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Sixty-five year old former airline pilot Lindsay Crawford is in action again, looking for another win at L'Etape du Tour. The Northern California rider, who has been having fun riding his bike for over fifty years, is one of the few Americans to ever win their category in L'Etape du Tour.
Cyclingnews will be with Lindsay as he prepares, participates and gives post-mortems on this years L'Etape du Tour. The 14th edition of one of the worlds biggest cycling events covers 191.1km from Gap to finish atop L'Alpe d'Huez, via the Col d'Izoard and Col du Lautaret.
L'Etape du Tour is based on one of the mountainous stages of the Tour de France and usually occurs three to six days before the Tour de France races over the same route. Velo Magazine is the promoter and ASO handles the organization of the event.
Why am I writing this L'Etape du Tour diary for Cyclingnews? All of the narratives I've read about L'Etape du Tour have been by riders that aren't going for the win and are there to enjoy the overall experience and believe me, it's a great experience for anyone that enters and completes L'Etape du Tour. I've found that, near the front, one has an entirely different perspective of the event. In 2002 I started back amongst the masses and mostly spent my time stopped with my foot down because of the sheer number of riders. In 2003, starting close to the front and immediately riding at over 50kph, I could see the vast difference. In 2005 the start was so fast that within the first few kilometers I was already in the third group thinking my race was rapidly ending but, shortly we caught the leaders and I was within a couple of riders of the front.
In 2002 a friend living in France invited me over to participate in L'Etape du Tour, since it was going to be very close to where he lives. Having only a vague familiarity with the event, I was expecting something similar to a century ride as they are known in the States. With a fair amount of preparation, I arrived in France to find my friend talking about the race. Indeed, for those seeded and in the front it is a race. It would be analogous to a marathon with seeded fast competitors at the front, fairly fast recreational competitors in the middle and those just wanting to participate in a great event filling out the field.
At my first L'Etape du Tour I was unseeded with a start number of 5665 and it took 14 minutes to get across the start line. Meanwhile, the seeded riders were rapidly approaching the first climb on a narrow road just 13km into the race. A considerable amount of time was spent scooting along with one foot on the ground until well into that first climb. Once the field stretched out, it was easy to move up to a better position. Ultimately, I passed about 5000 riders to arrive at the finish in 640th overall and sixth in Category E (60+ years).
In 2003, I was pleasantly surprised to receive an invitation, based on my 2002 performance, for a priority start number. Now was the time to get serious with the goal of first place in Category E. I started training again, after retiring as a first category amateur in 1982. I may have stopped racing in the early '80s but never stopped riding, which included several trips to Europe, so I had a fairly good base.
So how does one train to do well in L'Etape du Tour? Every individual is different; my method works for me but, isn't necessarily for everyone. First and foremost I enjoy riding my bike, plus I'm from the old school (first race in 1953) and don't use a heart rate monitor or power meter. For training, in the winter, I use a heavy (12.3kg) bike, work out in the gym three days a week and generally join a weekly chain gang that usually includes some North American pros and first cat. racers (they tolerate me and are easy on the senior citizen).
In the spring I start entering a few races, sometimes competing in the 35+ field. In my previous life as a young first cat., I could place high and make a difference in a race. Now, if I race against 100 young riders, I'm happy to finish in the top thirty. I also enter a handful of stage races for preparation including two, in the Southwest US, that are just two days apart giving me the opportunity to ride nine stages in ten days. Additional training includes numerous solo five to seven hour rides (rain doesn't stop me). The bottom line - L'Etape du Tour is very difficult for those that want a high placing and takes a fair amount of hard preparation.
My 2003 preparation was successful and I finished first in Cat E and 196th (out of about 7000 entrants) overall. Without a doubt, it was the most satisfying win of my career.
It is always good to have a goal and for me the new goal was top 150 in L'Etape du Tour 2004. But the best laid plans don't always work out; I had the 'flu shortly before departing for France and considered opting out. I still made the podium but this time I finished third, about four minutes behind first place after 238kms.
My new goal for 2005 was to Try to win Cat E again and the heck with overall. It was not to be, my rear wheel hub cracked after first ten pedal strokes causing a warped rim and I rode with a dragging rear brake for six hours. I was off the podium this time in 6th, 13 minutes down.
Those that have ridden L'Etape du Tour may ask why I didn't get neutral service from Mavic. The service vehicles operate a little differently then in pro races and are really looking for riders standing on the side of the road with a mechanical problem, they are unable to respond to a rider moving along in the peloton. Also, team vehicles aren't available to draft off to regain the field after service. Additionally, there might be a group ahead when you are near the front so the reason you were dropped was because they were faster and you'll probably never rejoin them if you stop for service. Whereas, if you are much further back weaker riders create gaps and, if you are fit, you can jump across and move up through the groups. I decided continuing to ride was the best option.
For the curious, I'm 65 years old, 188cm, 78kg, 6.8% body fat, have over seven litres of lung capacity and relatively short legs for my height. I'm not a great hill climber but am tenacious and can suffer with the best of them to get over a mountain. My race bike weight is 7.7kg.
What does one do after L'Etape du Tour? The next day, I usually ride back to retrieve my car that I left at the start and then ride as much as possible over the next two weeks enjoying as many climbs as I can that have a historical significance from epic bike races. Remember, don't forget to enjoy riding your bike! So I'm returning once again for 2006 using my tried and true method of preparation and starting with number 69 in the first wave. Stay tuned for more Tales From L'Etape du Tour