“To me, a fight is not a fight until there’s resistance. Until there’s something to overcome.” - Teddy Atlas

A band of twenty-five Orwellians decended (and ascended) on the Alps for L’Etape du Tour and a Raid. Luke GJ Potter recounts his adventures amid the heat wave, to discover if he is a “Tropical Weather Ginger”.


Table of Contents

Jump to the various chapters by touching/clicking on these links:

  1. The Mission

  2. Is a Handlebar Bag and a Flappy Gillet a Replacement for a Personality?

  3. The Broken Microwave that Sent me Back in Time

  4. Traumatic Travel Part 1

  5. Race Packs and Cortisol

  6. The Inability to Dance like Lance <- The actual Etape


Media Links

As this report is 8,392 words long, I recorded it in Audio fomat.

You can listen to it by searching “Breeze Shooting x Luke GJ” in your Podcast Client, or by clicking: BS⤬LGJ #005.


Photos: Alps 2019 - L'Etape Du Tour, Mini-Raid and Le Tour.

Strava: L'Etape du Tour. Climbed off at the food stop in Moutier. Sad.


The Mission

After returning from Belgium, where I rode Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Gent-Wevelgem and The Philippe Gilbert Classic, I had two and a half months until my next quarry, L’Etape du Tour and a Mini-Raid Alps.

L’Etape du Tour, is what is says on the tin, a stage of the tour. Unlike the Marmotte and the Maratona, the Etape’s route changes every year. It usually runs on the Queen Stage of that year’s Tour, a week before the Professionals race it. This year it was stage twenty of the Tour de France.

Entries and accommodation are hard to come by, so your best bet is to go with a Tour Company. We went with Sportive Breaks. They are an English Company, who have been growing since Phil founded it three Septembers ago.

As there were twenty-five of us who attended, we utilised BringMyBike.ie to ship our bikes ahead of us. This was a great service. As we didn’t need to faff with the bikes upon arrival and dismantle them prior to leaving. We didn’t need to put a trailer on the bus to transport the bikes and our hotel rooms were not filled with a bike bag. It was as simple as Front wheel off, front wheel on.

After the Etape, we planned to do a Mini-Raid Alps. Wherein we would ride some Alpine cols. Sportive Breaks really assisted us in this regard. The first leg of the Raid was a Semi-Assisted Bike Packing trip 150km to Briancon.

The final part of the trip would be a pilgrimage up the Galibier to watch the tour race up.

There were trials and tribulations, so, dear reader, let’s open our tale in early May, as I faced down the barrel of my thirtieth birthday.


Is a Handlebar Bag and a Flappy Gillet a Replacement for a Personality?

Finally, after years of searching, and sliding into Gus Morton’s and Lachlan Morton’s DMs, I got them to re-release “Thereabouts 3: Colombia”. I am an awesome Social Media Influencer, except I’ll call out bullshit. It coincided with the release of Rapha Films “Outskirts 3: Shadow of the East”. To say that I was hyped up on Semi-Assisted Bike Packing, Cycling Hipsters and stupid hair would be an understatement.

Our trip to the Alps would include Semi-Assisted Bike Packing, I had stupid hair, all I needed was to become a Cycling Hipster. Queue me buying a Handlebar bag, aka joining Handlebar Bag Club. Handlebar Bag Club is Blood In, and Blood Out.

I rode with my housemate, Paul Forristal, for the first time ever. We had lived together for nine months at this point. I was doing 2x20s, he was just on a rest spin. I outsprinted him on the second interval. Maybe I should have the A1 License.

Picture used with permission of Handlebar Bag Magazine.

I met Eugene for a spin on a Saturday. We rode to the Armoury Cafe. There we met Martin O'Donoghue and his band of Wicklow 100 First Timers. Martin told me that they were going to the Blue Light for pints. I presumed that he was buying, with the remainder of the Leisure Budget. Some of the girls had sore throats from belting out the hits at the Spice Girls in the previous days.

The next day, I rode my inaugural Mick Byrne. I hoped to clock 200km by riding the 160 and cycling in and out. I blew up after 137km. There’s still radioactive glass on Glenmacnass Waterfall from my Mushroom Cloud that day. Barry Mooney and I used our CycloCross skills to take on the gravel on the descent from Glencree.

My contact point with the saddle was a bit raw from the Mick Byrne. I had loads of food and clothing layers in my pockets. I resolved to buy a Handlebar Bag to alleviate what Johnny Cash would deem “a ring of fire”. I read the review of the newly released Rapha Handlebar Bag. It was not positive. I went deep into #HandlebarBag on Instagram and discovered a Spanish brand, Cordel. They had a product called the Dürüm. It looked awesome, and they let you customise parts of the bag.

One of my rare punctures.

The Orwell Summer Weekend Away, TKAS was good craic, despite the crosswinds. Aisling Ní Neill surprised me a birthday cake on the Sunday night. I may, or may not, have turned 30 this year. I made it to the Monday spin for the first year ever. Getting wise in my advancing years.

