We ride L’Étape because it is hard
John F. Kennedy famously said, “we choose to go to the moon not be because it is easy, but because it is hard”.
It’s my favourite Kennedy quote. Of course, it might not have the same resonance if Neil Armstrong hadn’t taken that famous leap for mankind. But the real strength of the quote lays in the truth of there being a far greater sense of achievement in doing what is hard.
The Tour de France has built its popularity by being hard. One of the objectives of the first edition, in 1903, was to make it so hard that only one rider would finish.
The top items on the “to do list” of most cycling trips to France are Alpe d’Huez, the Col du Tourmalet, Luz Ardiden, the Col du Télégraphe – the mythical climbs of the Tour. And, if you’re really hard-core, the cobbles of the Arenberg Forest for a Mat Hayman, Paris-Roubaix, experience.
They are on the list because they are hard. L’Étape is hard. Whether it’s the Race of 170km or the Ride’s 108km, it’s a tough day on the bike, which is what makes it so rewarding.
The Col de Beloka is almost identical to the Cote de la Croix Neuve to Mende, the final climb on Stage 14 at this year’s Tour. It was an epic day won by Omar Freile (Astana), with riders crossing the line in ones and twos.
Mount Kosciuszko, which is part of the Race, is 23.5km long, at an average gradient of 4.4%. It’s similar to the Col du Glandon, which is 24.1km at 4.8% and was last used in the 2013 Tour, when Giro d’Italia winner Ryder Hesjedal won the stage.
Fortunately, L’Étape isn’t just about suffering.
It also captures some of the more glamorous parts of Tour de France experience. The locals get into the Tour spirit and you get to ride through beautiful little towns painted yellow (Jindabyne), green (Berridale) and polka dot (Dalgety). Plus, you get fully closed roads and police motorbikes rolling by ensuring there’s no traffic. The roads are yours.
To paraphrase the much-used sporting cliché, “pain is temporary, glory lasts forever”. The pain of L’Étape is temporary, the story telling will last a lifetime.
Being one of the most recognisable voices of cycling, Matthew Keenan regularly forms part of the international commentary team at the Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana, broadcast around the world from Europe, USA, Africa, New Zealand and on SBS in Australia.