Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Preparing for L'Etape du Tour

etape du tour preparation

Subtitle: A Triumph over Bureaucracy and Circumstance

Each year L'etape du tour is an organisation that provide the chance for cyclists to actually ride a Tour de France  (TDF) stage.  Yes the real route that the pro cyclists will cycle.

Riding the route, on a day, with totally closed roads, with food stops and race support is as close as many of us will ever get to actually experience a TDF stage in real life.

And by the same token when you compare your timed results against the pro's you recognise not only  their superhuman fitness enabling them to be so much faster than yourself, but that they must do this each day for a two week period, whilst for you it is a once off.

The Course

This Post
Is all about the preparation.  I'll discuss the actual race in another article this Thursday.

The Plan

The big picture was for Marcus and Agata and Pierre to do the etape and have a good time.   We wanted our good friend Pierre to come because he is also a cycling enthusiast who we have cycled with in the past. Together the plan was

- register in 2015 for the event
- do some training!
- Pierre comes from the UK with his car
- We drive from Switzerland and leave his car at finish Morzine
- Continue in our Motorhome with 3 bicycles to start Megeve
- Park and rest the night before
- Get up early on the Sunday
- Do the race and have fun
- Finish race at Morzine, put 3 bicycles and us into Pierre's car
- Drive to Megeve to pickup Motorhome
- Drive home.

What could possibly go wrong ...... it turns out just about everything ...

01 Agata's lost Bicycle Hire

In retrospect this was an indication of things to come.  About 2 weeks ago Marcus and Agata had our  precious race bicycles stolen in Avignon.

This left Agata without any bicycle and so we needed to hire one for the etape.  We completed the electronic form at The Bike, Lausanne.  Their website quoted a 48hr turnaround, but nobody emailed us back so we telephoned. They said their online system was mis-behaving, so we offered to come around in person.  On arrival we filled in a paper form.  

We came back Friday to the shop to find they had hired our reserved bicycle to somebody else and there had no other, and could do nothing.

Agata almost in tears left in disgust.  With only 10 minutes before shop closing we made it to Tandem Cycles in Lausanne and hired Agata a Scott bicycle as shown above.

02 Pierre has a Delay
Pierre had a Thursday 20.00 Chunnel booked to get from the UK to France.  However an accident on the M25 motorway gave rise to a 3 hour delay and so he only just managed to get on the 23.30 connection.  Concequently Pierre arrived late on Friday lunchtime, more tired than planned since he'd had to drive more and sleep less.

It's a long way to come from London to Lausanne, especially driving solo, congrats to Pierre.

03 Marcus forgets the documents
We set off from home on time Saturday morning.  Logistically we had to pack the motorhome with 3 bicycles, not the usual 2, and put all the gubbins in for a cycle race and 2 days away from home.  This for example means stocking up with food at a supermarket, then finding a fresh water source and sorting out the chemical toilet.

After we completed that we were trundling down the motorway when I said to Agata: You did bring the mandatory registration papers and health Certificates?   She said: I thought you were bringing them.

They were still at home!  Aaargh.

We pulled over and agreed that Agata and Pierre would drive back in Pierre's car, and I would continue slowly on the motorway, solo in the Motorhome, and we'd somehow meet up after they return home, grab the papers, and set off back out a second time.

04 Where Are You?
Although Agata told me to take a specific Motorway exit I preferred to follow Google Maps which was running on my Nexus 5X phone.  I kept listening to the instructions.

Then I checked the display which said 120Km to destination.  Odd because it was only 99Km destination at the start.  Oops.  Maps was navigating to the wrong destination!  Aaargh.

I put the correct destination in i.e. Morzine and told Agata that I had not followed her guidance and that Google Maps had me in quite a different place to that she was expecting.

We eventually met up in a Shell station.   I sent her my location using Google Hangouts and she and Pierre came to rescue me.  I say rescue because I don't reverse the Motorhome on my own, something Agata and I agreed after a small rear reversing collision in Italy last year.  And here I needed to reverse!