Sunday June 9th, I introduced the Orwell Sunday Mountains Group to my Handlebar Bag. The Cordel Dürüm ⤬ Luke GJ was born, in Tropical Camo with Orange detailing. The May and June weather was bad, I was still in Leg Warmers and Gillet. I ripped minutes out of my PBs on all the climbs that day. I had to unzip the Gillet when I was going hard. Stupid hair, Flapping Clothes and looking like a Hipster; I was Gus Morton from Thereabouts 1, and Lachlan Morton from Ourskirts 3. Barry Greene remarked, “You look Super Pro”. I didn’t need to answer, as the Handlebar Bag and Flappy Gillet spoke volumes.

It was the same day as the Wicklow 200. When I got home, sportive rider and soon-to-be ex-housemate, Paul Forristal tried, and failed, to take me down a peg by telling me that Freddie Stevens was the most Pro-looking rider he had ever seen. “Freddie Smeddie”, I believe was my beligerient response.

At the 12 Peaks, AnneMarie’s Marmotte Edition, future Triathlete Gar Connolly just couldn’t deal with the presence of the Handlebar Bag. I did five of the 12 Peaks, as it was a rest week. I had extra tubes in my Handlebar Bag for Aisling. At the foot of the Shay Elliot we spotted Eugene. Even after having the chance to ponder it for seven peaks, Gar still couldn’t understand the Handlebar Bag. During the spin, I took a fantastic photo of Aisling herding sheep.

Just like in Kerry. (the photo is sideways, for scientific reasons)

I had to go all the way to rural Clare to gain Handlebar Bag acceptance. I woke up forty minutes late for the Tour de Burren. I had visions of riding 130km solo, so I put on my Rule 28 Aero Sox. On that spin, I passed tonnes of people with Handlebar Bags. Mine was the most stylish tho. I felt at home with these kindred spirits. Although most of them were jealous that I was doing twice their speed into a headwind with my rock-solid core strength.

A Stag in Prague took place. It was good to decompress. My training plan for that weekend consisted of one easy bike ride. I accomplished that by using the Beer Bike. The Beer Bike was scary, there is no suspension on it. So turning and cobbled roads were not for a man who had an expensive trip coming up. I should’ve trained by offering to help my Dad on the farm by driving the Massey 135.

The official 12 Peaks, Etape Edition, took place the following week. Three weeks later, duathlete Gar Connolly still couldn’t deal with the presence of the Handlebar Bag. I also had Dar Connolly on my case. Niall Kernan and Peadar Corbally also chimed in. My excellent peripheral vision picked out their envious glances as I unzipped the top and unfurled a pack of Dates. On top of Brown Mountain, we met Eugene. He had the news of his engagement to Katy to share. I cracked on Turlock Hill, ate some spuds in Laragh and cracked again on Slieve Mann. The crack which happened on Slieve Mann was described in my post-12 Peaks interview as a “Humpty-Dumpty Mushroom Cloud” crack. A normal man would not have been able to continue. I had to finish this to keep my self-respect. I had cut out the Wicklow 200, trimmed the Mick Byrne and indulged in Prague. I pushed on through sheer force of will. I stupidly left my Gels in my car and Potato Power had worn off. On Brown Mountain, Daragh was getting in a few more Handlebar Bag digs. He stopped abruptly when Paul O'Donoghue appeared on the horizon. POD was prepping for Paris-Brest-Paris, with his full Touring setup. Surprisingly, Daragh didn’t get Pink Eye from all the Brown-Nosing he did to Paul. I rode Slieve Mann and Shay Elliott solo. It was misty at the top, and I took the best photo of Aisling as she crested. We rode the descent to Laragh together. I out-sprinted her on the kick up to Clodaghs, as I couldn’t be seen to be beaten by a girl.

Aisling in the Mist

I finished my training with a 160km ride from my home house, on the side of a hill with phone mast on top, to Oughterard. To visit a seasonally-opening Cafe with my mates. It was super warm. As I rode back to my Village and dogs, I finally got to see the Cliff of Moher from across Galway Bay.


The Broken Microwave that Sent me Back in Time

Dear reader, before we get to France. Let's talk about what happened behind the scenes and off the bike.

I continued to work with Aidan Hammond for a coaching plan. I also signed up to the Zwift L’Etape Training Club. Not for the workouts, but for the reading material. I missed a block of VO2Max Training designed around the Club League Races, due to catching up on work. I short-changed myself there.

Looking back, with massive loads of hindsight, on the training block. I think I should’ve understood, or sought clarification about when Aidan said in the weekend workouts “Eat and Drink Plenty on the bike”. I should’ve interpreted it as “Train your stomach by ploughing food into yourself on the bike.” For the Tour, the Mitchelton-Scott (GreenEdge) Team had trained Adam Yates to process 110g of carbs per hour. I should’ve been focusing on this metric on Sundays, to keep my performance strong at the end of rides.

The Heat Wave the enveloped France for the Tour was a freak, but it was always going to be hot. I should’ve been acclimatising to the heat by riding three times a week for thirty minutes on the trainer without a fan. All the Heat Adaption/Acclimatising stuff only started to be published on GCN, TrainerRoad Podcast and Zwift PowerUp in early-July, by that time it was too late for me.

