ETAPE RECONNAISSANCE TRIP
On 9th June 12 of us flew to the Alps for the Etape.org.uk Reconnaissance trip. Staying in a rather nice gite near Gap, we had the services of a minibus with a very helpful driver to support us on our way.
The weather was in the 20s with bright sunshine throughout. The trip gave us an appreciation of how to tackle this year’s Etape. Here is what we found!
The First Section – Gap To Guillestre.
This section is remarkably flat. With over 8000 riders to draw us along, we should be off to a great start! During the reconnaissance trip, we were blessed with a tail wind – which is quite likely on the day, as the prevailing wind is in that direction. Good progress is likely here, with a wide, closed road and a good road surface.
After 16 miles we will reach the beautiful Lac de Serre Poncon, where the course crosses the lake via an elegant bridge. After crossing the bridge and arriving at Savines-Le Lac, the road rises then later descends. At this stage good speeds of 25 – 30 mph will be reached. The advice is to make good time here, but save some energy for later! The first section is good slip streaming territory, especially if there does happen to be a headwind.
Another hill follows as we leave the lake and pass through the town of Embrun. We then follow the River Durance valley for about 13 miles.
The Second Section – The Ascent Of Izoard
The ascent to Col d’Izoard is in two stages. The first 13.4 miles have an average gradient of 2.6%. The final 6.6 miles have an average gradent of 7.8%
Things change after the route turns right off the main road and passes through the historic village of Guillestre!
The first feed station will be at Guillestre, to ready you for the long climb ahead! You will need to arrive at Guillestre (34 miles) by 9:40 to avoid elimination. The next climb is a long one, so it is worth topping up your water bottles.
The scenery now changes from fairly open countryside into a spectacular limestone gorge with high cliffs, as we ride the foothills of Col d’Izoard. The road is cut into the side of the cliff, and contours around the cliff face, passing through arches and tunnels. It is worth avoiding elimination just to admire the scenery!
The road then leaves the gorge to enter the more typical mountain scenery of the Gorge de Queyras, after which it climbs, mainly at a reasonable rate. It is probably wise to conserve your energy here, while still making good progress, as the real climb still lies ahead.
After the sharp left hand corner, the climbing really starts. We pass through the villages of Arvieux and La Chalpe before reaching the real high mountain section of the Col d’Izoard. After a long climb we cross the tree line to the lunar landscape of the Casse Deserte
After the Casse Deserte the final set of hairpins takes you to Col d’Izoard.
Everyone on the reconnaissance trip agreed that it was a hard climb. At the top you will be rewarded with liquid refreshments.
Descent – Col d’Izoard to Briancon
Take care on the descent of Lauteret – it is quite easy to fall off here! The roads at the top reminded me of spaghetti, though further down the roads straighten out into some good straight sections.
Beware of the bends! Near the bottom we arrive at a limestone area, with the road contouring round. Briefly it actually goes up hill, before the fast descent into Briancon.
After the last descent it may be hard to believe that Briancon is the highest town in Europe! To avoid elimination you will need to arrive here before 13:00.
Food and liquid refreshments are available here during the Etape – not to mention the many cafes!
Climb of Lauteret
11 miles of 2%, then 6.5 miles of 4.5%
The climb to Col de Lauteret is deceptive – it does not appear to be a climb! The temptation is to notice that your speed is dropping and to press on as though it were a flat road, using excessive energy. The first 11 miles is a false flat – if you are riding at 18 mph, you will be using around twice the amount of energy you would use on the flat at the same speed (around 300W instead of 150W). Many people find Lauteret gruelling for that reason! The last 6.5 miles is steep enough to let you know that you are climbing!
As you cycle up the Guisane valley, the valley floor gradually drops away and magnificent mountain scenery opens up around you. When you see the avalanche shelter, the top is not far away!
Descent of Lautaret
A 24 mile descent!
This really is a descent worth waiting for – it seemed to be the longest one I have ever ridden! The initial drop from the col again has a spaghetti nature. Unfortunately the road surface was poor during the reconnaissance – sudden ramps, drops and ruts in the otherwise smooth road surface – so care is needed here.
From past experience, it is quite likely that it will be re-surfaced before the Etape. After the village of La Grave (6.6 miles) the road improves, and you will enjoy a truly beautiful descent, with mountain scenery omn both sides and a rushing river on the left. At one point a waterfall descends from what appears to be the very to of a mountain on the right. Although the ascent of Lauteret was relatively sheltered when we tried it, we were riding into the wind on the descent, so some pedalling was needed to maintain a good speed.
After passing the Lac de Chambon, the road crosses the barrage. Eventually, the amazing descent levels off before we arrive at Bourg d’Oisans.
Here you will find a food and drink station – probably much needed after 110 miles! You may need some sustenance by then – particularly with Alpe d’Huez ahead! You need to be at this point by 16:00 hrs.
9 miles, average 6.7%
What is there to say about Alpe d’Huez? Its famous numbered 21 bends are well known. What is less well known is the steep bit at the bottom! At one point the gradient in the first 3 km rises to 14.5% - so take that section at a steady rate! After that the gradient eases off somewhat, averaging less that 10%. Markers on each bend tell you your altitude and the bend number, counting down as you go up. Each bend has a flatter section on the bend itself.
Finally, the refreshments at the end! You will need to arrive by 18:00 to qualify for a medal.
The roads will be closed until 18:00, but there are plenty of cafes to relax in while you wait!
I hope you enjoy your Etape du Tour as much as we did the reconnaissance trip!