ETAPE DU TOUR 2017 - THE STORY!
The starting pens were set around the Etape Village at the foot of Briancon, with 1000 riders in each pen. Riders were standing waiting, chattering away in many languages. Riders were fairly relaxed, and the early morning temperatures were moderate, around 20 degrees Centigrade. What would the day bring?
As their start time approached, riders became more resolute. At the allocated times, riders rolled forward, pen by pen.
We were off!
Although I had expected the first section to be mainly downhill, I was still surprised to be riding at 30mph with little effort,
pulled along by the immense peloton! After the first 20km or so of downhill, the route became more undulating, though the climbs were fairly easy at this stage. Pelotons of 20 or 30 cyclists were forming,
starting to work as teams, while other riders took advantage of the downhill sections to do a spot of overtaking.
One of the highlights of the whole ride was the amazing descent towards Lake Serre Ponson, near Embrun, as we hurtled downwards through a magnificent series of bends towards its blue waters.
Our first mountain, Cotes des Demoiselles Coiffees, named after two tall rocks resembling two ladies with extravagant hair styles, did not present much difficulty.
Then the 800 metre climb up to Col de Vars began!!
Initially it did not seem too much to worry about, with gradients of 2%. At one point, the local fire brigade were kindly sprinkling us with their hoses to cool us down!
When gradient gradually increased to 10% it became a bit tougher. Near the summit the gradients hit 12% then 14%! And there was a headwind! Near the Col, some riders were pushing their bikes. The temperature reached 34 degrees, then 37 degrees!
We were pleased to see the water station at the top! The descent of Vars was magnificent, fast with wide winding roads. The beautiful views were highlighted by a small lake about half way down. As we approached Guillestre we were encouraged by villagers along the roadside who were enthusiastically cheering us on. The short climb up to the feed station at Guillestre was not really appreciated by some riders though! Then the famous Izoard!
Starting at the dry rocky Casse Deserte, with its huge rocky pillars, the 1100metres climb of Izoard is over 12km long, starting at 1200 metres and reaching 2300 meters at the summit.
The gradients at the start of the climb were not too bad, but nearer the top it became more difficult.
The long train of riders rode steadily upwards.
With the high temperatures, and gradients peaking at 12% or more, some competitors were walking as they approached the summit.
Then, at last – the finish - Col d’Izoard!
In first place was the Norwegian cyclist Jonas Abrahamsen, who finished in 5 hours, 15 minutes and 26 seconds. Last year's Etape winner, the Frenchman Tao Quemere finished second. In third place was the Norwegian Jonas Ellingsen.
The first woman was Edwige Pitel, who repeated her success of finishing first last year, this year finishing in 5 hours, 42minutes and 14 seconds.
Hearty congratulations to all Etappers who completed this arduous course in the blazing heat!