The test event for the Tokyo Olympics took place this summer too. There are going to be some sports-scientists who are going to get a great reputation from these Olympics for their Heat work. I won’t be watching the Olympics again though, as I’m not a bitch for Sportswashing. Hosted in the world’s most Xenophobic country and the Mutants that China’s Human Experimentation Laboratories are going to roll out are total BS. I didn’t give two-cents about Brazil corrupt sport hosting, and I won’t be giving a flying-intercourse about Qatar bloody world cup.

The next block from Aidan was a Threshold block. I somehow unlocked a way to control my Core. Where I could breath with my tummy whilst my spine was taught. I labeled this my “Rock Solid Core”. It drew some banter on Strava, with girls (ok, just one nosey one) wanting to see it in action on a ride (of the bicycle variety). The Threshold interval block, was focused on 10 minute efforts. In every session I got higher Power even as more intervals were added. On 2x20s I chopped almost a minute off my best times on Cruagh and Stocking Lane. Aidan Hammond’s Training Plan had me in super shape ahead of the trip to the Alps. This is massive for my self-esteem, because...

Some things started to unravel for me.

I was listening to too much Jordan B. Peterson, about taking on responsibility to give my life purpose. I volunteered to organise the Bike Transport. I won’t delve into what happened too much, but one company tried to Alterboy-Parish Priest me ...twice. My saviour on this occasion was, fellow Ginger, Mark Zuckerberg. A Facebook Advert for a rival company lead me to a cheaper alternative. I felt like a sack of shit switching companies, but I was pissed off and it was for the good of the group. I was the Rick Grimes of Bike Transport, and I had to keep my group safe. Following the guilt of switching companies, I had the added cognitive load of people asking me questions. Questions that I had already documented. After sometime I just responded with a link to the document and a “FAQ Off”. The bike transfer saga took another turn when, fellow stupid hair person, Borris Johnson and the brexiteers implemented Customs on the British Landbridge. For us, this meant that we had to book our suitcases on the airplane. This was sad, as BringMyBike.ie were set to bring our cases, making it a fantastic deal.

Three weeks before the Etape, the microwave in the office broke. I kicked up a stink with the Facilities staff. They tried to ignore me. It boiled down to the fact that Facilities didn’t want to clean the microwave and the Catering staff also didn’t want to. We have a restaurant, but it serves garbage food and teeth breaking broccoli. I had to essentially bully two grown men to get my Microwave. The solution we came to was for them to put a sign over the microwave; “This is a self-service microwave”. My company hire human garbage, to the point where all the cups have brown stains because people won’t rinse them, and there are also signs “Don’t leave cups in the bathroom”. I didn’t just get one microwave, I over delivered, I got two. They’re now called Lukrowaves.

The downside, they took three weeks to arrive. During these three weeks of hot trash restaurant food, I packed on three kilograms of fat. Rapidly undoing my five months of home cooking. This was massively depressing as cycling is a basic sport; the Power you can produce divided by your Body Weight, the Watts per Kilo ratio.

It really upset me, to see the beginnings of a four-pack and the tops of my pecs vanish. Lying in bed at night thinking, “this cannot be happening, this cannot be happening”. Get me an iceberg, I was a Walrus.

I felt like I wasted the last five months of cooking. The only upside was that I didn’t get sick. I did have a mini-panic when I thought I was getting sick on the week that I was to go to France. I break out in acne spots when I’m getting ill. I was just back from Prague and the hot weekend in Ireland lead me to use Sunscreen and AfterSun, which blocked my pores.

I went to Sinead Kennedy for a sports massage. Sport massages can leave you feeling a bit drained. This combined with the acne I was getting from the Suncream had me in a tizzy. I had to repeat into the mirror; “I’m not sick, I can’t be sick, I’m just fat”.

I had a slight tightness in my neck before the massage. Sinead loosened up my neck and applied tape to my traps. This was to keep the muscles stretched. Mad Scientist Sinead, experimented with the Kinesio Tape on herself, for her trip to the Dolomites. She benefited from it. My neck didn’t bother me on the trip. The tape really helped with the travel and dragging bags.

My barber was a bit stressed cutting around Sinead’s Kinesio tape.


Traumatic Travel Part 1

Now, dear reader, let's get to France. Oh wait, there’s an eighty minute delay on our flight. Some other pilot parked their plane in our gate and left. I copped some extra stick from my fellow holidaymakers for my Kinesthesiology tape. Bonus Banter.

NAMA boy, Johnny Ronan was getting on our flight. I was shorter than me, lots shorter. He got the second best tier of seats on the plane. He didn’t need the leg room.

I used the downtime to configure my new Garmin Edge 830 and load the routes for the coming week onto it.

When we arrived in Geneva, we were greeted by Phil from Sportive Breaks, our Tour Company. The bus was super slow, and I’m pretty sure went the wrong way according to Google Maps. But we got to see Swiss people chilling out on Lake Geneva. The needed some downtime from clock making and chocolatiering.

Lake Geneva

Phil met us again in our first base town of Moutiers. He gave us a info speech. Much of it was not needed, as it had been well communicated in emails. He seemed like a pretty chilled out guy.

