Dunne the Etape!

Well, I made it! Dragged myself across the line half an hour before the elimination time and despite virtually collapsing on the roadside, I was absolutely delighted.

Spent about 36 hours from Friday lunchtime on coach and ferry, stopping for the night at Reims, although I barely slept. Arrived at our hotel an hour from Gap late Saturday night. At registration on Sunday I ran into Rocco and Liz who were really helpful, minding my bike whilst I signed up and providing me with food and drink. Had to rise at 3.30am on Monday to make it to the start on time, which was bad enough in itself, but France’s participation in the World Cup Final meant there was non stop din until well after midnight.

Got to the start in plenty of time and set off under the banner at 7.20am. The road to the first feed station was reasonably flat, and then the fun and games started on Isoard. It was warming up at this point and there was a clear blue sky. This climb was no picnic, but I felt OK at the top until I learnt that the water station had run out due to a break in. The descent was fine aside from the regular popping of inner tubes and the nagging thought that I would be next – fortunately, my bike held up really well all day.

I reached the first elimination zone in Briancon with about 40 minutes to spare but the food station there had descended into near anarchy. It was hopelessly inadequate in terms of size and provisions and looked like a scene from the end of the world. Although I didn’t see it, I was not surprised when I later heard from a few people that punches were thrown over bottles of water.

The climb up the Lautaret was long and hot, with the sun high in the sky. All I could see for miles ahead was the progression of cyclists like ants marching up the mountain. I was worn out and a bit nauseous at the summit, but felt a lot better after a short break and two visits to a wonderfully cold water trough.

A long descent followed to the base of Alpe D;Heuz featuring several long, dark and fast tunnels. The first of these was badly lit and as I was reluctant to remove my prescription sunglasses I was riding in complete blackness for about 100 metres.

The second elimination zone at Bourg D’Oisans was chaos, water again being virtually absent. Fotunately, I again met up with Rocco and Liz who had very kindly stashed me a couple of bottles – and I needed them where I was about to go.

By the time I got onto Alpe D’Huez it was complete carnage. People were being helicoptered to hospital and medics were administering intravenous drips by the side of the road (I am not making this up). Throwing up and passing out were de riguer. I was on the verge myself but stopped and clung onto a rock face until I regained some composure. I stopped on a further 2 occasions, but refused to walk.Somehow I made it to the top and collapsed clasping my medal after 10 and 15 minutes. I later learnt that it was 39 degrees on the climb and 3000 out of 8500 people did not finish. It was without doubt the hardest thing I have ever done – the London Marathon was a walk in the park in comparison.

Just about recovered now following a long coach journey back yesterday. Got in at about 1am and dragged myself into work this morning, but have an easy day so can’t complain.

Despite all the pain and suffering it was a fanstastic experience, although I am in no hurry to repeat it at present! I can’t wait to watch the Tour ride it next week, although after that I am more convinced than ever they are all doping.

Micheal Dunne

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