The start/finish and event centre relocated to Jindabyne this year which made the logistics of competing much simpler. Start waves spread people out at the beginning of the day and a later start time was used for the Ride meaning the anticipated finish times were more closely aligned.
Run in Tour de France conditions, the main drawcards of L’Etape include fully closed roads, one or two challenging climbs, a chance to compete for a yellow jersey, and an opportunity to ride with, and meet, professional Tour de France cyclists. This year Mat Hayman (Mitchelton-Scott) rode through the field after starting from the very back. Amanda Spratt (Mitchelton-Scott), in her third appearance at the event, was joined on the road by her dad, Graeme, and her brother, Nick.
170km is a challenging feat for any rider, but even more so if you attack the distance, and climbs, in race mode. Darcy Ellerm-Norton and Jennifer Kay, both riding in Rapha Cycling Club colours did just that.
They finished the longer loop in four hours 48 minutes and 45 seconds and five hours 40 minutes and 17 seconds respectively, with the effort from the day clearly visible at the finish line. Kent Carpenter (3:13:17) and Allison Lane (3:36:07) were the fastest over the shorter, 108km distance.
While the two distances were billed as the Race and the Ride, only a very small number of people were there to race. The vibe on the course and in the event centre was relaxed, chatty and friendly, with people stopping at the top of climbs to regroup with their mates, share solutions to cramps (“Oh no! Try this pickle juice!”), or just to take a few moments before pedalling on.
In this way, the loops would be better described as the Ride and the Even Bigger Ride. The landscape is simply too stunning, the feed zones too appealing, and the freedom of wide lines around the corners on closed roads just too much fun to spend the day chewing the stem. This isn’t a criticism of the event, it’s precisely what made it such a fun day out. It was like a tough weekend pedal without the worries of traffic, carrying enough food, or remembering where to turn while taking in the dry, rocky scenery of a uniquely Australian corner of the world.
As riders crossed the finish line, I found myself asking them what advice they’d give to others who were on the fence about doing this event next year. I was partly asking it in my role as media. But more than that, meeting so many people during the day out for a ride rather than a race, as part of more clubs and groups than I can name, surrounded by a community that had lined the streets with yellow, green and polka dot-painted bikes, had demonstrated so clearly just how big this sport has become. I wanted to hear more about that.
I’ve always admired the people behind Iron Man in a similar way. Cycling events are so often talked about in terms of winning, but people compete in Iron Man to be a finisher. The recent explosion in Gran Fondo style cycling events is achieving something similar.
The resounding response from L’Etape finishers was to just do it. Start preparing a few months out as the distances are solid, they said, but do it. You don’t have to be fit or young or trim or have the best Lycra. You just need to want to get on your bike and go for a challenging, and stunning, ride.
It struck me driving home, that this is one of the things the global broadcasts of the Tour de France have done so well too. This is something that resonates even more today with the news of renowned commentator Paul Sherwen’s passing.
While the race provides the context, above all the Tour is an event that inspires people to get out and ride, and to really appreciate the landscape around them. Chapeau to everyone who got out there last weekend and did exactly that.