L’Etape du Tour: Savoring the Moment

Words & Photos || Gary J Boulanger

With 11,475 riders toeing the line to celebrate the 20th anniversary of L’Etape on July 8, the nine of us had our work cut out in the days leading up to the Big Ride: 130 kilometers traversing the same roads the pro peloton will tackle on Stage 20 of the 2013 Tour de France. Thankfully our guides Elizabeth and Lisa had taken care of everything, beginning with a tight schedule of riding and recovery.

The Palace de Menthon was an ideal base camp, with its central location for training rides and storage facility for our equipment and bicycles. Several members in our group chose the stock Trek Domane 5.9, a rather capable carbon machine outfitted with Shimano Ultegra Di2, compact 50/34 gearing, and a 12-28 tooth 10-speed cassette. A couple riders, Ed and Russell, brought their personal bikes, and Brett upgraded to a Trek Madone Series 6. After an early breakfast, everyone received a proper bike fit to dial in and get ready for the ride, which would include nearly 3,000 feet of climbing. I chose to wear my Bontrager Cycling Team kit, with its reliably comfortable chamois and breathability in hot weather.

Lake Annecy is circumnavigated by a 38-kilometer paved bike path, which the group rode before I arrived the previous day. We started our first day together riding the path before heading out of Annecy and into the foothills. I was nervous to be on a strange bicycle despite the proper fit, and thankfully wasn’t feeling any jet lag. The breathtaking terrain didn’t put me into oxygen debt like I thought it would, and it was an ideal time to get to know some of my fellow Trek Travelites.

Roommate Bob is a former tax attorney on sabbatical who’s making a return to cycling after a few years off. Ed owns a bicycle store in New Hampshire, and Brett works and travels extensively for Ingersoll Rand. Ken is a retired chemical engineer who enjoys traveling and riding in Europe, and Russell is a primary school teacher on a 12-month leave, splitting six months abroad to ride and eat after saving his money for 12 years.

The Brazilians—Guilherme, Marcos and Richard—enjoy adventure racing and traveling with family, whom they brought to France. Young A.J., whose father Mark works at Trek in Wisconsin, was the token intern, tasked with assisting Elizabeth and Lisa. He was mature beyond his collegiate years, reflecting his sophistication from growing up in an active family. The three took turns riding with our group on given days, while the others were manning the Trek Travel support vehicle. To the person all were quite good on the bike, and had detailed optional ride maps in the Race Packet for us each morning.

My final week of riding prior to departure was less than planned, but the priority of driving to Los Angeles for a few days with my son Henri and his four recently-graduated high school buddies was greater. A heat wave struck the entire West Coast, which would have made training a bit challenging anyway, and the memories creates with Henri et al were awesome. It actually felt great to be a tourist for a change, drinking in the Getty Center, Santa Monica beach, West Hollywood and downtown Los Angeles, where the coolest bookstore on the planet resides on Third Street in the form of the Last Bookstore. And yes, watching ‘World War Z’ with five 18- and 17-year-old boys was a gas, especially at 11:20 pm.

Back in Annecy, we were given the option for a post-ride massage before dinner. Funny as it may sound, I’ve never had a massage, and wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I know that professional cyclists often receive a pre- and post-ride rub down, so I was game. For €45, a local French masseuse who looked like a young Ali MacGraw spent 30 minutes taking the lactic acid and stress out of my body. If I had the money I’d probably benefit from something similar every day!

Feeling refreshed and famished, Bob, Brett and I walked into the local village to share some pizza and wine. Despite our extremely different backgrounds, we found common ground with cycling. We compared notes on our athletic careers leading up to our current passion for riding, feeding Bob’s enthusiasm to relocate to California. The laughter and French authenticity of sitting amongst fellow cyclists was just what we needed leading into our final day before the Big Ride.

Next: Boats, Cafes and Blick.

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