Thursday, 10 July 2008

Ode to the Etape du Tour 2008

It’s 2007, early November
The date I can still remember
A nice little bike ride in July
Was William’s idea of what we should try

Within days the stakes were rising
With all involved, it’s hardly surprising
London to Paris, now there’s a thought
“Too easy” was the retort

A stage of the Tour de France
A once in a lifetime chance
The event is known as the “Etape du Tour”
105 miles, no less, no more.

Early on we’d train with a 40 mile run
The weather meant it was never fun
But weather is weather, and if men are men
You have to train, again and again

So, as the weeks went by the training got tough
We never said we’d had enough
Any hill we’d ride up several times
To get in shape for the brutal climbs

The Etape, for those that know
Is for the amateur and not the pro
11,000 feet of height gain
Get up that, and you’ll feel the pain

In March and April, the training got harder
Having to cut out all the lager
The weather got better, the laughter more hearty
Back to the Nero, and a café latté

The Nero girls were ladies of leisure
And all of our gear gave them hours of pleasure
But more important than the girls of our dream
Was what the Garmin said, of where we’d been

In training, long rides became longer
Calves and thighs becoming ever stronger
Fitness rising, heart rates falling
Not succeeding, that would be galling

We’d ride Hemel, Tring and Dunstable Downs
Literally all of the surrounding towns
A fifteen percent climb up Bison Hill
Was the ultimate test of Berry’s will

April and May, 8 hour rides now the norm
Take Wendover Woods and Whiteloaf Hill by storm
The route designed by “Simon the Map”
Determined we complete the bloody Etape

Saturday mornings, out at seven, up at six
Muesli and bagels, the ideal mix
Carbo loading, that’s the key
Loads of water and a regular wee

The Chiltern Hundred, the last big training
At the start it’s cold, and it’s also raining
The early pace is furious and fast
Come the first hill, Berry is last

But over the top, he soon comes back
Draws a breath and launches an attack
Happy faces for all, at the end of the race
Everyone set a helluva pace

The bike itself is key to succeed
New chain sets now the common need
On the front, maybe a fifty, thirty-four
On the back, twelve, twenty-seven (or even more)

Tyres and inner tubes important to sort
Hours and hours of serious thought
Continentals and Michelins rarely blow
Was the common advice of those that know

Energy bars, malt loaf and loads of nuts
That’s the food to fill your guts
Lucozade and water to make you hydrate
Take it on, before it’s too late

As the day approaches, clothing’s the worry
Back to the cycle shop, in a hurry
New gloves, new shirts, to meet a passion
Little red booties, they’re the fashion!

The weather was now a major concern
We’d all need lotion to stop the burn
Down in Pau, it was close to Spain
Little or no chance, we’d ever see rain

Two cars, seven bikes and six men
Stop around Rouen at half past ten
Friday’s journey came and went
Before you know it, we’re at the event

Out in the country, we’ve arranged to meet
No address, but it’s definitely a gîte
Bubble wrap off, and needed no more
The bikes are out with punctures galore

The Mercure in one hour, is where we’d meet
Bread and pasta was what to eat
The final night and one last beer
Everyone nervous now that we’re here

Saturday morning we’re up at eight
Down to breakfast before it’s too late
Loads of carbo, muesli and fruit
Then 20 kilometres along the route

Saturday night it’s early to bed
Thoughts are spinning around your head
Thunder and lightening at three in the morning
For the day ahead, it’s just a warning

Nine thousand people on the starting line
Into pens, one thousand at a time
Rain and rain, drizzle and drizzle
You can hardly see through the mizzle

The road to Rebenac goes on and on
Get at the back of the peloton
“Grimpeurs” and suckers” are part of the play
Do what you need to survive the day

On to Lay and the Labatmale climb
Averaging well, but check the time
The broom wagon cometh, it’s all you know
So pedal and pedal, and don’t go slow

Lourdes is next, a holy shrine
The banana I see is definitely mine
Pit stop, fuel stop – all that stuff
Fill your bottles and get enough

So, off we went to the Tourmalet
“Legendary status” is what they all say
Sainte Marie de Campan, that’s the start
160 beats a minute, for many a heart

You chug and choke for 17k
An abiding memory of the day
Two hours of non-stop pain
Fifteen hundred metres of total gain

Past La Mongie, another stop
One last climb to the very top
Put on your coat to stop the chill
Next hour is all downhill

From here it’s a long and fast descend
Go too fast, you’ll miss the bend
Your feet are numb and hands are cold
The handlebars are hard to hold

You’re feeling tired but still alive
The Hautecam would be no easy drive
But 13k in the pouring rain
With an 8% incline is surely insane

But the cattle grid’s here, it marks the end
Crowds at the finish around the bend
You’ve pushed your body – it’s guts and glory
For ever now, you’ve got your story

So, what a memory to take through life
Thanks to our kids and ‘specially the wives
Reaching the end ‘it’s awesome’ we say
Never forget a wonderful day.

Andy M Jul 08

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