05 Morzine Parking
The plan was to leave Pierre's car in Morzine, in one of the designated Car Parks.  However the race official said either that the car parks were full, and were very confused that we were driving a Motorhome.  We said: No, we (in the motorhome) don't need a space here, we're talking about Pierre behind us.  But nobody seemed to understand.

Eventually a few Km away from Morzine, the race finish of tomorrow, we found a space.   We thought, after the race finishes, when we are tired, we will have to cycle /up this mountain road/ to get back to the car.  That's is going to be fun.

06 Megeve Parking
Having parked Pierre's car, the three of us, Marcus, Agata and Pierre got into our Motorhome to complete the journey to the race start.  We planned to park the Motorhome in one of the race specific parkings and spend the night there ....

We got to Megeve but no race officials could tell us of any Motorhome legal parking.

We stopped at Casino supermarket where at least 10 Motorhomes were already parked.  But a Casino store person told us we could not join, and that further he was going to evict all the current parked Motorhomes.

We drove on.

We arrived at the village and were pleasantly surprised that a race official showed us an official Motorhome parking area.   We are saved!   Time to go and get our race numbers and prepare dinner and goto bed early ....

07 Health Certificate

The Village is the place where you pickup your race numbers and check out the exciting stalls from Bicycle manufacturers and nutrition and sports vendors.  It ought to be a 100% pleasurable experience.

But the race officials looked at our Health Certificates and rejected them. They said the wording was incorrect. The help desk that we were re-directed to said we should call our doctor to email them a new certificate.  Our Swiss Doctor

- is not open at 18.00 on Saturday
- has no email  (and I am not kidding)
- no really he explicitly is proud of not having email

We were told to goto the town of Megeve, which is 15 minutes drive away, (in a car), and try to find a doctor  (who of course does not know us).  And get them to examine us and write a certificate.  Yeah right!

Eventually we worked around this problem, and thereby picked up the Race numbers and timing chip etc.

08 Police says Scram

After touring the village checking out the latest Bicycle technology we prepared and ate a leisurely dinner in the motorhome.

Then at 22.00 just as we were planning to goto sleep the French Police turned up and went from Motorhome to Motorhome, there being more than 20 parked up, telling us we had to leave! Unbelievable.  The earlier marshals had indicated it would be okay to park and sleep there.  The Police had a different idea.

There then followed a scramble where all Motorhome and even people in Tents, all had to pack up, leave the Village area, which is up at the Airport, and seek accommodation.

Campsites normally close for new arrivals at 20.00.  Now it is about 22.30

Eventually we arrived back to Casino.  We did join an even larger collection of Motorhomes, and there was Casino security who said it was okay to sleep here and to leave the Motorhome there on Sunday during the race.  Logical because the street adjacent the Supermarket was closed on Sunday due to the race anyway.

09 Missing Bed

Marcus and Agata, specced our Motorhome to sleep 2 when we bought it in 2015.  But there is supposed to be a 3rd small bed that can be made from the lounge table conversion and bench seat.

We never tried this conversion until now:

Except that the table can't be mounted.  With 3 Engineers you know desperation had really set in when we had to get out the official Motorhome manual!  

Unfortunately this did not resolve the issue meaning that Pierre would have to sleep in the hallway floor of the motorhome. Marcus's work-around solution of reclining the driver seat was basically painful after about 30 seconds!

10 Casino says Move
Sunday morning and we awoke in the Casino supermarket car park. Whilst getting ready a Casino member of staff told Agata that we had to leave by 08.00!   He did not speak to Marcus who made an executive decision to lock the Motorhome and go!   Casino still had lots of parking for cars, all the other Motorhomes were still there, and if after the race started, Casino customers could still park in the lower car-park that the security guard had blocked last night for Sunday trade.

To be absolutely fair to Casino Megeve in retrospect, despite worrying words from some staff they did let us park overnight and for race duration, so really a big thanks is due to them overall.

We get to the Start!
So after all of these opportunities we managed to get to the starting coral.

Okay, we wait a further 45 minutes to get to a Toilet!  But we have that time (just) before the race starts

Next report on Thursday.... How do Marcus, Agata and Pierre fare on the actual race.  Surely things can only get better?

GCH: etape prep and tips

etape du Tour 2016
Etape Website English