A guide written by an idiot.
The parcours for 2016’s Haute Routes were revealed last week, and the organisers threw a party in the fantastic Look Mum No Hands venue in London to reveal them. It was a great event with media and industry types as well as past and present riders attending. And of course, what felt like unlimited free food and booze helped! When Haute Route do something, they don’t do it by halves… All of the start and finish towns for the three weeks were the same as 2015, and so I was expecting the route to be much the same; however, there were promises from the organisers on social media of a few cheeky surprises – and they weren’t lying.
Here are my brief and ill-informed impressions of the Pyrenees parcours for 2016
Some brutal summit finishes
As with last year, the opening stage has a fearsome finish atop of the La Pierre St Martin. This is the col where Froome more or less killed off all the competition in the Tour in 2015…. Let’s
hope it doesn’t kill me off.. At 15.7km at 7.3% (including a small flatter section about 2/3 of the way up so the actual climbing gradient could well push 8%), this is going to be one heck of an intro to the week!
The other summit finish of note is the Cap De Long on stage five (there is also a mountain finish on stage four on Pla D’Adet). I’d never heard of it, nor can I find much about of it online in terms of gradient and distance etc. Topping out at 2160m certainly means it’s going to be a heck of a test though. Excitingly, I’ve seen in a few places – including this great article by RCUK – that it’s a stunner, so something to look forward to at the end of the Queen stage of the week.
There’s two cols that I believe are both new to the Haute Route, and which I’ve never heard of before; the Spandelles (stage two) and Couraduque for the TT.
The Spandelles first struck me due to how it looks on the stage profile; at 1378m its not huge, but at an 8% average over 10km, with flatter sections in the middle bringing this average down, it’s going to be quite a tester. Looking closely at the profile it looks like there’s a lot of c15% ramps towards the end. Get your gels out! Haute Route are describing it as a narrow climb, with ‘seriously steep passages and a picturesque background…’. Trying to mix the good news with the bad methinks!
Haven’t been able to find too much about the TT climb that is the Couraduque, but the impression I’m getting is that it could be one for the ‘power climbers’ (y’know Classics specialists and such) as opposed to true mountain goats like me. The first half appears to be around 5% before the gradient ramps up at the top; so those bigger and more powerful riders could get quite an advantage in those foothills. But one thing to remember about the TT – there’s no need to place too much emphasis on getting a great result on it – it’s just another climb, there’s no bonuses for doing well on this ascent compared to any others. Unless, of course, you’re after the Tag watch for getting the best time, but I think I’ll let Peter Pouly (serial Haute Route winner) take that one again. It’s ok Peter, I’ll go easy for you.
Some old friends – the Tourmalet is back… no surprises there
The Tourmalet – the most infamous of the Pyrenean climbs – crops up with the inevitability of a cake stop on a club run. As its on a key arterial route through the Pyrenees, I’ve heard it’s more or less impossible to not go over the col on one side or the other when traversing the range. We’re climbing the west side, starting from Luz Saint Sauver and climbing past one of the ugliest buildings (I think it’s a ski school) I’ve ever seen. Tourmalet is one of the few really famous mountains I’ve climbed both faces of, and unfortunately we’re doing the duller side, with much of the first half being a characterless grind along quite a busy road. It gets a lot more exciting at the top half however with more switchbacks, luscious scenery and harsher gradients. Good news is that descending the east side is ridiculously fast and great fun, so that will be a real high point.
Some ominously lumpy looking valleys
Stages one, two, six and seven feature quite long valley sections. These look like they could be a lot of hard work unless you get into a well working and well-matched group. These are no gentle flat bimbles, but lumpy and rolling passages that riders from places such as the moors of South West and Northern England could really make hay. Having ridden in Dartmoor and the Yorkshire Moors, where there is not an inch of flat road, even where you’re not on a true climb, these type of roads are seriously knackering, especially for scrawny types like myself.
Some sad omissions (or not)
The route skirts past the much overlooked Ariege region, which boasts some fearsome cols such as Col de La Core and Plateau de Beille. The area has a particular place in my heart as this is where the cycling camp business I am helping set up is based, and I know how stunning the department is. I think the omission from HR is logistical more than by choice, as to add it in would involve a significant dog leg on the final run in towards Toulouse.
Also, no Hautcam! It was a summit finish in 2015, but has been rotated out for 2016. I vaguely remember climbing it when I did the Etape in 2014 (my brain had totally frozen over by this point having been over the Tourmalet in a thunderstorm) and it was really tough with some nasty steep ramps. Would have been nice to try it again but would rather get another climb in my palamares any day!
Some respite from all the moving about
In what I think may be a first for Haute Route, we will be staying in the same town on two occasions over the week. The double night stay tends to only occur on the night before and after the TT, but we’re being treated to a break from the packing, unpacking, finding hotels twice this year; In Argeles Gazost for the TT, and Saint Lary-Soulan for either side of stage five. It’s only a small thing, but this makes me very happy. All the moving about is quite tiring and stressful (I’m old and pathetic like that).
Some short and throwaway comments on Alps and Dolomites…. Timetrials and Cobbles
The TTs on both of these courses are going to be spectacular – Galibier from the infamous ‘Marmotte’ side for the Alps, and the multi-hairpinned monster of the Stelvio for Dolomites. Two truly epic tests and infamous climbs in cycling lore. I must admit I feel a little short-changed by the little known Pyrenean TT of Couraduque… but just coz it’s less well known it doesn’t mean it won’t be spectacular!
Stage Two of the Dolomites ventures up the San Gottardo which has a lot of cobbled sections on it – get your extra bar tape out! Not too sure how much I’d fancy descending at 80kph over a cobbled section… yikes.