Letape du Tour 2017 Col D’ Izoard Ride Review

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Sometimes I keep asking myself a question why I keep signing up with these hard sportive events which after I finished, I would usually regret. Last year I officially completed all the Three Peaks Challenges (Cradle Mountain, Falls Creek, Gold Coast) with the Gold Coast being the last one in August. Once a sportive event is finished I often carried that “on fire” enthusiasm with me, and this has often caused me to do something stupid such as signing up to an another even more difficult sportive without a second thought. And that exactly what I did.

As soon as I arrived back in Perth from Gold Coast, I looked up Letape du Tour 2017 and signed up straight away. Mind you, I have been eyeing the Letape for a long time. Somehow I’m always attracted to mountains. There is something about mountains and the challenges presented that attract me to them. I almost signed up with the inaugural Letape Australia which Chris Froome was the guest rider. However, a lot of people say that nothing would ever replace the original Letape du Tour in France. Therefore, I signed up with Letape du Tour instead.

After my research, it is actually better to sign up with a tour because accommodation and transport can prove to be difficult to organise otherwise. This has proven to be true during the event. Further to this, I signed up very early because the accommodation would get full very-very quickly. You’re talking about 15,000+ riders taking part in Letape du Tour.

So, anyway, long story short I signed up. I went with Sports Tour International as my tour provider. In this opportunity I would like to share with you the ride experience and how it compares to the Australian Peaks Challenges.


Height: 170cm
Weight: 70kg
Never race, just commute daily @ 40km/day
FTP 20mins: 250w

For Letape I was somehow slacking so much. So much so that I only did long ride once 3 months prior to the event, and another one 1 month prior. For the rest of the rides, other than the daily commuting, I was only doing 40-60 min indoor session on the weekend. I was using the Global Cycling Network (GCN) Youtube indoor training videos.

I don’t know what happened, but somehow after finishing the 3 x Peaks Challenges, I did not have the same enthusiasm in my preparation. In fact, if I’m being honest, I have been dragging myself so much during Letape prep.


This time I’m using a new bike Swift Hypervox. Weight is about 7.8kg – about 1kg heavier than my AX. Please click on this link to view the bike build details.


If it’s not on Strava, it did not happen. The Strava link is below.



My Peaks Challenges ride plan has been working well for me. Therefore, I’m planning to do the same. Mainly:

  • Stopped 3 times max: 1 for quick pee and water; 1 for quick lunch; and another 1 for quick pee and water.
  • I should not stop for more than 30 mins for the entire duration of the event.
  • I would start with mid-pack and never with the bottom-pack just so I can pocket bigger cut-off time.
  • I would use internal long-sleeve windproof base layer and normal jersey. Temperature was cold in the morning but getting very hot in the afternoon.
  • They only have 1 valet bag ie. bag which you can collect at lunch stop and returned back to the hotel. This is very useful to put in change of clothes, additional nutrition, gels, etc.
  • I would be using my expensive $300 ASOS bib as it is very comfortable with its thick padding.
  • The route would be totally closed of traffic during the duration of the event. Therefore, no lights are needed. That’s 200gr savings in weight right there!
  • I would use brand new tires because they would not puncture. This time I’m using Michelin Pro Power which – according to Internet – has been identified as tire with least rolling resistance.
  • Same as Peaks, I would only carry gels and not solid food because my stomach would get bloated eventually and I wouldn’t be able to consume those solid food.


The Letape du Tour 2017 took TDF’s stage 18 route: that is 180km from Briancon to Col D’ Izoard (summit finish). I was very lucky to have gone with a tour, otherwise it would be a nightmare. As I signed up very-very early, I get to stay in the hotel within the race village in Briancon. It’s literally a 5-min walk to the start line. Some people who signed up a bit later had to stay in a hotel 15-20km from the start line. And they had to ride back after the event which I can’t imagine what the fatigue level would be like =O

Anyway, I arrived at Briancon about 2 days before the event. Event was on Sunday 16th, I arrived on Friday 14th afternoon. As we get close to the village, traffic was busy and there were a lot of cyclists on the road. Man, seriously, when it comes to cycling, nothing compares like the atmosphere in France. It’s truly their sport. You would never be able to replicate the level of enthusiasm anywhere in the world. As it was already 5pm when I arrived at my hotel, I decided to just take it easy. I was walking around the village with my wife and getting myself familiar with the area.

