You can’t field grounders with your buddies at Oracle Park hours before the Giants take the diamond. Neither can you play a game of touch football in Allegiant Stadium before the Las Vegas Raiders come storming onto the field. And there’s no way you’re going to shoot a quick round or two in the Chase Center before Steph Curry and the Warriors take the court. You know what you can do, though?! You can, depending on where you live in the world, saddle up with your friends and ride some of the very same roads that your favorite cycling heroes do for events like Tour of California (which no longer exists), or the Tour of the Gila, or even the Tour de France. You can, in some cases, cross over the very same finish line, too. There are few sports like cycling where you can actually experience what your heroes, or villains, do. Speaking of pedaling in the wake of heroes, I just returned from a two wheeled trip of a lifetime in France where I got to take part in L’Etape du Tour de France, a cycling event that allows everyday enthusiasts to pedal the exact same stage route as the pro riders of the Tour de France.
I’m one of those cycling fanatics who has for years gotten up at the crack of dawn so I could scream at my TV as some of the world’s best cyclists tackled the Tour de France, so when the opportunity to get to ride an actual stage of the Tour came my way, the only answer was an emphatic OUI!! My sunglass sponsor, Julbo, is based in France and is an event partner of L’Etape du Tour de France, so they decided to host an athlete and industry partner summit that revolved around the event. Over twenty-five folks from all over the globe gathered in Annemasse, France, the start of the 2023 event, which also hosted Stage 14 of the Tour de France six days later, to take part in a team building and race activation that exceeded my wildest cycling dreams.
My travel from San Francisco to Geneva, Switzerland, was uneventful, except for the fact that my bike didn’t land when I did, which is always a bit nerve wracking and disconcerting when you’ve traveled thousands of miles and the piece of luggage that you REALLY need isn’t there. C’est la vie. My anxiousness was tempered by the fact that Christophe from Team Julbo was there to help me navigate the missing luggage process, where we were assured that it would be on the next flight from France, and I was quickly whisked to the team hotel in Annemasse. (My bike DID show up on the next flight, so disaster averted.) Upon arrival I was handed a bag of branded goodies, a new custom helmet, and some event specific sunglasses, all of which made me feel like I was part of the Julbo family. To add to my experience, I got to room with former World Tour rider, and friend, Ian Boswell, who raced for Team Sky and was a member of Team Katusha-Alpecin's 2018 Tour de France squad. To say the least, my fan boy meter was on 11!
Since we had a down day between arrival and the event, of course we had to get out for an exploratory ride and who better to lead that ride than Ian, who had spent a fair amount of time riding, training, and racing in this region during his World Tour career. Within the undulating and verdant tucks, folds, valleys, and Cols that roll east of Annemasse, lie forgotten villages with narrow, cobbled streets, comprised of ancient buildings in various stages of decay, but still regal, beautiful, and so full of history. Most villages had ancient cisterns in the town center that flowed with clear, glacial waters that have been providing hydration for travelers for centuries. And you know what else they usually had? Boulangeries (bakeries) that were bursting at the seams with row upon row of the tastiest croissants, baguettes, mille-feuille, croquembouche, viennoserie (breakfast pastries) cakes, and too many other mouth watering treats to mention. I was in heaven, kind of like Augustus Gloop at Willy Wonka’s chocolate river, but, unlike poor Augustus, I didn’t fall in and get sucked into the piping but rather got to feast upon some of the tastiest bakery items in my life before we pedaled back to the team hotel.
We rose before the sun race morning to get some breakfast in our systems, dial final gear prep, and give ourselves plenty of time to pedal the 10 km to the start in downtown Annemasse, whose streets were teeming with thousands of cyclists from all over the world. The excitement was palpable as I entered my staging queue and prepared to wait the thirty or so minutes until our group rolled. What did the day hold for me? The 2023 L'Etape du Tour took us from Annemasse to Morzine, covered 157 km and a whooping 4,000 m of vertical, and concluded with the beast of a climb better known as the Col du Joux Plane, which has been featured multiple times in past Tour de Frances. While there were multiple well stocked aid stations throughout the route, I primarily relied upon single serve sachets of Roctane Energy Drink Mix which I stowed in my handlebar bag, so I would just refill my water bottles and roll on. My L'Etape du Tour de France ride was simultaneously the most beautiful, epic, heart filling, and hardest day I've had on a bike in many years. The most rewarding thing about the whole experience, beyond the bucolic terrain, was that I got to live out a cycling dream of mine alongside 15,000 other folks: ride a stage of the 2023 Tour de France.
I came home from France with a joie de vivre-a feeling of great happiness and enjoyment of life- as well as a new appreciation for the deeply rooted passion the French have for cycling. My day on the bike in the Alps gave me an even better understanding of how hard an actual Tour stage is, which the pros make look so easy, and has inspired me to try and return to explore this region on two wheels even more. Here's to saying YES to challenges, adventures, experiential opportunities that may, or may not, scare you a bit, because the gifts that come out of it will last a lifetime. Plus, there's nothing better than eating your way through the French countryside.