Moutier was a small town and there was not much accommodation in it. Booking large groups into hotels would be tricky. The hotel was an unmitigated disaster. The two star “Welcome Hotel” in Moutier. Honestly they must’ve paid for the five star reviews on Google Maps. We were all supposed to be carb loading. My vegetarian option was a Large Salad. No carbohydrates to be seen. Wine was the only way to acquire calories. France was in the midst of a Heat Wave. It was 17°C at night. The rooms did not have Aircon, not even a Ceiling Fan. The bathroom floor was a grotty Lino, so I couldn’t sleep on the cool tiles. My room was on the road side of the hotel. There were lots ejits driving outside and blowing the horn. Oh yeah, and the Brides-les-Bains train station was outside. Trains start at 5am. Breakfast was also a Carb Free Zone. Eggs and Croissants are apparently sports nutrition.

Over the course of the trip, Peadar would frequently say to me “What did you expect? You can be Vegetarian in France.'' I couldn’t answer him at the time, due to being pissed off. But I’ll answer it now:

I expect a world where the Amazon Rainforest is not deliberately set on fire to be replaced by grass for grazing cattle, or growing Soybeans for feeding Factory Farmed Cattle, or Big Oil to prospect. I expect a world where healthy eating options are not financially prohibitive to the poorest in society. I expect a world where foods that cause long-term inflammation are exposed for the diseases they bring. How many cyclists have heard of “Blue Zones” before Anthony Walsh talked about it in his cutting edge research that you have to sign up to a mailing list to hear about? I expect a world where “Blue Zones” are all over the earth. Where the horrors of Factory Farming are in the past. Where farmers don’t have to get in-debt to banks to buy Monsanto/Bayer GMO seeds. Where tourist towns aren’t abandoned due to the pollution caused by dumping of feces from Factory Farms.

Mostly, I expect a world that is not a slow-motion suicide.

The way to actualise my expectations? Using the only voting power that I actually have, my spending habits. Every Euro you spend is a vote for what you believe in.

Unfortunately, on this trip, I could not #BeTheProofThatPlantsWork, the Heat, lack of Carbs and Sleep would see to that.


Race Packs and Cortisol

My alarm went off at 07:20. In truth I was already awake. I had not slept much that night. Possibly only three hours. Beeping cars, trains and hot temperatures put pay to my efforts.

Today was simple, we would start cycling at 09:00, 30km to Albertville, to pick up our race packs and explore the race village. The best thing was that our bikes were all setup and waiting for us.

Our base town, Moutier was at the foot of the final climb Val Thorens, the highest ski resort in Europe at 2,300m. Albertville, which hosted the 1992 Winter Olympics, was the start town of the L’Etape du Tour.

We got a speech from our guide, Taylor Gunman. He said that most of the route was on a bike path. Taylor had recently retired from Pro Cycling at 27. He finished his final season with Madison Genesis a few months before, at the end of 2018. His palmares include a win at the New Zealand Individual Time Trial in 2014 and a win at the Oceania Contiental Championship Road Race in 2015, taking some very impressive scalps; Patty Bevin, Cam Wurf, Heppy and Hindley. Most importantly, he is also a Man of the Rás, scoring a 6th on the opening stage of the 2016 edition.

Did I mention that I ride with people with ProCyclingStats profiles?

Straight out of Moutier, we were on a little ramp. On the descent one lad got a puncture, so we stopped at an alcove. It had an awesome view. I whipped out the phone to take a photo. Whilst I’m framing the shot, about to press take, I guy in blue rode in front of me. Prick! More on this twat later.

My friend in the Blue, dead center

DOC and I had great banter on the way over to Albertville. We were chilling out down the back of the group. There was a guy in a retro Molteni jersey, riding a first generation Specialized Venge with 60mm deep Chinese clinchers.

At the entrance to the village I met Didi the Devil. Niall and Gar also fanboyed out on the mascot.

The race village had secure bike parking, similar to Liége-Bastogne-Liége. The content of the race village was massive compared to the five stalls in Liége. There were countless stalls selling everything. Internet brands like Canyon and Rapha were offering sizing. The Alpecin stand was offering dry shampooing. Their booth attendants were women in skinsuits. So they could shampoo your hair 40 seconds faster.

After the race village, we carbed up on OTE bars at the Sportive Breaks setup. They were very nice. I pocketed a few as it was almost 20 hours since I last ate a carb. We put our race packs into our bags and the Van brought them back to the hotel.

On the ride back to Mouier, I got talking to a fellow Classicsman. He had done Roubaix and Falnders a few times. We swapped stories about Liége and his adventures. We pushed to the front of the group to avoid riding in the wind, as there were some splits appearing in front of us.

No interest in the hairodynamic shampooing

I got to third wheel, with some other lads trying to talk to Taylor. My friend in the blue was there, riding three wide on the road. Some time later, as we approached a tight left turn (we’re riding on the right side of the road) he was on the right side of the bunch, I was on the left, he was one row ahead of me. I knew exactly what he was going to do. Knobs like him always do it. I gave him as much leeway as possible. Boom, he cuts the corner from the far side of the road. Prick. Tries to take us all out on the eve of an expensive season goal. A moment later, Niall Kienan, pulls up beside me. “Watch out for that lad in the Blue” Niall cautioned. “Yes, Niall, I know, he literally just tried to take me out” I retorted as the slight adrenaline spike dumped.

