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Braving extreme heat, a severely undulating track and the notorious harpins of Alpe D’Huez, F1 legend Damon Hill took on the monumental challenge of L’Etape du Tour with Sports Tours International.
Swapping four wheels for two, Damon was one of more than 15,000 riders on the starting grid, each facing the hardest stage of this year’s Tour de France – a gruelling 167km course from Briançon to Alpe d’Huez, featuring 4,700m of climbing. No stranger to world-class support, Damon was riding as part of Team Sports Tours, benefiting from extra feed stations on the course and the support of our experienced reps and mechanics.
Unfortunately the 1996 F1 World Champ didn’t quite manage to reach the chequered flag in Alpe D’Huez. The 30C heat and a lack of climbing experience took its toll as he reached the HC climb of Croix de Fer. He said: “I’ve never been able to go up and down mountains for some reason! I probably chose the wrong event!”
While Damon’s journey didn’t pan out exactly the way he’d planned, he compared riding in the French Alps with another passion of his, motorcycling. “It’s the enjoyment of getting to the top and then whizzing down that I love,” he said. “The climbing is my weak point – I just wish I could go up the mountains a bit faster.”
Damon got into cycling 10 years ago when he started a fundraising for Halow – a charity supporting young people with learning disabilities and a cause very close to his heart. But despite being an experienced cyclist in the UK, nothing could prepare him for the challenge of L’Etape.
As race weekend came, he found he couldn’t sleep for two nights. “I wasn’t sure if it was the altitude or the fact that I was terrified for what I’d let myself in for,” he said. “I’d done all of the prep; I’d carb-loaded and loafed around on the Saturday. I probably had too much energy!” He added: “It was such an amazing experience! The whole vibe was fantastic! It’s a beautiful place with beautiful scenery and the event was extremely well organised. It’s a stunning achievement and if you want to complete it, you’re going to have to push yourself and keep turning those pedals the whole way!”
In hindsight, Damon believed he could have pushed a bit harder on race day but was worried about blowing up. He said: “I was trying to keep something in reserve. Maybe I kept a bit too much in reserve quite frankly and now I’m kicking myself a bit as I didn’t fully know what to expect.”
Ever the competitor, Damon confirmed that that he’s already contemplating going the full distance next year and surviving this epic challenge! We can’t wait to see him on the start line again.
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