Briancon was such a beautiful city surrounded by tall big mountains. Along the way the scenery was just magical. Trust me, it gives you relief from all stress simply by looking at the scenery. They were just so beautiful. As much as I love Australia, the alps in Australia just somehow don’t have the stunning view that Briancon has. Here in Australian alps, there are a lot of high trees all along that would obstruct the view. But in Briancon – or French alps for that matter, there were barely trees. So wherever you eyes went, you would see mountains after mountains (and big tall ones) which would vary in colors and shape, and lakes with blue crystal water. They’re just stunning!

So that’s how my Friday went…I was just literally taking all the views in and getting my bike setup.

And oh one more thing, as I setup my bike, somehow my power meter’s low-battery light decided to lit up! I was not too worried at this time because I thought I could just buy the battery tomorrow (in the race village during race pack collection). Ah..how wrong was I.


Saturday the 15th, things were getting a bit busier. This was the sign-up, collecting race packs and briefing time. My day started with breakfast at the hotel at 830am. It was then followed with a 930am briefing hold by the tour company. If you were not with a tour company you wouldn’t have these kind of briefings. Within the briefing, similar to Peaks, they would run you through the course and all the gotchas. It was very informational, and as someone who was doing Letape for the first time, I was in need of it indeed. As part of the tour package, you also get a free jersey, additional rest stops and most importantly: valet bag. Excellent!

The briefing finished at about 11am and I headed straight to the village to collect my race packs. As I arrived in the village, man, you wouldn’t see anything like it. With Peaks, the village was quiet small. The number of vendors were not that many. But in Letape, there were vendors after vendors. From Rapha, Katusha to the French large online retailers, etc. Like I mentioned earlier, nothing would ever replace the cycling atmosphere in France. This was – as my wife would say to me – THE cycling haven! The village was guarded with security guards also. Before you could even enter, they would check and go through your bags. Yep…they’re that serious.

Mavic provided free bike service. As it was free, the queue was long! If you decided to go with a paid service (provided by other vendors), the queue was very short. Luckily, as my bike was very new, I did not have to get it serviced or checked at all. I would actually regret this decision eventually because as luck would have it, my front derailleur decided to stop working during the race! I’ll explain later.

I mentioned earlier about my power meter battery that was running low. The power meter was Power2Max and it was running a CR2450 battery. As luck would have it (NOT), none of the retailers in the village had that battery! One of the vendors was FSA. They had different power meters and cranks on display including Power2Max. “Perfect”, I thought. As I talked to them however, they also didn’t carry the battery! “Argh…what a nightmare”, I thought. To be honest, the power meter did not kind of matter. I have been able to judge my effort simply through my breathing and legs. However, it’s a good distraction when you are suffering on the bike. That’s how it has been working for me anyway. The time indicated 130pm. I said to my wife that I couldn’t spend any more time in the village and had to go back to the hotel asap. I also have not even done any training ride so far at Briancon therefore I really needed to get this happening.

So, I collected my race pack and then I headed back to my hotel. I needed to fit in a training ride of some sort to get my climbing legs together again in the real mountain. I quickly get changed and went out with my bike. At this time my wife went to local supermarket. I must have been married to a very-very lucky girl because she managed to get hold the super-rare battery CR2450! So all was well!

The Letape route would take you atop of Col D’ Izoard summit finish, which you would then descend back to Briancon afterwards to receive your medal, etc. So, my training ride went reverse. I started at Briancon and went up the Col. Bike worked perfectly during the training ride. There were no mis-shifts, nothing. I did about 1hr 45 minutes climbing Col D’ Izoard. I only went 1/2 way then I went back down. I took lots of photos (obviously). To this time, I felt confident that everything would be OK. Baring mechanical or puncture, I should be able to finish the event without any problem.

Ah..how naive was I….

