By Stephen Ferns (intro by Brett Ratner)
One of the cool things about being involved with The Chainlink is that it leads to opportunities to meet new and interesting people.
A few weeks back, we received an email from Mark Roberts, the concierge at the Thompson Hotel in downtown Chicago. Roberts said he had a guest named Stephen Ferns that was visiting from London and was looking for some people to help him train for L’Etape du Tour while he was in town. L’Etape du Tour is an annual event that allows amateur cyclists to test their legs on one of the most difficult mountain stages of the Tour de France.
While we Chicagoans barely have hills, let alone mountains, we felt we could at the very least accommodate Stephen's request for a 100 kilometer ride and a good amount of time "going fast, pushing the big ring."
So, on a Saturday morning, I met up with Stephen on the lakefront path, shot over to Johnny Sprockets to jump in on their weekend ride for a bit, broke off the ride in Kennilworth with the amazing Sarah Rice (of Spidermonkey Cycling), then embarked on a bit of a "choose your own adventure" that gave Stephen a taste of the road riding scene around Chicago. Since Ferns also happens to be a professional writer, he offered to write up a recap of his experience. Thank you, Stephen!
Depending on when you read this I might have met my fate or still be awaiting it. Sunday 19th July is when 15,000 amateur riders tackle L’Etape du Tour, what will, on Friday 24th July, become the route for stage 19 of Le Tour de France from St Jean de Maurienne to La Toussuire. I am number 11,227. The course is only 142km but with 4,500 metres of climbing. It takes in the Col de Chaussy, Col du Glandon, Col de la Croix de Fer and Col du Mollard before the final 1,700m climb up to La Toussuire. Cycling blogs describe it as ‘brutal’.
So when my wife, Jane, and I planned a trip from London, UK, to Chicago earlier this month, the bike had to come too. Being on vacation didn’t mean the training could stop. The concierge at our hotel found The Chainlink and Yasmeen and Brett and so it was that, on July 4th, Brett and I set off from Johnny Sprockets with a small gang to explore the outer limits of a city I was visiting for the first time. I could go back to my Cyclometer app and tell you where we went but between 7am and lunchtime we covered 100km, often at 20mph or so. Snapshot memories: traffic lights (lots), a stop sign a with police car hiding nearby to catch cyclists who didn’t stop (good to know that serious crime has now been eradicated in the city), Sarah getting stung on the chin by a bee and flying back through Highland Park at such a pace that I totally missed the Frank Lloyd Wright house on Lake Avenue. It’s still for sale, apparently.
Ferns taking a break at The Perfect Blend, a popular meeting place for cyclists, located in Highland Park.
I’ve already ridden the route of L’Etape. Even split into sections over three days it was the toughest physical challenge I’ve ever undertaken, and I’ve done plenty of marathons and triathlons in my time. If I get around in less than 9 hours it will be an achievement. And unlike marathons, where you can dress up as a chicken and take all day to finish, L’Etape has a ‘broom wagon’ to sweep up too-slow riders. Last year one desperately unlucky rider was hauled off the course only 3km from the finish. This year I really, really don’t want that person to be me.
So thank you, Brett, for the ride. And if anyone wants to see how long it took a fat, old bloke to ride L’Etape du Tour, go to letapedutour.com where the results will be waiting.