The 2019 L’Etape California is officially over, and what a brutal one it was. For those that aren’t fully aware of the ride, it’s put on by the Tour de France, and it “encourages cyclists from around the world to experience authentic Tour de France legendary stages.” The stages are located all around the world, but this one happened to take place is my own backyard: Mount Baldy and the San Gabriel Mountains.
When it comes to cycling, I’m not the most consistent rider, but I’m also not the worst. My Strava profile says it perfectly, I’m consistently inconsistent. This ride, however, is something that I’ve always wanted to try, and for about the past four months I’ve been on a decent training plan that I felt I was up to tackling the 90-mile ride with 12,000 feet of elevation gain – and this is my recap of how it all unfolded.
The week of the event, I saw the forecast was starting to warm up. For the better part of the year, the hottest its been for us in Southern California had been roughly around 80-degrees. So, anything higher than that was going to feel exponentially greater, simply because I hadn’t been acclimated the higher temps. The day before the 2019 L’Etape California, I started to carb load, but I was more concerned about staying hydrated as much as possible, in order to give me a better fighting chance for the following
The calm before the storm.
As the group rolled out at 7:30am, it was about 30 minutes before we were greeted with our first obstacle: a 5.7-mile at 6.1% grade, category one climb. Shortly after diving into this climb, a brutal headwind challenged us even more, and it made things interesting as I tried to keep my heart rate in check. A lot of eager cyclists tried to pick up the pace, but I was able to follow into my own comfortable groove, and before I knew it, I made it Glendora Ridge Road at mile 12.
Once you make it to the ridge, you’re welcomed with some of the most amazing views in the Inland Empire, and its mellow elevation changes make it very manageable to ride.
From mile 12 to about mile 48, things were surprisingly going well. I only made one pitstop at mile 41 to take advantage of some water refill stations. I took down two PNG Lemon Meringue Refuels up to this point, not because I felt I needed to, but more or less because I was trying to keep my fuel tanked topped off.
However, mile 48 took a drastic turn.
We haven’t had high temperatures up until this point in Southern California, and it felt like the heaters got turned on when I started my ascent up Glendora Mountain Road. GMR is another category one climb, and this one was 7.8 miles at 5.1%. I’m not sure if it was because it was in a canyon or not, but there was very little airflow, and my Garmin was reading temps at 100-degrees. My feelings of positivity and optimism all of a sudden vanished. I was sweating like crazy, my lower back started to hurt, and a crazy amount of pain was coming from the ball of my right foot.
The mileage slowly ticked away, but I was still making it happen. And by mile 55, I hit a much needed rest stop. I took this time to try and mentally recharge while consuming a coke, half a banana, and filled up some bottles.
Shortly after hopping back on my bike, I started to get some gnarly cramps on my right thigh. I thought I was in trouble at this point but I managed to cycle through it. I also changed my strategy and began to take in my liquids at a quicker rate (every 3-5 minutes), and I changed my gel intake to every 30-45 minutes to keep the electrolytes coming.
Temperature and elevation chart. Glad I had my PNG Refuels!
Mile 68 was my final rest stop before I started my journey up towards the Mount Baldy ski lifts, and surprisingly enough, I began to get back some of that optimism I had towards the beginning of my ride. This was very welcoming because for those that don’t know, the climb to the ski lifts is 5.1 miles at an average of 8.4% grade, and categorized as an HC climb (Hors catégorie translates to ‘beyond categorisation’). And up to this point I had climbed roughly 8,500 feet, which meant that I was about to climb 3,500 feet in those five miles. Fun.
As I started to work my way up towards the ski lifts, I began to see why many of the others opted out of the climb and decided to head straight back down the mountain. This was absolutely brutal. There are a series of switchbacks and the way towards the summit that are heavily banked and have a kicker towards the end, results in more power input. I was pretty much smoked by this point, so I did take a couple stops along the way to catch my breath.
Finally, I started to see the light at the end of the tunnel as I approached the big, yellow “Mount Baldy Ski Lifts” sign. However, the final 200 feet were pretty agonizing. With an average grade of 13.3%, and a mixture of 20-28% grades thrown in, it required a great deal of effort to make my way up – BUT WE DID IT!
All I can say is, the L’Etape is one gnarly ride. I’m glad that I completed it, as I now feel that I don’t ever have to do it again. But, cyclists always say that, and they always come back for more.
Tackling challenging rides is always more fun when you’re doing it with your buddies. Glad you talked me into this, Verbie!
Strava doesn't lie