Similar to Peaks, I tried to sleep early at 8pm just so I could wake up early and had a lot of time to get ready. The good thing with Letape was, as there were so many riders, my start time was not until 8 in the morning therefore I did not have to wake up as early as when I was at Peaks. At Peaks Challenge Gold Coast, they started at 6am therefore I had to wake up at 4am!


On the race day I woke up at about 530am. I had a really nice and long sleep. I have done these sportive many enough to know that I needed at least 8 hours of sleep to perform at my best. So, once I woke up, I get myself prepared. As mentioned previously, I stayed in a hotel where it was only 5 minutes walking distance from the start line. Having said that, just in case something happened, I did not want to be caught in a rush. Therefore, I left quiet early at 7am even though I was not expected to start until 8. As I approached the start line, it was already packed! The very front riders (the fast ones) actually started departing at 7am.

In this edition they had 16,000+ riders, and similar to Peaks, it was a controlled start. The riders would be separated into groups. Each group contained about 1,000 riders. I was in the 8th group, my rider number was 8505. Finding my group was not an easy task either. As the space was limited, they had to use few turns to accommodate all of these riders. It actually took a good 10-15 minutes to find my group so it was actually good that I went early! Long story short, I was in my group by 730am. It was an opportunity for me then to take photos and videos as I have not experienced anything like this before. The Peaks Challenges would boast only about 2,000 riders. But Letape, they definitely took it to the next level.

8am came soon enough so I departed from the start line. Similar to Peaks, they had bike-attached race number with time chip on it. As you were crossing the start line, your time started.

The first 50km was a combination of downhill, false flat (1-3%) and flat (0%). Problem was, the first time cut happened at the first rest stop in 50km which you needed to leave there by 1034am. It meant: if I left at 8am, I only had 2.5 hours to make the 50km. If it’s all downhill and flat it would be easy. But as there was some false flats and few short climbs, things get a bit challenging. So I decided to stay in the bunch as long as I could, sheltered from all the wind. I made it there safely with plenty of time left. I left that first rest stop at about 930am.

The 2nd cut-off time was at Place Aimee Gassier – Barcelonnette (~100km in). We needed to leave there by 1:21pm. That next 50km between 1st and 2nd rest stop included a category 3 climb (Cote Des Demoiselles Coiffees) which was about 7km in length but gradient was fairly shallow. Gradient did not go beyond 8%. Mostly, they were in the 4-6%. Not just this, other challenge was there was no longer any downhill, but rather false-flats. The gradient was rarely 0% if at all. It was 1-3% mostly. You should have plenty of time (nearly 3 hours) between 1st rest stop and 2nd rest stop. You only needed to average ~18km/h to make up the 50km in 3 hours.

I was pretty ahead at this time. I left the 2nd rest stop at about 11:45pm. So far legs were feeling good. I kept eating my 2 gels every hour which would have given me about 60gr of carbs + everything else that came with the gel.

The real challenges were about to come!

As I left the 2nd rest stop, at about 102km in, my front derailleur decided to stop working! I could no longer switch to the big chainring! I thought, “Oh no…”. Luckily, until the finish line, I rarely needed the big chainring. Even on the descend, I didn’t have to pedal and I still made up speed. With 33/13 combination I could muster about 30km/h which was more than sufficient for someone at my strength. The road was rarely 0% but rather false-flats all the way. A 200w on a 2% gradient would give me about 25km/h of speed; and I rarely could pedal at 200w constantly anyway. My power was mostly around 140-150w. “Phew”, I thought.

Because I was going with a tour, they had an extra rest stop which they provided you with extra nutrition such as fruits and gels. Their tent was located at 110km. The gels I was carrying initially were all finished by this time – which was as planned. So I quickly grabbed new ones and left straight away. I was actually planning to change my clothes using the valet bag but I didn’t end up doing. I was also thinking of getting my gear sorted, but again, that didn’t happen either. I was just trying to stick to my master plan: that was to stop as little and as short as possible. After collection of several gels I decided to just keep riding.

