The route of the 2015 Etape du Tour is interesting and challenging. Although it is not the shortest Etape ever, it is certainly one of the shortest at 138km (86miles)!
It is not a walk in the park as it rivals the 2002 Etape – when the road is not climbing it is descending, though the flatter 30km section along the Maurienne valley does add a bit of variety!!
The First Mountain
The Etape starts at St Jean de Maurienne in the Maurienne valley. It starts climbing almost straight away! The climb is an interesting one, as the ride weaves its way up the valley side. Initially the gradient is a steady 6% to7.5%, but after 3km of climbing we reach a minor col, and enjoy a km of downhill. 11km of climbing follows, until we reach the Col de Chaussy itself, which sits in a saddle between two mountain peaks. The detailed gradient is quite variable. However taking the kilometre averages, most of the climb has an average gradient of around 6%, with some stretches of around 8%, which is a good warm up for things to come!.
The climb to Col de Chaussy ascends 1000m in 15km, which gives an overall average gradient 6.6%. This makes it a typical Etape du Tour climb.
The Valley Section
An exciting descent follows the climb, taking us back down to the Maurienne Valley, at the village of La Chambre. After the initial excitement, it may be wise to pace yourself on the first climb, and save some energy for later!
After riding down the valley for around 15km, we turn around and follow a parallel road back as far as St Etienne de Cuines, where the next climb starts. This is an ideal section to pace yourself and slipstream a suitable bunch of riders to save energy, though you may have to take a turn at the front occasionally! One mountain down and two to go – or three if you count the short climb up Mollard!
Croix de Fer
This is a beautiful climb, moving up through the woodland to the grassy mountain tops.
It is the most difficult climb of the day, but by no means impossible.
The first six km are ideal for a steady climbing rhythm, with a moderate 7% gradient, after which the gradient is disrupted by increasing to 9%, decreasing to 3% then increasing to 10% again, as we reach the half way mark. It continues with average gradients of between 7% and 9%, dropping in the last 3km after Glandon, reaching only 4% at the top. In places before Glandon there are however short sections of around 12%, made more difficult by poor road surfaces.
The ascension to the Col de Croix de Fer is 1500m in 22km, making the overall average gradient 6.8%.
The descent of Croix de Fer is exciting but fairly tricky with some steep sections, with spectacular mountain scenery. Riders may be a little tired at this stage, so the descent needs to be taken with care! It will be important to stay alert.
Half way down, the descent is interrupted by the short climb up to Col de Mollard.
The descent continues to need to be ridden carefully after Mollard.
After arriving at St Jean de Maurienne again, we start the last climb of the day!
After the first two km of 8.5% and 9%, this is a relatively pleasant climb with regular reasonable gradients mainly of 7% or less. It is not particularly difficult, though riders are quite likely to feel just a little tired at this point!
In the last 3km the gradient drops from 5% to 4% - and the finishing arch is in sight!
This climb is 1100m in 18k, or 6.1% average overall.