L’Etape Australia

Want the chance to ride with Chris Froome?

Thats what L’Etape is all about, or in my case get unceremoniously passed by Chris while pushing my bike up the 20% grades on Col de Beloka. The shame!

2016 marked the arrival of the “Tour de France” experience to Australia. The L’Etape events started out as a mass participation one day sportif, or grand fondo, that ran alongside the Tour de France. I’ve never done the real thing but the model has been rolled out into a global series of events.

In one of its smarter moves in recent times, NSW secured the Australian version of the event and based it in the Snowy Mountains.

Skiing is one of my lifelong obsessions and I have done my quota of skiing in Thredbo and Perisher. I must admit I struggled to imagine that the event could possibly provide an analog to the experience of riding in the Alps.

It was good, very good. So good I now imagine the Snowy mountains as an outstanding cycling destination with a bit of skiing in the off-season.

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My event started on the Friday, driving down from Sydney with the family. We stayed in Thredbo at the YHA (note the YHA isn’t bike friendly, if your bike is valuable and you would prefer the security of keeping your bike in your room, don’t stay at the YHA).

Driving up into the mountains green and yellow decorations consistently increased. Berridale (green) was amazing, and beyond there was yellow everywhere. The event village Jindabyne was efficient and provided a quick checkin. It was maybe lacking in “expo” type items like you would expect at an Ironman, with the gear there firmly on the unnecessarily expensive side of the ledger (POC I am looking at you).

The event itself had two course options, The Race and The Ride. The only difference being the Ride finished in Jindabyne, whilst the Race continued all the way up to Perisher. I was doing the Race which all up had 2700m of climbing over 157km. The course was described as having 2 main “named” climbs – Col de Beloka and Col de Kosciuszko what lay in between was a mix of climbing and also some wonderfully fast rolling countryside.

To be honest it’s hard to imagine a more amazing course that meets the event brief.

My day was a bit of a mix. Staying in Thredbo was a masterstroke and made driving to the start easy. I probably could have ridden (plenty did). The traffic coming up from Jindabyne was unfortunately congested and lined well back out of the Skitube terminal where the start was. I got dropped off just outside and rode down to the start. The next challenge was to find where to check my finish bag and stock up with water. This was a bit of a challenge and once I had finally filled my water bottles I was well back on the start line. Chris Froome was working his way through the start and being very interactive with everyone which was a nice touch.

Straight out of the start the event goes into a climb. Being well back this meant I had missed the front group and was stuck in traffic with people seemingly being inspired by the European method of self seeding – just start as far forward as possible and screw everyone behind.

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After the initial climb and descent a pack formed and everyone was working really well. I was still descending like a chicken and dropped off in the big descent down to Jindabyne. Near the top of the climb out of Jindabyne the lead teams who were started in the second wave caught up. This provided a nice fast bunch to work with an made the next few hours really enjoyable. So enjoyable I got well behind on my nutrition. I rolled through the sprint section in Berridale and continued to push on toward Col de Beloka. The foot of which comes at roughly the 100km mark. I had knocked off the first 100k in 3hrs and stopped to refill my water bottles and take on some food.

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The Beloka isn’t particularly long but it is steep enough that I ran out of gears. I decided losing 50m while easy walking was better that cooking myself so on the steepest section, so I jumped off and walked. And then Chris Froome blasted on by. Damn. And then Chris Froome’s riding partner got towed by holding a sticky bottle out the side of the referees car. Double damn.

At the top I found myself regrouped back into Froome’s bunch and had 20km of fun. Although no-one dared pass him on any climb as a mark of respect even when he egged people on.

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At the base of Kosciuszko I stopped to refuel again and then set out to take on the 20k steady climb up to the finish at Perisher. For the first few k’s everything was fine but things were now hot. And then my bad fuelling from earlier in the day caught up with me and I started to cramp in both legs. My progress was now slowed with stops every few k’s, wherever I could find shade.

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Once I emerged above the tree line the spectacular scenery lifted. The finish was close and I pressed on. My time was a bit slow but I had enjoyed myself completely.

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Overall, the event is perfect. Put it on your must do list. The combination of a great course, flawless organisation and closed roads is unbeatable.

The Snowy mountains are now officially a bike destination with a bit of skiing in the winter.