The road undulated until we were 151km in and we faced the first real mountain of the day: Col de Vars. It’s a 1st category climb: 12km in length with 10% gradient for the last 5km. It would take us to ~2101m altitude. As we arrived at the bottom of the Col, The initial sign displayed ~4.5% average gradient for 8km. “Ah..that was not going to be too hard”, I thought. It all went well, only until we hit that last 5km, the road sign then showed 10% gradient for that next 5km and the suffering did really start!

Where I live in Perth, Western Australia, we barely have long hills let alone altitude. We have some steep climbs but they’re all doable given you have the right gearing. Based on the Peaks experience, I have since been using 33/50 and 11-42 combination which I could pretty much go up anything with – even if it’s a 20%+ gradient. Now, going back to Col de Vars, the problem wasn’t so much about gearing, but rather altitude! My body – as soon as it hit above 1500m – decided to stop functioning properly! I get dizziness, and my legs could barely turn. This was when my nightmare started. I have done way steeper than 10%, but somehow that day I was on 33-42 churning 50rpm at 5km/h! What would normally take me 5-7 minutes to accomplish 1km, suddenly became 12-15 minutes. It was just a nightmare. A lot of people actually started walking their bike!

I wished I could express how I felt. That was the worst suffering I’ve ever had in my entire riding life. Slowly but surely I crested Col de Vars. People were literally walking faster than me. I could have walked, too except, from my experience at Peaks, walking was not easy either. At 10% gradient, walking would actually hurt your legs more. So, I decided to just keep pedaling. I kept looking at my Garmin wishing the distance counter would turn 1km by 1km.

After about one hour, I finally arrived at the top. At the bottom of the Col, my Garmin was showing 25km/h average speed. By the time I arrived at the top, it became 20km/h. I literally lost 5km/h just on that last 5km alone.

5km/h was A LOT! You could have arrived at the finish line 1hr+ earlier had you ridden 5km/h faster.

Anyway, what made me even more nervous was actually the upcoming Col D’ Izoard. It’s a 10km at 10%…twice longer which came after 170km in your legs. But, let’s not worry about that just yet. From Col de Vars summit, we were all rewarded with a long descend, and the scenery was super stunning. I remembered there was this crystal blue lake along the way. So while recovering on the descend, I tried to enjoy the scenery as much as I could.

At this time we were already 150km in. My legs were OK-ish at this time. As mentioned before, my problem this time was not so much about the legs but rather, altitude. Soon I stopped at the rest stop for the last time just to refill my bottle with water then I went on straight away. The temperature was showing 35 degrees! It was super hot and I still had my long-sleeve base layer on…it was all sweaty. I kind of regretted a bit that I decided not to change my clothes when I was at the tour tent stop at KM 110.

Anyway, at about 160km in, the Col D’ Izoard signboard showed up. We were now in the very last 20km of the course. The first 10km was 5.7% average which was OK. I didn’t think we were above 1500m altitude for that first 10km because my breathing and legs were fine. But then the nightmare soon started.

The next 10km (which was the last 10km of the course), was 10% and elevation was going beyond 1500m….I soon went through the same, if not, worse suffering then when I was at Col de Vars.

At this time, more and more people were walking their bike. I decided to keep pushing on with my 33/42 combination at 50rpm, 5km/h. The thought of giving up started appearing….

I started doing my calculation which if you had 10km in the distance left, and went at 5km/h, it meant that you would be climbing for 2 hours. Plus, this would all be done in an altitude where you couldn’t breath properly nor your legs could turn.

I have done climbing for more than 2 hours but not at altitude. It was totally different! It was a lot easier without the altitude. My head was heavy, breathing was hard, legs just didn’t respond. I remembered my Garmin showed 95-100w only…..sigh….this was the worst feeling I’ve ever had on a bike which kind of gave me a bit of perspective how strong the pros were! They were going at 40km/h attacking each other at altitude. They were just mad!

Going back to the story of my life, I kept hanging on. At this time my brain kept saying to myself, “Let’s just give up…this is just an event…you don’t need to suffer this bad”. But, luckily my spirit was stronger! In addition to all these, I was also “bonking” at this time because my stomach could no longer swallow another gel therefore I have not had any carb/sugar in take for some good couple of hours.