On the final ramps for the run home, I decided to blow out the cobwebs. There were some digs put in by Beery Greene and Ian Devlin. Gar and Niall tried to follow. I was feeling like hot shit. I bridged up and rode past all of them, except Barry. They were all put in to line with my Out-of-the-Saddle riding in the Big Ring up a climb. We were in the homeland of “Vie sur la Plac” after all. Gar accused me of burning matches.

On the next climb, was dancing up it. Until I had to slow to a crawl. Some sweat and sunscreen was in my eye. I could not wipe it out. I could not stop as I was near the front of the bunch. I had to descend into Moutier, one-eyed, with no depth perception. Luckily enough I am a really good bike handler.

Gar was getting some last post-ride Handlebar Bag digs in. I asked Taylor what his opinion on the subject was. Taylor rocks a Handlebar Bag on long rides, to store a rain jacket and extra food. His latest Handlebar Bag adventure was on July 14th, a long ride over the Lacets de Montvernier and Alpe d’Huez. He forgot that it was a French Holiday and that all the cafes were closed. So he battled a bonk, after exhausting all his supplies. Would he have made it home without his handlebar bag?

My kinesio tape had to be removed. It did its job. It could not survive a few showers and the bucket load of sweat that I produced on that ride. I had to shave the part of my neck hair that the barber couldn’t cut.

With the Race Packs collected, I look forward to a relaxing day. The Universe had other plans tho. The cognitive load and performance-crippling Cortisol was about to enter my life.

Getting Lunch was drama filled. Everywhere was closing for their French siesta. We ended up somewhere that served skinny crepes. I asked for a bowl of Frites for myself. He brought out a bowl of Fries for the whole table. How hard was it to find a carb in this town?

We had more drama. Darragh’s wheel was incorrect. It got mixed up with another group’s wheel. Helen Horan and Peter Grelish also had each other’s wheels. They pulled a switcheroo. The main panic for Darragh was that the wheel on his bike had an aluminium braking surface. As I was the contact for the Bike Transfer company, I was involved in the recovery of the wheel. We eventually got in contact with Michael from BringMyBike. Michael was out riding the Etape Route. Darragh got sorted, but it was stressful.

Our next task was to find a supermarket. I wanted to get Apple Juice. I had brought Overnight Oats and a Lunchbox. The positioning of the supermarket on Google Maps was at the back of the store, so it looked like it was on a different street.

I provided Ann with a laptop to fix her Garmin. It wouldn’t start as there was not enough space on it. She deleted almost three years of Activity files.

The second last drama of the day, was at dinner in the hotel. My expectation was, a big load of carbs and early to bed. The waitress said “and for the vegetarian, we have fish”. I rolled my eyes and put my head in my hands. Darragh was also experiencing Dinner Drama. He doesn’t eat chicken, explicitly noted this on his dietary requirements, but the hotel was serving Chicken Pasta. We tried to get them to make a pasta sauce, but the chef didn’t have Tomatoes. Darragh and I walked out.

We ended up in a restaurant on the square. I had a great conversation with Darragh about his career and the prospects of Contractors. My main concern about Contracting was the rumour about not being able to get a Mortgage. It was good to actually talk to someone who had been there, done that and was currently wearing a “Day-Rate and Property Ladder” t-shirt. This conversation was the eye of the hurricane.

The English lads beside us told us to avoid the Risotto. When we got our menus, the only vegetarian option was the Risotto. I ordered it anyway. The last Risotto I ordered kept me going for 11 hours. That was in Prague, the only printable thing that happened on that night was that I worked my way down a long Cocktail Menu.

Five minutes later, the watier returns. “We’re out of Risotto”. All I wanted was a load of carbs, it was impossible to get a carb in this town. I ordered something to replace it. When the food arrived, I knew that I would not have the glycogen stores to complete the Etape. Unless I could summon the force of will to push past a certain bonk, it was over even before it began. It was now just a case of putting a brave face on it.

I struggled to sleep again at night. I had no nerves about the Etape. It was the same crap as the night before. Heat, car horns, trains and two late night reveling French lads decided to have a heart-to-heart outside my window. I wanted to sleep, but I also wanted Francois to reassure Pierre that Antoinette didn’t deserve him.


The Inability to Dance like Lance

The 5am Train didn’t have a chance to wake me up, as we were eating breakfast at that stage. The others were fighting over croissant crumbs. I was eating my Overnight Oats. They tasted mank, as they were cold. I felt like hot garbage this morning. Our bus was the last to leave, and my bike was the last to appear. We were at the Hotel Ibis, about one kilometer from the start line. I needed to use the bathroom, but I was the 87th person to enter the Hotel Ibis, there was one only one bathroom.

I got fed up of the queue not moving. So I left, to go to the start line. I queued up and after a few minutes a person came out and said that the toilet paper was used up. I panicked. I rode back to the Hotel Ibis. The other Orwell people called me to take a team photo. With sweat running down my brow, I refused to participate “Not gonna happen”. The queue was now even longer. I asked Phil if he had anything I could use. He gave me lots of blue roll. I rode off into the sunrise. I got back into the bathroom queue. By the time I got to the front of the queue, my Sphincter was under extreme pressure. I got sorted, and my chammy didn’t have any additional colours.

