Written by Heather Bryne, Coordinateur Régional – Auvergne Rhône-Alpes / Alps Regional Area Manager
The figures for this event are astonishing, let alone the incredible, courageous, committed riders who take part; 15,000 booked to ride, 13,000 started, 11,378 finished, all for charity. Along the way there were tears, triumphs and disasters but for the 11,378 who finished it was and always will be a treasured memory.
I have the good fortune to live in the Belleville valley where the etape finished at Val Thorens and several Leggett clients, who are also friends, were taking part. The day was baking hot, I feared for their well being knowing the route well ….. in a car!
The course was 135kms long and during the day there was a 4,563m positive altitude change, not entirely sure what that means but for sure it’s a lot of climbing and I could see on the faces of the entrants as the passed that they were living those figures. The first man across the line made it in 4:47:24 and the first woman 5:25:36. Incredible times!
The wonderful thing about the event is the sheer variety of the people taking part; all ages, gender, nationality. Everyone was supportive and it was an incredibly emotional day watching everyone putting their hearts and souls into completing the ride. I had stationed myself in Saint-Laurent-de-la-Cote, a tiny mountain hamlet which I could walk to without having to use the blocked roads. So I loaded up my rucksack with water, melon and cucumber and set off to cheer my friends through. I had them all on the event tracker except Karen Andrew’s who’s tracker had failed to register causing the local spectators some concern for her. The stage started and I waited and cheered on the cyclists whose efforts I so admired.
Out of my circle of friends first past was Marco Boat who is also a cycle guide, he went past in a pack with his hands off the handle bars looking cool and in command. I didn’t spot him until he was past but we called out to each other and I cheered my support. I didn’t spot Mark Trew as he came past, sorry I missed you! You all look the same in the cycling kit! Then came Dan Simpson, looking up for it but clearly melting in the heat. He was glad of a water top up and refreshments. ‘How am I doing?” he asked. “Great you’re the first through after Marco’ and look to be about 15mins ahead of Helen Raemers. The news galvanised him and he headed off at a pace.
Shortly afterwards, around the corner looking completely in the zone and in control came Ricky and Missy Simpson, glued together, as they kept each other metally strong and motivated. They looked so fresh against some of the other struggling cyclists I had no doubt they would make the top in good time.
Richard Lett passed by with a group of friends by shouting his greetings and expressing some concern at finishing, but he did he told me later. In fact he did really well.
Next to arrive was as I could see on the tracker was Helen Raemers. We hugged and I plied her with melon telling her how incredibly well she was doing, giving her news about the others as none of them were riding together. Riders are allocated numbers and so if you don’t apply together you can’t start together. After just a couple of moments break she was off. Looking happy and motivated to get on it again.
Not long after Helen had headed off Francesca Smith arrived looking strong, she had started a long way back and was fast catching up the front runners, in the winter she is the owner for Powder and Shine and in the summer she morphs into a top flight cycle guide. It was incredibly exciting watching her on the tracker as she blasted her way along the route. Refreshed she headed off as she’d already lost a lot of time in Moutiers where they had reportedly run out of water, not great when the temperatures were soaring, and it explained why everyone was begging for water. Down the road the locals were spraying the competitors with water. The locals a bit further on, where I was based, were running back and forth to a water fountain to refill bottles. I think we helped a fair few make the distance that day.
We now had quite a gathering of those who were suffering excessively in the heat from cramp to sheer fatigue. We had so many cases of cramp one of the locals went and got a rolling pin so the riders could massage their own muscles. It was like a war zone with bodies draped all over the place in complete agony. Many gave up, they simply could not face another moment on the bike. So close and yet so far, we were ‘only’ 23kms from the end. They had nothing left to give. It was actually quite difficult to witness their struggles and spoke volumes to those who continued on.
I was waiting for Karen Andrews to come through, she had started very close to the back and we couldn’t track her so had no idea where she was or if she was even on the course. It was horrid not knowing and I didn’t want to leave until I saw her pass. Suddenly I heard a shout and saw her bright smile amongst the many serious, tired faces. We hugged and she started to eat melon while I filled up her water. Ready to go I wished her luck, watched her head off and as I turned back I saw her water bottle on the table. ‘Karen’ I yelled, she heard and turned back I was about to start towards her although she had indicated not to worry, she had another bottle, when another man cycling past said ‘I’ll take it to her’ ‘Thank you’ I yelled back as he cycled off. He handed Karen the bottle and said to her “I’ve always wanted to do that”. It was a nice moment. Thank you whoever you are and I hope it helped make your day too. After Karen had gone through I packed up and headed home.
The messages were flying between us, will Karen make it before the sweeper / Timer van came through, she had started so far at the back? She made it to St Martin de Belleville in front of the van but by the time she got to les Granges it had passed her. That was it, she was out. She was devastated, so were we. But Marco on his way back down spotted her and even having done his own run in record time said “come on you’ve got this’ and cycled with her, motivating her to get her back past the van and back into the times. They made it. Hearing this Ricky, who had also now finished headed back down, and ignoring his own fatigue took over from Marco and rode all the to the finish line with Karen, as you can see in the photo, Ricky in the green shirt and Karen beside him. All of them finished. It was fantastic! A great story and many of us got together to celebrate their success. It was spectacular.
Congratulations to all our clients and friends that took part, not all of them listed here by any means, however all of them from the Belleville Valley finished ; Marco Boat local ski and cycle instructor, Dan Simpson, Mark Trew, Ricky and Missy Simpson, Richard Lett who I know from Terrace de Village but he also organises some of the best loved comedy events in the Region, Francesca Smith of Powder and Shine, Helen Ramaers of Alpine Design Studios, Lucy Taylor, Karen Andrews. It’s an extraordinary achievement and I was so pleased to have cheered you on.
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Photo credit SportGraf.