid change on the way, low cloud and rain on the way. Dinner then early night planned for a swift transfer to the start line.

Sauntering in to town at 7:30, arriving at a seemingly ideal restaurant seated at 8…in the corner postition outside as the inclement weather gathered overhead..temperature dropping to a chilly 16c…much time to ponder such things as the waiter ignored our table for almost an hour. first course on the table at 9:00…Steam seeping from Phantom’s ears but food was on the way…main course on the table at 10…though by then we had moved inside the now empty restaurant as sheets of rain were sweeping the street outside…the check by 11…and a 30 min walk in light rain to follow..perfect preparation for a 5 am start on one of the most gruelling EDT ever.

We got up in just enough time to arrive at the start line in good time and waited until the other 8000 seem they knew what we did not and most showed up around 7, the depart was staged 9 groups 3 mins apart, YHC being let loose at 7:45 or so…note to self…jump the barriers like several others to advance the departure time…Phantom was in the pen before the last, YHC was lantern rouge before the show got on the road. When the balloon went up, YHC quickly joined a group and was able to maintain a 26 average to the foot of the Aubisque. Once on the climb though the speedo rarely went above 12…and on the hard bits 7. Entered cloud just above the first village of Leruns, the temp dropped to a chilly 10 to 12..then the rain started, all good though wrapped in Rapha, the climb was heating enough, at the top after having listed to multiple English competitors complaining they could have gone to Manchester for the weather. The descent was freezing, slow as wet roads, sheep sh#te fog, and loads of chilled cyclists made it impossible to go fast…YHC managed to barge through eventually and find some space to accellerate but very very chilled , nay hypothermic by the time the feed station at the bottom was reached. The “voiture balai” sweeping up a fair few of the cohort under space blankets and suffering..YHC stopping long enough to wring out the socks and swallow some gel..then heaving back into the fray towards Tourmalet..just what you need after a freezing wet soaking. Nice warm valley, and another groupetto meant the transfer was reasonably fast, my average at the bottom of Tourmalet was 20..the course starts climbing before you know it but starts for real as the GPS rolled over 10% for 10km..with a stretch at 12 / 13..YHC was hurting, but had a good granny gear and was churning up slowly..6 to 9 the 10k mark was punctuated by a food stop, where a convenient car park housed multiple busses..having watered and fed, I was heading up the road when the Gendarmarie waved me down…”Sorry sir for you the dream is over” you will not make the cut off …put your bike on the truck and get on the broom…

4 hrs on the bus…still not at Luchon, arrived at gone 7:30…let me just say that putting 100 sweating, soaking cyclists into a small space most of whom eat garlic for breakfast was a nasal experience not to missed. The arrivee at Luchon to hear Phantom crossed the line was at least a partial ER victory..YHC now has all of next year to prepare for the next rediculously difficult Etape du Tour…but there were tears in the beer used to toast his victory. Food and drink was then the next order of the day, andwith Half schmoozing along the restaurants do you think any would spring open their doors after 8pm…eventually we found an enterprising takeaway pizza joint and returned to the Phantoms van to sip champaign and gather energy to then drive the 200 kms back to Pau..bed by 1am…quite a day…

Many congratulations to Phantom…Chapeau.

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