Come to think if it, there were tonnes of riders with 11,000 numbers

I was in Wave 9, so my number plate started with a 9. I entered the start pen with the number 9 flag. After standing there for a while, I started to look at the others. I noticed that the guy in front of me had a number plate in the 11 thousand range. Due to the rules, this guy was an instant disqualification for jumping his start wave. Then I noticed another 11,000 and a third. Was everybody cheating, just like on Zwift Racing? Nope, I was in the wrong wave. I left the wave and move up to the correct one. Garret Connolly, Mark Mulcahy, Hugh Butler and Peter Grelish were waiting there.

The Waves worked in reverse order, so the faster riders were in Wave 14, slowest in Wave 6. Show ponies Shane Phelan and Ian Devlin were in Waves 3 and 4, respectively. The rest of the crew were as follows:

Wave 8: Annemarie Loughrey, Barry Mooney, Aisling Ní Neil, Marie Murnane, Dave Murnane, Paraic Morrissey, Donal O’Connor and Donal Duffy.

Wave 11: Peadar Corbally.

Wave 12: Barry Greene, Shaun Kelly and Colin Caesar.

Wave 13: Darragh, Brian Colfer, Niall Kieran, Ann Horan and Helen Horan.

Wave 14: Colm Cronin.

Anyone missing from the photo was in a toilet queue.

Wave 0 contained the riders who were going to race it. Among the starters were Irish Passport holders, Cameron Jeffers and Imogen Cotter. Skoda and We Love Cycling Magazine brought them out, for being some sort of Social Media Influencers. I guess my €100 in Huel referrals didn’t make the grade. Cam is a decent YouTuber, his channel doesn’t have enough humour for my liking. Instagrammer Imogen was caught in a Bike Industry Marketing Hostage Stockholm Syndrome Situation. A week before the Etape, she put up a post about her new €1,300 Paperweight. She got the Shimano Power Meter for free. I scrolled the 122 Comments, 5.5k Likes, out of 55k followers. Nobody mentioned the real reason the promotion happened. Two weeks earlier Shane Miller (GP Lama) published a long term study on the new Shimano crank design. His, and power meter patent holder, Keith Wakeham’s determination; No Spider-based Power Meter could be accurate on that crank design. Every shop has stock of these units, that only idiots would buy, so they have to micro-influence their stock out.

The start area was really cool. They had the tour winners portraits along the walls. The Olympic Flame was burning. It was 20km to the foot of the first categorised climb, but it was all uphill drag to get there. I struggled to keep up with Mark, Peter and Garret on the first ramp. I let them go on the second ramp and chilled out with Hugh. We had pretty much the same WKG at Threshold, so our Zone 2 and 3s were close. On the third ramp, we were getting passed by Wave 10 fliers. They started ten minutes behind us.

This poor performance was hard to reconcile, as I was going like a rocketship the day before.

I thought that I dropped Hugh on a descent, because I’m class. But I think he actually dropped me. Either way, it was the last I saw of him all day. On this descent, I passed a rider from Wave 6. An Asian woman in women’s Trek-Segafredo gear. She was descending like a granny.

Orwells in Wave 9

I jumped in with a number of groups, and either got shelled or someone else dropped the wheel. On the flat run in to the foot of the first categorised climb, I was in a lined out group. No one was under pressure, this was not the Rás. I saw a guy drop the wheel about ten riders in front of me. Why Sportive riders just sit up for no reason will never fail to amaze me. Everyone came around him. He tried to move back into the paceline on top of me. I gave him a "Nonono, You don't!" He looked somewhere else, and clipped the wheel in front of him. He went down in front of me. I circumnavigated this mess. I didn't even bother looking back, primarily because there were shit tonnes of others behind me, and looking back is how secondary crashes happen. A Canyon Aeroad and a €90 Rapha Jersey both hit the ground. I knew when I saw the L'Etape Rapha Jersey that this guy was an accident waiting to happen. Golden rule, stay away from people in Event Jersey's and Pro Team Kit.

The riders that require the widest birth are usually the ones in kit related to Peter Sagan. The riders who should never have been birthed, are in Bahrain kit.

I met the three lads in the food stop and recounted the tale to them. I noticed that I was very shaken by the whole affair, now that I had 300m to mentally process it. I replenished some supplies and set about riding up the Cormet de Roselend.

The climb was packed

This was a 20km 6% slog. The 6% Gradient belies it’s true steepness, there was lots of false flats. The climb could be split into three parts, a forest, a flat bit around a lake and a rockscape at the top. It was very stressful. As I was going like a bag of spanners, I rode on the right hand side of the road, aka the slow lane. If the slow lane got too slow, then I had to find a space to move out. I had to be vigilant for riders jumping out of the saddle and others torquing their bikes like Fabio Aru. It was rather claustrophobic. I had only one reference point for a situation like this. At the Reservoir Dog Sportive in 2018, I got caught behind a very dodgy rider on Butter Mountain. It was chock-a-block and I couldn’t pass this lad out. I remember it so vividly, as the guy was at least six foot tall and was riding 165mm cranks. He had no Out-Of-The-Saddle Souplesse. He also had no socks.

