First started in 2010, Tour de Force is a unique event for those people that have ever wanted to ride the entire route of the Tour de France (without needing a pro contract!).
Riding the 3497km route one week ahead of the race, the riders will roll up the Champs Elysees on 15 July. Lead cyclist Phil Deeker (who also organises the Rapha Cent Cols Challenge), is sending us daily blogs from each stage, which will service as a interesting preview of the stages before the pros ride them a week later.
After photos at the official start in front of the winter olympics skate rink, in company of the Deputy-Mayor (who used the opportunity to practise his role of setting off proceedings next week for the Big Boys), we rolled weary wheels out of Albertville towards the foot of the Madeleine. maybe only 145kms but with 4,700m of climbing, i had warned everyone that this would be a LONG day!
The Madeleine is courteous to riders with its' two sections of flat. Once past the first sections of hairpins, that hide a few 10% cheeky ones, riders settled down to a long encounter with one of the prettiest of Alpine climbs. Our group of 55 riders, swelled with more new arrivals (some of whom will now be with us until Paris), handled this climb quite tidily. But for some amongst us, from hereon the Alps became a treacherous battlefield.
I love the descent down to La Chambre, and the road remained just dry enough for a safe, fast swoop down. with barely two kms of valley-flat, the Glandon steps in for its' turn in this multi-mountain fiesta. The Glandon still remains one of my alpine faves, and many others shared my opinion in our group. It's harder, of course, than the Madeleine, but a healthy lunch-stop / café-call in St Colomban split up the climb nicely. you may think it is crazy to stop mid-way up such a climb, but when you are riding the whole Tour shaboodle, IT MAKES SENSE! we are in no rush. this is a unique once-in-a-lifetime experience for most of the guys and they are learning to 'live in the moment' and take their mind off aching bodies.
Riders are slowly becoming covered in physio-tape - the new tatoo! but they are NOT falling apart. The resilience they are showing is a fine sight. The 2 last kms of Glandon we all know about and don't want to think about : after a 20km climb at an average 8% gradient, this will always hurt. Today was no exception, chipping large dents into our riders' body armour. By the time they were hitting the 'lesser' climb of the Mollard, all were noticeably more vulnerable.
The UP metres were taking their toll. another stop at the top of Mollard, complete with freshly-brewed expresso's, thanks to our fab support crew. The road down is in fact one of my favourite in the Alps : technical, but with a surface that is slowly being rejuvenated from its rut-covered former self, this is FUN! the rain had held off; the road was dry. but, hey, guess what: there is a roundabout at the bottom with a big Opinel knife in the middle, you go all the way round it, then turn back UP the other side of the Arvans valley. This stage, in a similar manner to last years' short etape, is UP / DOWN ALL the way, and it feels like the exchange rate is definitely in favour of the UP's!
the Toussuire climb may only be a Cat 1, but it has all the cruelty of an HC. There will be alot of bodies falling off bikes on this road next sunday on the Etape du Tour! Cramp will be very contageous that day! But our heroes all fought their way determinedly all the way up this 16km climb. Just when you think you are close to the top, the route takes you back downhill, away from a shower & food. Then, moreover, after the quick loss of well-earned altitude, the climb gets steeper! The last rider in had been on his bike for 13 1/2 hours!
I think there will many "sickies" pulled by fans next week : No one should miss watching this stage. it's just as hard as the Marmotte."