I tackled the Etape today.
4 am out of bed, left the hotel at 5, and we were in the start village of Montelimar around 6.
The event started at 7, but we were sent off in groups of about 7,000 - I was 7017 and rolled over the start line at 7:30, with the cut off vehicle leaving about 15 minutes later - you have to stay in front or hand in your transponder.
Riding with that many people was amazing, although a little hairy on the narrow roads getting out of town.
I had a flat on the first descent (25k in) then problems with my pump that saw me riding 30k or so with a half flat front.
And I worked out how to take a leak without getting off the bike - just make sure you aim away from your bidons!
The next couple of hours went well. And I was holding my target average pace of mid to high 20's. Mid teens on the climbs, 50 to 60 on the descents.
In every village we passed it seemed the entire population was out, clapping as we passed, calling out "Allez!" and "Bravo!". Every farmhouse had someone sitting in a chair on the roadside waving and cheering.
But it was hot - the temperature was mid 30's for most of the day - and I didn't have any electrolyte replacement powder (long story, but basically I made a dumb mistake - I've been training hard in cool & cold weather and I simply didn't think to bring any).
On the third climb of the day (up to Aurel) I started struggling, and despite being hosed down by a local in the village near the top and a wild 60+k descent I was pretty much stuffed.
I was pouring the water in, but it felt like it was just sitting there, sloshing around in my stomach.
And I was sick of the taste of carbo gels and powerbars - they're too sweet if you're not eating anything else.
The next climb - Col De Notre Damme Des Abeilles - knocked me about. It was a tough climb with two false summits - you think you've reached the top, descend for a km or so, and it starts to climb again; twice. After another great descent (10k at 55 to 65 on empty wide sweeping roads) I crawled into Bedouin maybe 5 minutes ahead of the cut off time.
I had to make a decision: tackle 21k of Mt. Ventox, or pull the pin. I didn't want to spend the next two hours looking over my shoulder for the cut off car. OK, perhaps I could have handed in my timing chip and finished outside the allotted time, but I just didn't think I had the climb left in me.
I pulled over, leant my bike against a wall and walked into the nearest cafe for a beer.
They reckon 30% don't finish; unfortunately I became part of that statistic.
Riding finished, but .....
I put my bike on truck and the climbed on the sad bus. Which then took three and a half hours to climb the 21k to the summit (the finish village was on the other side, and there is only one road up).
Here's something you might be able to guess for yourself - 50 blokes who've ridden 150k in the scorching heat all sitting in a confined space don't smell very nice.
At the finish village we were treated to some very French logistics. They refused to unload more than one truck at a time; and despite truck 4 (that had my bike) arriving ahead of truck 2, truck 2 had to be unloaded first.
90 minutes after arriving at the finish village I was finally back in the saddle for a brilliant 20k run down the mountain to meet the tour company's bus.
A shower, dinner, a couple of glasses of local Rose (quite nice) and I'm off to bed.
And the mountain will still be here next time I'm in Provence, so maybe next time I'll give the Giant a better showing.