L’Étape is global because it’s not easy
The Tour de France drags people in like no other bike race.
In the last two years at L’Étape Australia I’ve seen former Australian road champions, Steve Drake (the now CEO of Cycling Australia) and Jamie Drew, line up, as anonymous faces in the crowd, alongside people doing their first mass participation event. The common thread between Drake and Drew and the thousands on the start line is shared with the 60 riders who started the first Tour de France, in 1903. It’s the spirit of adventure and the desire to challenge themselves. The mood of the race is contagious and the desire to experience it has seen L’Étape by the Tour de France spread around the world.
There are 15 L’Étape events, across five continents. In addition to Australia and France, there are two in China, three in Mexico, Taiwan, England, Wales, Brazil, Costa Rica, Colombia and in the US it’s hosted in California. For degree of difficulty the one in Mexico City looks really hard. It’s only 135km but consists of two big climbs, with all of it ridden above 2,200m, so the air is thin.
And, at a wild guess, you’d have to be an elite climber to be anywhere near the front of L’Étape Colombia. But as a pure challenge L’Étape Australia is on par with France and Mexico City – 170km with the Col de Kosciuszko… that’s a tough day on the bike, which is the whole point.
In July you regularly hear non-cyclists saying, “they’re mad, I don’t know how they do it” as a term of admiration for the Tour riders. It’s also what they say about you when you arrive at work after getting up at 5:30am to join your midweek bunch ride. They don’t know what they’re missing out on.
You don’t do it because it’s easy. It’s more appealing because it’s hard.
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.