On the slopes in the forest section, I was passed by Peadar, Barry, Shaun and Colin. I passed Paraic at the lake, where we both took photos. Once we were on the rockscape I had to be extra careful. The riders from Waves 6 and 7 that I was catching had been climbing for almost two hours. There were also riders from Wave 14 ripping passed us. Some of the slower riders were veering across the road and causing massive compressions. I completed the climb in 2h00m49s, with forty minutes to spare ahead of the Broom Waggon.

The lake with the flat section.

Over the top, the food stop was a complete Zoo. It was wedged. I just wanted water. I added SIS Beta Fuel to my bottles. I kept the sachets in my Handlebar Bag to stop them getting moist. I took on some extra calories before starting the descent, so that they would be closer to Glycogen after the descent. Just before departing, I saw Ann Horan in the throng of people. Just like Billy Zane in Titanic, I left her to fend for herself.

The descent of the Roselend was possibly more stressful than the climb. There were riders just dragging their brakes down hill, even on the long straight sections. They were riding in the middle of the road. As much as I am a daredevil, there were others going much faster than I. So I had to be super wary moving into the fast lane to avoid being hit by a missile. My Garmin had the the route loaded and I was displaying the Map Screen. This way I could see the upcoming turns, particularly the multitude of hairpins.

Ann Horan is in there somewhere.

I saw lots of riders with punctures on the descent. Their tyres had likely been pumped too hard and the heat generated by their excessive braking likely popped the tube. Basic Physics really, hot air expands. I even saw a Moto driver helping a rider out of the trees.

I only had one problem on the descent. The bones in my wrists were aching. 20km of descending and hard braking was draining. I caught up to DOC on the descent. He was feeling very ill and was going slow to avoid puking. Somehow Helen caught me at the very bottom of the descent. I weigh almost 15kg more than her, so I should’ve been like a Lead Sled. She asked me for some painkillers as she had a sore paw. Then she dropped me on a drag two minutes later.

In the valley, it was now unbearably hot, 35°C. The 13km drag to the start of the next climb, Montee de Lonefoy, was torture. I passed some time by talking to an Irish lad in an Aquablue Conor Dunne National Champs jersey. I ensured to not get too close to him.

I let him go when I noticed a water fountain. I filled up on water and continued on. There was a woman up the road with the Trek Travel Tour Company. I gave her my trash, that I had been stuffing into my Handlebar Bag. #LeaveNoTrace. We had a bit of banter. She was talking to Taylor in the morning. She was pumping “Don’t Stop Believing” over her PA system. When I told her I didn’t care for the song, she changed it to “Pour Some Sugar on It”. It was nice to be under her gazebo for a few minutes. I ensured to drop “Sportive Breaks” into our conversation. For when I tried to blag some water, but she saw through my plot. The water was for her people only. I felt like a Stripper, in the way that I tried to use social pretext to extract resources.

Fountain Friends

I was flying through the bottles. There was a village with a few fountains. I joined the queue for the first fountain. In the queue was Alina Jager, the Instagrammer ClippedInAndFree. She wasn’t brought here by a brand, so I guess she was ClippedInAndPaidTheEntryFee. I don’t know what her Social Media Strategy is, as she only shows off Canyon and Rapha. Those brands don’t need shillers, as they actually have good products. After this fountain, there were about five more fountains in the village. There was one house that had the window open and they were filling bottles from their sinks.

The Lonefoy was essentially a Wicklow Gap, 7km at 7%. The lower slopes were fine. But every kilometer marker had the next kilometer’s gradient, the two kilometers at 9% cracked me. I had to pull over on a hairpin with some shelter. There were so many bodies in the shade. I rested with these poor souls. I knew that there was one more Orwell person that would pass me soon. Ann Horan came round the hairpin looking cool, calm and collected. I cheered her on fairly loudly. She pretended not to notice. I felt like a douche. It kinda enraged me. I grabbed my bike with the full intent to chase her down and tell her that I wished to withdraw my moral support. I was battling heat stroke, lack of sleep, and I wasn’t thinking straight. I snapped back to my senses when I saw a fellow countryman in a bad condition. He was wearing a Trek-Segafredo Ryan Mullen National Champs kit. I offered him a gel and sunscreen. Anything to get him back on his feet. I had gone from Ike Turner to Florence Nightingale in the space of three seconds.

When I pulled into that hairpin, it was then that I started to decide to give up on finishing the Etape. I just wanted to enjoy the remaining 30km to Moutier to my hotel. I got over the top of the Lonefoy. I had thirty minutes to spare over the Broom Waggon. DOC was resting behind a gate. He must’ve passed me during my meltdown on the 9% kilometers. He said that there was a false flat and then the descent. I somehow got a second wind for this false flat. Perhaps it was that the steep gradients were finished. The descent from the Lonefoy was unbelievably scary. We were all so tired. I had been riding for close to six hours by that point. There were lads just railing the hairpins. The bones in my wrists were aching again. At the bottom, I saw a populated ditch, it was fully in the shade. I stopped my bike and climbed into the ditch. This is where I lost the Etape, this where I resigned. The others here were in very bad shape. I used the time to eat a Veloforte bar. It was the Ciocco flavour. It contained Dates and Dark Chocolate. It was intended to be my pick me up for when I was struggling. There was a trio of English lads in the Ditch of Doom. One of them was dying of cramps. The other corpses ignored the commotion. Is this what it was like in the World Wars? Just staring off into the distance as your comrades wailed about their previously functioning legs?

