In my last post Racing Across America, I described why we are doing RAAM in June this year and how I got involved.
This guest post is from our Rider Captain, Andrew Jordan. This will also appear in the blog section at our website CWT RAAM in the next few days. It was originally written on Thursday 30th March.
The title speaks for itself. I remember Andrew doing this event. I hadn’t heard the story until I got the draft of this a couple of days ago. I suspect that if Chris Underwood hadn’t done what he did that day, we might not now be doing RAAM. Thank you from me and the rest of the team and from ECPAT for the choice you made that day.
It’s late March, and in 79 days, 1 hour and 38 minutes (not that I’m counting) Team Endeavour will roll over the start line in Oceanside on the start of our epic journey across America. A lot has been said and written about my past experience of racing in events like this. The truth is that despite having taken on five Tour de France stages – all in the high mountains of either the Alps or the Pyrenees – nothing will fully prepare any of us, including me, for what we will endure as we race our way West to East.
L’Etape du Tour, where amateurs take on a stage of the Tour de France, is probably the toughest single-day amateur cycle race in the world. Competitors come from all over the world to take on the very same roads as the pros. Needless to say, this is just one day and the Tour itself spans three full weeks. But to put this all in perspective, RAAM is 30% longer in distance and 25% higher in vertical metres to climb, than the whole of the Tour de France. In 8 days. But back to L’Etape.
Nobody enters an event like L’Etape without putting in a LOT of training and body conditioning. It’s simply a waste of time and money not to. But when you consider that each year at least a third of the whole field DNF, mostly because they’re too slow or too unfit, it does make you realise just how tough riding in the full Tour is.
The first year I rode in L’Etape was 2011 and I trained very,very hard.
I very nearly DNF’d.
I was on turn 6 of 22 on the lower slopes of the famous Alpe D’Huez and I was spent. Nothing left in the tank. It was 38C, there was no wind, the sun was beating down on roads mostly without any shade, the tarmac was melting, and I had completely run out of food and water (rookie error). I had found a spot under a tree, bike discarded by my side, and I was sat on one of the many metal barriers that snake their way up the mountain, by the side of the road. My head was hung low as I stared down at my cycling shoes wondering how on earth I had ended up in this position.
There was an eerie silence on Alpe D’Huez that day, riders slowly moving past in front of me, their legs straining to keep their bikes moving forwards against the steep gradient of the most famous climb in cycling history. Nobody said a word. Nobody was smiling. Just the whirring of their bike chains powering their expensive carbon uphill. This was at the sharp end of the race, the finish line some 1300m and 11km higher up, at the ski station at the top. I saw other riders, predominantly men, walking their bikes slowly past, doing the ‘Walk of Shame’. I swore I’d rather DNF than do that.
I remember thinking over and over again that there was no way I was going to quit and yet, at the same time my body was screaming at me to stop. I had already climbed Col de Telegraph and Col du Galibier, the latter one of the highest mountain passes in the Alps so aside from the heat and dehydration, I was also feeling the tiredness beginning to kick in too.
My phone went. It was Chris, my cycling buddy, asking where I was. He was at turn 10 so a little further up the mountain. I said I was done, no way I was going to continue. I couldn’t. I physically had no strength, and there was no way I’d attempt it with no water in that heat. A few moments later, Chris unexpectedly turned up. He’d ridden back down the mountain to find me. I looked up slowly and there he was, handing me an almost full bottle of water – his last bottle. I took it without saying a word and drained a good half of it. My body reacted almost instantly and despite the pain and exhaustion, I got back on my bike and we slowly set off up the mountain together, pushing each other on, keeping each other from stopping. Very much a case of mind over body in that instant. Chris had sacrificed his time, his water, and made himself climb the same section of mountain twice, because he wasn’t going let me give up.
About an hour later we crossed the finish line, tears rolling down my face. I was exhausted but I had made it. And I had made it because, at that moment, I realised a valuable lesson. People think cycling is an individual pursuit which to many it is. But riding in endurance events, whether it is L’Etape, or RAAM, is every bit a team sport.
We’d welcome your support which can range from cheering us on to supporting our charity, ECPAT. In any event, we plan to enjoy it, I hope you can too.