Journal

Jules' Etape du Tour Blog

Race to the Sun

Posted by Julian Wall

27th July 2017

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After mentally pulling out of the Etape du Tour several times a week I managed to hang the Eurotunnel tag on to my rear view mirror and headed off to the Terminal eventually on my way to Briancon in the French Alps via Bedoin to drop off a customer’s new bike and ride the Etape du Tour.

Once through the check-in it feels like you have closed the trap door to that stifling basement that contains everything that stops you doing the activities you want to do, life and circumstance work and work, blinking in the bright light breathing the air.

A broken down train delayed my departure by two and a half hours, I sat in the van only three miles from my house but I was relaxed, the Tour de France was playing on my Iphone and I had a coffee or two. Actually, I was little irritated if I'm honest as my Bedoin based client had warned me that I was travelling South through France on the Auto-route du Soleil the night before Bastille Day and so would every Marcel, Etienne and Henri; I dont like traffic jams; the later and darker it became the more cars appeared in front of me, I kept on trucking until I had to pull over and get some sleep at 4:00am in the service station car park. I rolled out the sleeping bag in the back of the van and duly passed out.

At 6:30am I heard shouting outside the van, it was Marcel, Etienne and Henri with ten of their mates, how inconsiderate I thought but what can a small old man do? Urinate.

I stumbled in to a now very busy service station looking for the toilets; too many people, too many calf length shorts and sandals, I drove off grumbling to myself, this wasn't part of the dream.

It was only as short blast until I was able to turn off the auto-route to Bedoin, the windscreen was smeared with insect juice that made it difficult to see in the early morning sunshine but I eventually found the delivery address and as it was so early proceeded to make that coffee and have that breakfast in the French countryside I had been dreaming of.

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Part one of the dream

I parked up a little distance away in an Olive grove I could hear dogs barking in the house nearby, I tried to relax and drink my coffee but they wouldn’t stop,

“I know what I’d do if they were my dogs” I thought “tell them to shut the fuck up!” okay, don’t let it spoil the moment Jules, the dogs went quiet, I ate my muesli with chopped fruit and then Mark appeared around the front of the van in his camouflage Crocs with a big walking stick. I knew it was too good to be true I muttered I’m going to be told bugger off.
I was initially but when I explained that I was delivering a bike to his neighbour he suggested I just move off the track so the tractor could get through, I can’t speak French but I did translate that they were leaving at eight. I cleaned up the van and windscreen and was aboiut to clean my teeth when Mark appeared again in his lycra with his wife and my client on their bikes, hey come on we’re going for a ride. I dropped my draws and within three minutes I was also in lycra and having a bike ride around the foothills of Mont Ventoux with three people I didn’t know. This could be part two of the dream.
After a lovely two hour ride, we went back to Mark and Claude’s house for some early beers and I fixed his front mech, this was followed by a swim in the pool and an outdoor shower looking at Mont Ventoux in the distance while naked and then lunch in the square in Bedoin; all thanks to the generosity of a very grateful client; I was definitely right in the middle of part three of the dream; perhaps I could just stay here and do some DIY and gardening I imagined, sunshine and Rose, a simple life. But I was on a mission, I said my thank yous and we said our farewells and I headed North East to the Alps.

The drive and landscape on the way to Barconolette was one of the most beautiful I’ve experienced; leaving Bedoin I headed to Sault and then meandered through the Valley de Sederon and the Gorge du Meouge, there was hardly any traffic and wonderful views, in the Gorge families were escaping the heat and bathing in the rock pools. The next time I travel this way I hope to be on my bicycle. The Alps eventually appeared and I dropped down in to Barconolette and drove along some of the Etape du Tour course, I did a couiple of laps of the town and found a quiet spot for the night across the river and next to the sports ground. I went in search of dinner and on the walk back I noticed that there were many more people walking in the same direction, the crowd increased in size and when I arrived at the van I couldn’t get anywhere near it as most of the village were there to watch the Bastille Day firework display, as you can imagine this caused a little more grumbling on my part I wanted an early night... Eventually the last and most impressive firework did its best to wow the crowd and after a ripple of applause everybody wandered off leaving me to rummage around in the van and prepare for my first full night.