View from the Ditch of Doom

Something else started to brew. My sitting position, squatting, prompted my digestive system to start. I needed a Portaloo again.

My thirteen minute sojourn was interrupted by DOC coming up. I jumped back on and we rode together for a few minutes. As I was now certain to pull out, as I was just seventeen minutes ahead of the Broom Waggon, I stopped to offer help to a cyclist trying to pump his wheel. He didn’t want help.

The best part of the whole day was riding downhill on the closed motorway into Moutier. They built a new motorway near my home house, and the Tuam Lyons Club ran a Sportive on it before it opened. That day was way too windy to ride a bike, so I missed my chance to ride on a motorway. I got to fulfill an ambition by riding on this motorway. I made the most of the opportunity. I was swerving and slaloming the whole way down. The big crowds of riders were gone. It was safe to Fred-out.

There were massive crowds of supporters in Moutier. There were strings of supporter all day, but this was an audience. I gave the kids a show, by waving like the Queen. “Ah yes, one is delighted to meet you all, I used to own ye Frenchies”.

The final food stop was in Moutier. The queues for the portaloos were too long. It was all over, there was no way that I could poop and beat the Broom Waggon. The lower slopes of Val Thorens were the hardest. I could not ride them with 1.5KG of Dates, Veloforte bars, Electrolytes and Nakd bars inside me. Sportive Breaks had their food stop just around the corner. I pulled in. Dave Hendron was there looking hopeful. I gave him THE shake of the head. I was out. Climbing off. Dave’s previous interaction with an Orwell cyclist was to stuff DOC’s pockets with gels and a baguette. Dave knew what lay ahead of us. He had ridden up to Val Thorens that morning.

We cycled 1km back to the hotel together. Hugh Butler’s bike was in the lobby. He had pulled out in Moutier, with an hour to spare over the Broom Waggon. He decided not to do the final 30km climb to Val Thorens as we had a long week ahead of us. We put our bikes into the Lockup. I went to my room and m-m-m-murdered the toilet.

The shower was still a pain in the ass. I needed to hold the shower head. In my emotional and fatigued state, slipping and snapping my neck was a real possibility. I dried myself off and just lay on the bed with a towel over my face.

This defeat was tough to take. I thought about what my mother would say, luckily my brothers were on opposite sides of the planet. I knew there would be happy faces this evening, joy, reveling in the moment, and I would be there. All the sacrifices I had made. How the microwave screwed me over. How terrible the hotel was. The hotel was like a prison now. We were here for two more sleepless, carbless nights. Starbucks and the local Chinese had nearly gone out of business during my healthy eating months.

I removed the towel from my face, I threw it on the floor. Somehow hoping that I had Neuro-Linguistically Programmed myself to put this failure behind me. That didn’t happen. It took almost two weeks for me to not get a lump in my throat when talking about how I couldn’t finish the Etape.

I got a pizza at the end of the street. Two lads sat at the next table. They had their Etape medals around their necks. A family came in next. The father wasn’t there. They had a gorgeous dog. The dog just flopped on the floor. After I finished my Pizza, I rubbed that dog, and I rubbed that dog good. I exchanged a few words with the daughter, who was like 20-something. As I was leaving, Dave Hendron and Paraic Morrissey appeared. We got a beer. They don’t chill beers in France. So it tasted like muck. Paraic recounted his Etape experience, he got caught by the Broom Waggon on the climb out of Moutier some time before 17:00. He heard a crash between a rider descending and a rider climbing the only road to and from Val Thorens.

DOC was sending us WhatsApp Messages. He made the 17:00 cutoff by two minutes. He now had until 19:00 to get to the ski resort. The others were also sending selfies with their medals.

Peter Grealis was the first finisher back. He recounted the states of the riders that he saw as he descended. Long story short, they were humans in various stages of decomposition. I stood sentinel outside the Lockup. I took the guys bikes and heard a quick debrief. The family from the pizzeria walked outside. Their father had finished the Etape. I waved at the dog, but the daughter waved back. Awkward.

Beers were had. The Murnanes were last ones home. I was really happy for Marie and Aisling. DOC elected to stay on top of Val Thorens and wait for Phil from Sportive Breaks to collect him. He was too exhausted to trust himself on the descent.

I got my laptop so that Ian could upload his ride. Here we compared each other’s times. Shaun Kelly had smashed it, he did a 7h11m42s. His moving time indicated that he had only stopped for six minutes. Ian Devlin had the fastest Orwell time on the Roselend, 1h25m53s. Peter Grelis got the fastest Orwell time on Val Thorens 2h38m48s. Shaun Kelly was about four minutes down on both of those segments.

Annemarie Loughrey gave me a hug for not finishing the Etape. It meant a lot, as she had been in a similar situation 54 weeks previously. It almost made me tear up. Damn this being human and experiencing emotions. My French cuisine dinner consisted of Long Grain Rice and a small ladle of some sort of sauce. Luckily I had that pizza. We moved to a pub and a loud rapture erupted when DOC walked in.

Part Two, detailing the Raid-Alps, will be coming soon, could my redemption arc be completed?

Read More from Luke on OrwellWheelers #LukePotter.