It's hard not to get excited about the 2013 Tour De France as the full route was unveiled this week. A celebration of the 100th edition of the Tour, the defence of the yellow jersey by Team Sky - if not Brad Wiggins - and the chance to forget the unsavoury events of the last few weeks.
The profile for the 2013 L'Etape du Tour
In the same vein (ouch) we also see the return of Alberto - keen to wreck revenge and claim the jersey on a course he must be looking forward to tearing round.
For the ‘sportiver’ - there is also more than a passing interest, with many keen to see which routes would be opened up for this year's L'Etape du Tour. Which of these stages would the cycling equivalent of the Sunday pub teams have the privilege of riding on - which stage can we bore our friends with by announcing to anyone who will listen that we were there? It was announced that stage 20 - the penultimate stage - leaving from Annecy would be the sole (hitherto) scene for us amateurs.
And with the Etape announcement, I couldn't help thinking that ASO (organisers of L'Etape Du Tour events) missed a trick. With Tour stages that tackle Ventoux and Alpe D'Huez, many fans were salivating at the chance of getting to grips with the chance of a closed road sportive up these iconic climbs and many predicted - based on previous years that at least one of these stages would make up the Etapes.
For the last two years - ASO have opened up - not one - but two stages to the L'Etape Du Tour - and these have appeared to be getting progressively harder - in terms of length and vertical climbing meters. This year it would seem that they have reverted to just a single stage and not - on paper at least - one of the mega tough multi hors category stages.
A cursory glance over the statistics would, perhaps, offer some kind of explanation as to why the killer mountains were not included in the Etape this year. Neither of last years' events were sold out - and only 3,200 of the 6,000 starters managed to finish ACT 1. A reputation for aggressive broom wagon times - could mean that a puncture in the first few miles results in an early bath and a frustrating afternoon sitting in back of a bus. All of these factors sway the wavering entrant towards taking the easy option.
So let's hope - with the announcement of a hard - but not a killer stage - that the take up for the Etape is healthy and that the representation from the UK is equally healthy. What finer way of training for such an event than the sportives on offer in the spring and summer. When I think back to my own training plan - I managed to a number of sportives which counted for so much in terms of training for this most exhausting but rewarding of endurance events.
If anyone is thinking of entering the L'Etape du Tour - my advice to you is to do so and to do so with full commitment of yourself and your family. There is no finer experience of scaling these beautiful mountains on closed roads and experiencing the encouragement and scenery. But do so with more than a few long distance sportives under your belt. This year's L'Etape du Tour may not be the toughest stage (on paper) but the steep summit finish will ensure that the finishers’ medals are well rewarded.