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Part four of the dream

As a novice van hobo (vobo) the first thing to remember when parking is to find level ground, which I didn't; I spent most of the night spooning the wheel arch and my neck injury (see previous blog) was playing up. Today I planned to ride the Col de Var, nobody else knew that, I wondered if I should leave a note on the windscreen that a search party should be sent out if I didn’t arrive back by a certain time and to contact my next of kin; but I couldn’t be arsed. After a coffee on the bridge I headed off to see what the Col de Var the first climb of the next day’s Etape du Tour was like, the roads were immaculate with freshly laid asphalt for the Tour de France and I clipped up the valley, out of the sunlight the temperature dropped to five degrees, I kept on going as to descend now would be bloody freezing, after the two short tunnels the road steepened and I started to climb and warm up, I continued to the summit now armed with the knowledge that the last six kilometres are quite steep and not to push too hard at the bottom. After taking a couple of photos I dropped back down and as I hadn’t had any breakfast I tucked in to an energy bar only for it to pull off my temporary cap while travelling at twenty five miles an hour. I started grumbling again; cleaned it off and pushed it back on to the stump of my molar while still descending and that is where it remains bonded on with an SIS protein bar. I was quite pleased with the manouvre.

After breakfast I drove to Briancon and after negotiating some heavy MAMIL traffic in the start finish area found a layby five minutes from the start – perfect. I collected my numbers and popped in to see the Trek guys and say hello to Rapha CC hostess Aleda and get a quick espresso. I picked up extra water and a quiche avec lardons as I’m not a real man and headed back to the van had lunch and then wondered what to do until dinner; try doing nothing a voice said to me, just get your bike ready and sort your kit out and have a snooze. The quiche was nice but by early evening something wasn’t quite right, I managed dinner and a beer and prepared for bed. My stomach felt like it had a couple of ferrets running around in it, I lay in a state of perpetual animation half a sleep and half-awake wondering if I would shit myself  - which I did at 2:37. Such situations are bad enough in a hotel room with an en-suite (my French is getting better) bathroom; in the dark in the back of a van in a lay-by it is a much bleaker experience and not part of the dream.

Needless to say I got myself sorted (sorry Briancon) and due to my location rose at the leisurely hour of 6:00am and had coffee and breakfast while the early starters rolled by. It was already fifteen degrees and as I knew it would get much hotter on the climbs I rode only in a jersey with no undervest; a chilly start but worth it in the long run.

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It was an early morning scramble to find the correct start pen, hiking through car parks, climbing fences and shouldering the bike up grassy banks we eventually shuffled across the start line. The roads were wide and open and there was no bunching I took everything at a sedate pace, any fast trains that came by were too fast. The number on my jersey that I’d spent ages pinning on straight the day before became un-fastened on the first descent and it flapped all the way to the finish.

Eight hours later at 60 rpm I dragged myself over the summit of the Col d’Izoard feeling sick and completely spent; 10km and an hour earlier I had to take a twenty minute break in the shade, try and re-hydrate and cool down.I had already drunk six litres of fluid and it would take another two to get me to the summit. I really didn’t think I would make it and planned to stop every kilometre if need be. Once back on my bike all I could see was the Garmin in front of me and I counted down the metres climbing past the motor homes that already lined the road. Somehow I managed to keep going to the top.
By the end I could no longer apply pressure through my feet, my arse hurt and I was totally drained. I staggered in to the RCC café and had a couple of beers and a cream cracker and stared in to the distance; I was offered a massage but couldn’t consider anyone touching my legs in their current state. It was about 40 degrees in the Village, Aleda was still there looking after everyone – she’s a legend - but I needed some space and headed to the swimming pool café and with my shoes off sat at a table with beer and frites and watched Bauke Mollema win a stage of the Tour. That was Part four.
As I mentioned earlier I didn’t have an en-suite so the river doubled as an ice bath for the legs and a very fresh bath, the current was strong the rocks were slippery and I’d already hydrated with three pints of Heineken, it could all end here I thought. My legs felt great afterwards and safely back in the safe cocoon of the van I lay back and stared at the ceiling and found peace in the valley.

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About the Author

Julian Wall

Co-founder, bike fitter and bike designer - London Store

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