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I'd L'Etape that - Part II

Seeing the registration open for the 2017 L'etape made me realise I'd never posted the follow-up post to our 2016 L'etape adventure post.

So when last we visited this story, our plucky hero had decided against medical and equipment wisdom to race in l’etape du tour down-under.

Ok, so we had done no training, and we had no shoes. It was 7pm on a Friday night prior to the race start at 7am the following day. Jindabyne is a skiing town, so amongst the 47 thousand places to buy ski-boots there were two with bikes shoes. And 98% of those were mountain bike shoes.

We rode at high speed on our commuter bikes (me thanking the stars above that I had brought my trusty electric steed) all over the place, back and forth until we found a pair of shoes that would a) fit the rider and b) fit the bike but only if we also changed the pedals.

Dangyammit, this was not going to be an economical weekend away … I began constructing a packing checklist for Sprocketman for next time;

1. Bike

2. Bike shoes

3. Pedals

4. Bike shoes that fit the bike pedals that fit the bike

5. Bananas

Half an hour later we were the respectively relieved/exasperated owners of yet another pair of cycle shoes.

“What else do you need?” I asked, I hoped patiently.

Having travelled with Sprocketman to a race before, I was used to seeing eskies of home-made, nutritionally sound food for the night before, home-made high-performance gels, organic fruit, special post-race protein drinks.

“Get me a chocolate milk and a bag of jelly snakes” was the order. “And don’t eat any on the way back.”

I made that “uh huh” noise that one does. Which pretty much guaranteed I would eat all the green ones as soon as I got out of the shop. Possibly the orange ones as well.

In the supermarket I had to laugh and then flatten myself against the shelves for safety as swarms of ill-prepared middle-aged white guys ran panicked through the aisles. There was not a banana left in sight, and I heard several of them joking desperately about the availability of banana paddle-pops.

Woolworths Jindabyne made a small fortune that night I am quite certain.

Back to the hotel I rode, utterly laden down with items Sprocketman had bought, plus a few things to get me through the next day, as he cycled back to Woolworths yet again to buy a razor to shave his legs for the race. Later that night it looked as though we had ritually slaughtered a small dark hamster in the hotel’s bath; eh, whatever it takes right?

We ate wisely, had an early night, and I don’t think slept a wink either of us.

While the l’etape organisers were doing this for the first time in Australia, it’s fair to say this was not their first rodeo, and so we were dismayed to learn there weren’t enough shuttle buses to get all the riders to the starting point; anybody at this point who hadn’t put their name down for a berth on the bike bus was going to have to get there under their own steam.

Guess which group we fell into?

So at 5am on race day, Sprocketman awoke, got ready and drove himself and his bike to the starting point, with road closures, diversions and a queue of similarly left-to-their-own-devices riders, the 17 km to Bullocks Flat took 30 minutes. Just what your nerves need before a big ride.

I do not know what happened after we hugged farewell, and I wished him a good race and to have fun. I was hoping for automated updates via text, generated by the chip in Sprocketman’s bike frame. These had been a balm for frayed nerves during the 13 hours of the Falls Creek 3 Peaks Ride last year – even though they were only generated as Sprocketman passed key race points approximately 3 hours apart, it gave me a huge surge of relief to know he hadn’t (yet) ridden off a cliff, been in a crash, hit a wombat etc etc, all the usual things that prey on one’s imagination when you don’t quite know exactly where your partner is at any given point in time.

You think I have a flair for the dramatic, have you ever seen a fully grown wombat? They are fast (faster than Usain Bolt in fact) muscular little bastards and will destroy anything in their path. Know as the "keg on legs" they are pure strength and bad temper in one furry chunky body and can lift cars by burrowing underneath them and then just standing up.

So we leave Sprocketman to his own devices for several paragraphs  - what did I, a utility/commuter cyclist at best, a non-racer, do during my day alone in a wonderful summer playground of outdoorsy-ness and athleticism?

Well, first thing, I made a lovely cup of tea, opened the curtains to the spectacular sunrise over the lake and snuggled back into bed with my book.

And I stayed there for about 2 hours. Excellent.

And then about the same time as 3,500 people balanced themselves on two-wheels and wobbled off down a bloody big hill, I dressed and had a full breakfast at the hotel dining room while reading the Saturday news. I walked to the lake’s edge, threw my toast crusts to a passing bird, and headed back to dress for a ride.

This was exciting; I had the whole of the road-closed race route to play on. I wheeled Alan out of our hotel suite, after taking a few pictures of him on the balcony, threw my leg over the top tube rather ungracefully, as I am still getting used to a diamond frame. Note to self, watch a few women’s pro races and see how they get on their bikes without dislodging a hip.

