Spend a little time on its website, and you can’t help but be aware that the Rapha brand is built as much around the spirit of epic rides as the high-end garments and accessories it sells, and this month that fact is underlined by two events linked to one of the most mythical climbs in cycling, the Col du Tourmalet.
To commemorate the centenary of the Tour de France’s first mountain stages in 1910, this year’s edition of La Grande Boucle has a distinctly Pyrenean bent, with the Tourmalet climbed not once, but twice, and the 2,115-metre-high mountain pass is also the arrival point of this year’s Étape du Tour on Sunday 18th July, 181 kilometres after the 9,500 participants set off from Pau.
On Thursday 17th June, Rapha and Cyclefit will be hosting their third annual Étape Evening to ensure that those lucky enough to have secured a place on the event are fully prepared for what is certain to be a hard day in the saddle.
The evening includes a presentation put together following a recce of the route, with advice on gearing, hydration and tactics.
Held at the Rapha Cycle Club on London’s Clerkenwell Road, places, costing £15 each and which can be booked here, are limited to 70 and going by demand in past years are sure to sell out quickly. The presentation begins at 7pm, while drinks and canapés will be available from 6.30pm.
While this year’s Étape du Tour sounds tough enough, it’s a veritable pique-nique, as they say in France, compared to what four riders are about to put themselves through this coming Wednesday as they seek to recreate that first visit to the Pyrenees in 1910, when Octave Lapize, commemorated in the statue shown in the photo, won the first ever stage to include the Tourmalet on his way to victory in Paris.
The quartet – Rapha employees Graeme Raeburn and Ultan Coyle plus journalist Matt Brett and Phil Deeker, creator of the Cent Cols Challenge, who has blogged about his preparation on the Rapha website – will be looking to recreate that stage, which covered a mammoth 326 kilometres from Bagneres de Luchon to Bayonne.
As if the distance alone weren’t daunting enough, the stage took in not only the Tourmalet but also the Col du Peyresourde, the Col de l’Aspin and the Col de l’Aubisque, with a massive 6,000 metres of climbing, the itinerary earning itself the nickname ‘The Circle of Death.’
Their ride, which is scheduled to last a leg-numbing 14 hours, will be captured on film, with footage to be shown at the Étape Evening where we imagine it is likely to provoke a mixed reaction of ‘what have I let myself in for?’ and ‘thank God I’m only riding 181 kilometres!’
Also on display will be the original notebooks of Alphonse Steines, who undertook the first reconnaissance of the route on behalf of Tour de France founder, Henri Desgrange, telling him the route would be “perfectly feasible” for the Tour de France, despite having suffered hypothermia and having to deal with a rather irate bear.
While to a modern cyclist, the idea of spending 14 hours in the saddle tackling some of the Pyrenees’ toughest climbs seems a superhuman effort, it’s impossible nowadays to fully recreate the experience of a day that has gone down in cycling legend, with roads that were little more than dirt tracks, bikes way heavier than today’s featherweight racing machines and riders required to carry their own spares, causing Lapize to spit out the word “assassins!” at Desgrange and his fellow organisers as he crossed the summit on his way to victory.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.