Giving amateurs a flavour of the Tour

L'Etape du Tour feature, Gap - L'Alpe d'Huez, part 1

L'Etape du Tour gives amateur cyclists a taste of what the pros experience in a mountainous stage of the Tour. The 2006 L'Etape mirrored stage 15 of the Tour, a 191 km exhausting ride through the Alps culminating with the 21 numbered corners of l'Alpe d'Huez. Mark Sharon was one of the 8500 riders who fought off fierce competition just to get a start. He gives an account of what it's like to compete in a mountainous Tour stage in part one of his three-part story.

Velo Magazine served up its 14th edition of the Etape du Tour this year with one of toughest in a history of some very tough events: Stage 15 of the 2006 Tour de France - a 191.4 km test of climbing and endurance starting at Gap and culminating with the strength sapping grind up l'Alpe du Huez with its 21 numbered corners.

Despite a profile that would keep a sane man in the bar, the competition to get into this years' event was as fierce as ever. It is not difficult to see why. With just a couple of exceptions, L'Etape du Tour has been consistently faithful to the concept of giving amateurs a genuine flavour of the world of a professional Tour rider.With its first edition in 1993, Velo Magazine put its marker down as it meant to go on. That year's edition took what is by today's standards a tiny field of 1705 riders 190 km between Tarbes and Pau, crossing the Col du Tourmalet, Col du Soulor and Col d'Aubisque. First place was taken by one Christophe Rinero - at the time of writing in 26th place on General Classification of the 2006 Tour de France.

The 2006 Edition

While getting into L'Etape du Tour is a major part of the challenge, finishin