And we were off !

Face much forwarder and lower than on my dutch bike – much closer to a racing pose than I was used to or had really wanted – but here we were, wide open roads, no cars – let ‘er rip.

And I did. I raced through Jindabyne village, onto the bike path, back to the start of the road closures and continued that loop several times. Despite the fact that I was not wearing a race number, and was several hours ahead of the expected time for even the fastest rider, I got waves and cheers and offers of free drinks from the spectators gathered along the roadside.

“No, I’m not racing, just having a fun ride.” I said for the nth thousandth time. “Good on you love, you’re miles ahead of the blokes!”

After that I gave up and either gracefully accepted the plaudits or deflected the conversation to admiring the local scenery/local enthusiasm/yellow bikes.

I looped back along the path to avoid my fans, and still practicing gear selection and changing, kept riding until I judged it time for real cyclists to be approaching the finish line; I sat myself and my bike under a tree and clapped and cheered for everyone passing; red of face or relaxed, some people barely making it, some deciding to burn their last energy reserves in a sprint finish – it was great and several hours passed without my really noticing. The supporters across the road from me had been in place for many more hours and far more beers and their support was loud and long.

But as the tail end of riders drifted past, and then the official race cars and police cars rolled through I realised there were no more riders. Where was Sprocketman?

How had I missed him? Because he doesn’t race with a phone, there was no point calling him, but I did anyway, just in case …

Bugger. I hopped on Alan and rode the rest of the race course to the finish, through the crowds and nada. Not there. Rode back to our hotel. Not there. Rode back to the finish, checked the physio and massage tents, checked the crowd at the awards presentation. At a bit of a loss as to where he would be, I checked with the organisers, and then rode over to the medical tent. No, no middle-aged white MAMIL heart-attack victims, and he wasn’t on the list of crash victims – three riders taken out on the first descent by a wild deer, geez you’d be cross wouldn’t you?

Could he have gone over a cliff while riding alone? This seemed the obvious answer and I paused to think about the logistics of abseiling down to rescue him, when my phone pinged with a text message from an unknown number.

“Borrowd phone, on bus, being taken back to car.”

Ooh, that wasn’t great. The bus meant a crash or a medical issue …

I'd L'Etape that

It’s pronounced “le tap” that’s why it’s funny, mmkay?


Sprocketman and I don’t get a lot of time off work; it sucks muchly, but that’s just the way it goes at the moment.

So you’ll excuse us if we seemed disproportionately excited to have a Friday off work to travel 5 hours to the Snowy Mountains in NSW during summer, joining 3,499 others to ride in the Tour de France event L’Etape Australia, a race under TdF conditions, 160km of fully closed roads with genuine TdF winners jerseys. Whoo hoo !

Best part of all that IMO? Closed roads. Love 'em.

Thursday afternoon I was under strict instructions to leave work early, so we could pack the car and take off that night, extending that exciting holiday feeling.

Unfortunately hiccups at work meant I only got away on time, but these days that is early for me, so I counted it as a win.

Arriving home to see Sprocketman had propped his race bike in the driveway was a “uh huh" moment.

This is the guy who essentially hasn’t ridden a bike for 6 weeks, let alone put any appropriate training in, who has had a chest infection of his own (tip o’ the hat to Nick from Optus) and so is supremely unready to race 156km up and down this.

But eh. Whatevs. We decided to go any way and enjoy the long weekend, the atmosphere of a small country town temporarily converted to an outpost of the world’s best-known bike race. And we'd ride our bikes along the trails, around the lakes and have fun. Jindabyne is beautiful, we don’t need to race to enjoy it. And we’d juuust passed the date where we could have got a 100% refund on the hotel room, so yeah, we were going.

But we’ll take a race bike just in case.

We loaded our car with 4 bikes for 2 people, a small bag of clothes each and our favourite sleeping pillows, you know, because we’re getting old and cranky about stuff like that.

And there's a fourth bike in the back of the car...

And there's a fourth bike in the back of the car...

A short delay while Sprocketman decided to wash the car (what is it with guys who do that) and we were off – two hours later than intended but able to see out the windscreen at least.

Driving along the motorway became a game of "see who else was going to l'etape", as we saw more and more cars with bikes attached, single bikes, pairs, multiple bikes on both rear rack and roof rack.  Every bike got a quick assessment from Sprocketman, as one does.

"Ooh, that's a nice Pinarello..."