Luckily, along the way there were locals selling cold sweet drinks and coke. I quickly stopped and bought a coke. The sugar boost truly helped! More and more people were walking and I was still spinning at 50rpm on 33/42 at 5km/h.

The organiser put a road sign to indicate the average gradient for every 1 kilometer. Whenever I saw 9.5-10%, my morale was just crushed. The distance indicator on my Garmin slowly ticked kilometer-by-kilometer and finally I arrived at the last 3km!

The road sign suddenly indicated it was going to be 1.5% average for the next 1 kilometer! PERFECT! It was actually a downhill and false-flat…I quickly pushed on. But then, the last 2km sign appeared too quickly. And this time, again, it would indicate 9.5%.

“It’s only going to be another 30 minutes and I’ll be at the finish line”, I thought. I could also hear people cheering and the summit was actually visible from where I was. This was when I got a huge morale boost. Somehow, roque energy started appearing from nowhere…from 5km/h I went almost double the speed at 9.5-10km/h! I kept spinning, grit my teeth and passed a lot of cyclists. Legs were hurting but I could not contain my excitement to arrive at the finish line. Maybe this was probably the closest glimpse I’ve ever had on how the pros were feeling when they attacked knowing they have distanced their rivals.

There were two more switch backs and 500m to go then I would arrive at the finish line. I knew I was in a good hand and I would make it to the finish line way within the time limit. So I decided to stop to take few photos near the top. Once finished, I grit my teeth once again and rode away. Finally I made it…I crossed the finish line in 10 hours 20 minutes.

At the top, I took few more videos and stayed there for few minutes before I started my descend back to the village in Briancon. My wife was eagerly waiting for me at Briancon. I collected my medal and pasta then we celebrated and took lots of photos back at the village! They had some podiums and stuff prepared.

Out of the 16,000+ that started, only about 11,000 made it. The rest was DNF. I was ~9100th rider to make it to the finish line.


This was probably the first event which I had my worst feeling on a bike. Don’t get me wrong, I was suffering hard during Peaks Challenge, but this one somehow felt worse.

During Peaks my legs were hurting, but at Letape it was the altitude that killed me. Worse, I don’t know if I can ever be better trained for it in the future because where I live, I don’t have any mountains with that altitude. Even if I go to Australian alps, nothing goes that high.

A lot of these strong cyclists have been in the mountainous altitude area for few weeks before the event. Therefore, their body was already adapting to altitude. Man…I wish I could express that feeling of dizziness, wanting to vomit, etc. You could never understand how lack of oxygen felt like until you were on altitude.

All in all, it was an another eye-opener for me. It humbled me so much and truly made me a better cyclist. I can now have a better appreciation of them pros regardless of their ranks. And most importantly, I have a lot higher respect for mountains! Never underestimate a mountain….

In the end I was stopping for only 20 mins in total which I was very happy with. Letape du Tour is definitely the event you should go for at least once in your life. The atmosphere was like no other. You could never get the same experience anywhere in the world. Along the way, the locals would come out to watch and cheer for us even though we were only mere amateurs. They even put a road sign with dates to remind the locals of these two events: Letape and the actual Stage 18. That’s just how much they were into cycling.

Another thing I noticed was the French cyclists were not too talkative…they were quiet most of the time. The British were talkative but definitely not the French. This was the atmosphere which I missed from Australia. During Peaks I would be chatting to a lot of people: we would have talked about groupset, bikes, etc. During Letape however, people were mostly quiet. Those who were talking were already mates anyway.

So, just to conclude this blog post, should you participate in Letape, ensure you have enough gearing and train yourself at an altitude. Without these two, you would suffer badly like I did. I just want to say that I may never want to put myself in that suffering position anymore…lol…yep, it was that bad! In the meantime I’m happy to just go for local events and daily work commute.

Enjoy the photos below.

Written by

A web solution expert who has passion in website technologies. Tommy has been in the web industry for more than 10 years. He started his career as a PHP developer and has now specialized in ASP.NET, SharePoint and MS CRM. During his career he has also been in many roles: system tester, business analyst, deployment and QA manager, team and practice leader and IT manager.

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