“No man is more unhappy than he who never faces adversity. For he is not permitted to prove himself”, Seneca

 

As the founder of Threshold Sports, I am duty bound to get out of my comfort zone. Actions, after all, speak much louder than words. When my friend Alistair, who describes himself as a binge cyclist, called to discuss the idea of a private L’Etape over the penultimate day of the Tour de France, it seemed an appropriate level of discomfort plus a chance to get under the skin of the tour. I now understand the fuss. I’m totally hooked. If you read no further, please, please save up and go cycling in the Alps preferably when the tour is on. Alistair, in his capacity as sales director of Dulux, believes in building strong client relationships through shared endeavour. He pushes people to push themselves in a supportive, fun filled manner.

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So, twenty of us assembled in a rain sodden McDonalds car park in Megeve to take on a monstrous, 154km, 3,700 metre ascent of discovery to Morzine. The regulation L’Etape covered three of the four iconic climbs, a big enough day for most with 4,000 of the 15,000 L’Etapers dropping out. But Alistair, as you may have gathered,is a full tilt individual. Four cols it would be albeit with the best support crew you could wish for.

Col du Aravis (1486 meters) and Col du Colombiere (1613 meters) were stunning, doable, reassuring, life affirming. European unity is alive and well on the roads of the Tour with many spectators (there 24 hours early for the main event) egging us on and sincerely shouting “bon courage”. How generous. It’s a mark of respect, a moment of unity, it means be strong. I’m going to write it all over the place on Deloitte Ride Across Britain. It lifts the spirit that the mountain is trying to drain out of you.

Mark and Graeme were going well on Daisy the Dulux tandem. Mark has been partially blinded by Stargharts disease but refuses to let it get the better of him. These are the characters it’s my very great privilege to meet in the cycling world. They successfully completed the Dulux Trade London Revolution and wanted to take it up a notch in the Alps. Despite the world class flapjack at the pit stop after the summit of Col de la Colombiere, and one of the worst motivational speeches I’ve ever heard from Guy (that’s not even a third of the way) Richardson (I love you really) there was an air of dread about Ramaz (1610 meters) .

My cappuccino companions (if you are reading this, I love you all too) began to play distraction games naming countries in alphabetical and musing on the tour winners stapled to lamp posts. Then the grippyness began to tell. We went quieter, got hotter and began to experience self doubt. Exhausted and desperate to stop we went through the infamous tunnel of love. To those in the know, it’s a tunnel three quarters of the way up. It’s a steep section with even the most insignificant vehicles amplified to sound like a Terminator juggernaut.

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In some ways, getting run over would be a blessed relief from the relentless grind. We pulled over and slumped. The language got colourful. These are the moments dear reader, the window of light in to your character. It was wonderful to hear the fitter riders had hit a wall here too.

The summit of Col du Ramaz, when it eventually came, is not salubrious, so we didn’t dwell. The descents demand concentration as even the great Froome will tell you. There followed a long 30km stretch of relief. We formed up the groovy train and despite torrential rain the banter, which we’d left on the tarmac of Col de la Ramaz, returned.

Our guru, Andy Cook, began to gently instruct us on how to conquer the biggest lump of all. La Joux Plan (1691 metres). It’s famous for nearly breaking Armstrong. It starts steep and gets worse. I fought for every metre. It never lets up. Cyclists talk about learning to suffer. Clearly, I have more homework to do. I’m proud to say we all made it thanks to the immense efforts of the crew (Tina, thank you), Andy’s wonderful guidance and a ton of determination. Despite a puncture 200 metres from the summit, I was elated to embrace Mands, Guy, Jen, Karen.

I then witnessed a piece of cycling genius from the aforementioned Cooky who fixed my side wall blow out with a paltry paper bag. It got me home, but I still can’t figure out the physics. Little did I know, that the real challenge would be controlling table twerker Alistair in the celebration phase. We drank like the champions we feel ourselves to be.

The next day we gathered 400 metres from the finish line in Morzine to watch the peloton destroy the stage in a flurry of physical prowess. The circus that comes with the tour is incredible to behold. If you are even remotely tempted, do it, do it, do it. It’s truly inspiring to see those marvellous specimens blitz what took me twelve hours in only four. Izaguire of Spain took the stage with Froome, wrapped in Sky team cotton wool, taking the tour. Epic.

In cycling terms, it’s the closest I’ve been to the crevice beyond ‘more is in you’. Thank you to all those who toured with such grace, humour, bonhomie, grit and fellowship. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

 

Julian Mack

Founder, Threshold Sports and proud finisher of L’ Etape de Couleur, 2016