Sprocketman thought we’d reach Canberra that night, but come 9pm I was pretty sure another 90 minutes of driving was a bad idea, so we over-nighted at Goulburn, home of the Big Merino and a fairly decent bakery.

All hail our woolly overlord Rambo

All hail our woolly overlord Rambo

This is where a country town approach is delightful.

At 9.30pm, hotel mostly full with a film crew passing through, the receptionist told us confidentially that the night manager had put the room rate up to $299, but she was going to let us have it for the regular $199.

“I mean, what would you do if I told you it was $299 ?"

Damn straight love, I’d be on the phone to the 5 other hotels I could hit with a bread roll from where I was standing. What a sweetheart.

So we unloaded some of the car and 2 of the bikes into our hotel room, took a delightfully novel bath (at home, if you want a bath you have to clean the accumulated cat hair out of it first, and that does not impart a feeling of luxury and decadence), and fell asleep, ready for an early holiday depart.

Netflix and chill baby ...

Netflix and chill baby ...

Breakfast was at the nearest bakery, and we watched more and more bike-laden cars arrive and order bacon and egg rolls and coffee. Cyclists on their way to an event are like a gathering of the world's worst secret society.

I sat by the window and watched people stopping to perve on our bikes, which gave me a little chuckle and Sprocketman a feeling of pride - which he deserves because he never buys a bike complete, mostly because I'm in charge of our finances; so instead; he finds parts online, orders them from all over the globe, builds the bike himself from scratch and then tests and tweaks them.

He earns his hobby.

And I tell you, if you want to know what true love is, it’s watching your partner teach himself how to install and bleed disc brakes by watching a YouTube video and then getting on said bike and riding down a hill into traffic while he watches anxiously.

Anyway – we drove and drove and drove, because Spokesman missed a crucial turn-off, and so we approached Jindabyne is if sneaking up to attack it, i.e. slightly from behind and to the left. I didn’t get too cranky because we had discovered that Sprocketman had also forgotten his cycling shoes, so there was no way he was riding his race bike without those. The decision had sadly been made for him. Fate, Karma, bloody uselessness, call it what you will. I was disappointed for him, but he seemed relieved the call had actually been made, and that a leisurely holiday weekend of riding his recreational bike with me lay ahead instead of a gruelling race.

But the extra 2 hours in the car, so totally not worth it. I'm just saying ...

However – as a result we did arrive via a side road through Berridale and saw the sweetest thing ever, the residents had gathered every bike they could get their hands on, spray-painted them all green (signifying the sprint stage) and installed the bikes along the road for several kilometres, in clusters at intersections and on rural letterboxes – it was brilliant, and just a sign of how welcome we were.  Chatting with one of the local volunteers we learned they had worked every weekend over the past 3 months gathering and painting these bikes and scooters. It was just one of the loveliest thing I have experienced. It was bloody adorable.

And for a bike rider from bike-hating Sydney, that was enough to make me want to cry like Sally Field at the Oscars.

Heading into the village and along the race route the bikes became TdF yellow and the carnival atmosphere ratcheted up another level once we hit the village proper, yellow painted wooden cut-outs of bikes were tied to every fence, I read the labels on some of them and cursed out loud; once I saw they been painted by local primary schools, I instantly abandoned my guilty plan to steal one as a souvenir for back home. I just couldn’t do that to them, l'etape is running for the next 3 years and we’ll be back. I don't want to be on wanted posters just yet. There were yellow plastic flowers stuck in every garden on every roundabout, twined through fences and up signposts. Man, these guys had hit the local $2 shop and hit it hard.

Carpark at Jindabyne village, still 2 days prior to the race. World's. Worst. Secret. Society.

Carpark at Jindabyne village, still 2 days prior to the race. World's. Worst. Secret. Society.

The hotel staff that checked us in had yellow manicures. Every shop had a yellow themed window display.

I had to stop taking photos because absolute everything was delightful. And yellow.

 The bike out the front of our hotel? Bright yellow knitted cover, wheels and all. That is skill, and quite frankly awesome.

Craftsmanship !

Craftsmanship !

So thank you Jindabyne and Berridale, and Perisher and Cooma – which were the places I personally saw and was delighted by.  I hope you had as good a weekend as we all did.

We had a ball riding around the partially closed roads the night prior to the race, exploring the village, riding the lovely bike path along the lakeside back to the hotel, and then around 7pm, with a wild look in his eye, Sprocketman gripped me by the upper arm.

“I’m gonna do it” he said hoarsely.

“Do what ?” I said, also hoarsely. Don’t forget we’ve both been sick for the last 3 weeks.

I’m going to race tomorrow..."


Duh duh duuuuh !!

To be continued