Having written a thing or two about the recently released Haute Route Pyrenees parcours here, it would be rude for me to not follow up with a piece on the Alps.
I don’t know the Alps quite as well as the Pyrenees, but well enough to make some comments that I feel are worthwhile and you may be interested in… this is probably misplaced confidence however….
So, here we go, a few quick (and throwaway) observations, highlights, and things to look out for on the Alps parcours, which for the first time in several years takes us from North to South.
Day one looks easy at a first glance – smaller cols and a relatively short day. But don’t be lulled into a sense of security. A most likely neutralised roll down the main road from Megeve will lead the peloton to arrive en masse to the bottom of the Aravis, a beautiful little col short enough to entice everyone to spectacularly blowing their beans in a frenzy of excitement.
Once over the Aravis, the climbs don’t stop til the unpleasant looking valley drag back up to Megeve, and those climbs are short enough for front groups on the road to possibly remain pretty large; something that tends to lead to the pace spiralling and the stage becoming far harder than it could be; not always the best way to set a good pacing strategy for the week.
The Gems of Stage Three
I think for me, based on what I know (and there’s a lot I don’t know), Stage Three could be a highlight. Who doesn’t get excited about the idea of climbing the Galibier from Valloire, perhaps the most notorious and mythical col in pro cyclng?
Although the Galibier physically overshadows the climbs that follow on that day, the Sarenne and that uncategorised bump that follow it are majestic as well…. And I think there may be a surprise in store on our way up Les Deux Alpes.
The Sarenne is becoming a Haute Route staple now, and so it should. I’ve written of my love for this col in various places on this blog, including here, but to summarise; it’s a climb that’s at once as far from the Alps as you can get, whilst also being set in the heart of the superstar climbs of the range, such as Alpe D’Huez and the Glandon. Quiet, narrow, and on a dilapidated road surface, the climb passes through meadows and little villages that feel so remote you could be in the Pyrenees.
In the piece linked above, I also mention the La Garde Balcony road. Having looked fairly closely at the video of the parcours for the Alps, if looks like we divert off the 21 bends of Alpe D’Huez as we descend from the Sarenne to take this very balcony road, and that’s the ‘uncategorised bump’ I refer to above. It’s amazing. Intimidating cliff face on one side, a short stone wall and a precipitous drop to the other, with stunning views and stone tunnels throughout. Truly incredible.
The theme of hidden gems on Stage Three continues with the approach to Les Deux Alpes. I’m not 100% sure, but it looks like we will be taking the climb from the side road, via the ‘Montee de Bons’, as opposed to the boring and busy main road from the Lac de Chambon. This side approach via Bons is again, quiet, stunning and steep and pitchy in a manner more typical of the Pyrenees. Fingers crossed that’s our route.
A tale of two Cimes
The Galibier and the Bonnette, two of the literal and metaphorical highpoints of the week, share a feature that, although nerdy, may actually be of relevance to us. That mountain geek fact; both climbs have a divertory road below the true summit of the mountain (don’t get too excited by that, I know it’s scintillating).
The Col de la Bonette and the Cime de la Bonnette are actually two different points and two different roads. The Cime is the true summit, being 2,802m in height, whereas the Col is a ‘mere’ 2,715m. The Cime is pretty much just an additional loop added on to the main mountain pass, designed for tourism and bragging rights (it makes the road higher than the Iseran, which stands at c.2760m), whereas the Col is the functional thoroughfare. Taking the Col road as opposed to the Cime cuts out an extra km of climbing, and, mercifuly, some stretches of up to 15% gradient. The early indcations of the route profile suggest we’ll be spared the Cime road and end the climb at the Col. However, a twisted part of me makes me want to ride the Cime for completion’s sake. All previous times I’ve ridden the Bonnette, we’ve been over the Col rather than the Cime. I don’t expect this will change, but fingers crossed.
With the Galibier, OK, there’s no ‘cime’ de la Galibier – I just used that pun in the title because it worked well. However, the theme holds true – the proper summit of the Galibier of 2,642m can be avoided if necessary. There is a tunnel at 2,556m that cuts out the final loop over the top of the mountain, built in the late 19th century as this important trade road was commonly rendered impassable due to poor weather. Taking this tunnel makes the climb around 1km shorter, and in a similar way to the diversion off the Cime de la Bonnette, saves you from the final killer 10%+ gradients of the climb. There’s no real reason why we would take the tunnel, and the profile indicates that we will go over the true 2,642m summit – however, if there is bad weather on the day, it’s likely we will be diverted through the tunnel to spare us the worst of the elements – I know that the organisers of the Marmotte have done this before for instance.
The Marmotte (or not)
I imagine a fair few of the Alps peloton will have ridden the Marmotte in the past, or be riding it in 2018 (for my sins, both of these apply to me). The mid-section of the Marmotte – i.e. either side of the Telegraphe and Galibier climbs – that chunk where the greatest of rides or most painful of slogs are forged, features in the Alps parcours, split across two days.
Having descended the Madeleiene on day two, we’ll find ourselves in the ugly Marienne valley for a 20km or so grind up to the Telegraphe. Arriving in this valley marks the arrival onto the Marmotte course, where riders will arrive having descended the Glandon.
On that king of Gran Fondos, riders turn off the Maurienne highway to climb the Telegraphe, descend to Valloire, scale the Galibier and descend the Lautaret towards Bourg D’Oisins. That part of the Marmotte is split across Stages Two and Three in the Haute Route, and so those riding the Marmotte in July would do well to pay particular attention to the roads in advance for a second dose of suffering in August.
The Time Trial
The only thing I’m a little underwhelmed by on the parcours is the Time Trial up to the Risoul Ski Station. I’ve climbed it once and can’t remember it all that well, but my main recollection is it being a little underwhelming – 13km at 7%, sure it’s a challenge, but it’s probably not a climb that’s going to light up your life and go down in memory. As per most alpine ski station climbs, it’s wide, switchbacky, and a very consistent gradient suited to busses full of tourists. It’s just a little unremarkable.
The Race to the Sun
The final stage is going to be pretty special I think, up there with Stage Three. Paris-Nice style, it will be a true ‘race to the sun’ as the peloton heads towards the beach at Nice.
The Stage is the longest of the race, though it’s likely that timing will end at the top of the final col. The Couillole is going to be a real test for legs with seven days in them already (or 14 in my case…); 16km at 7% is tough even on the freshest of legs. The descent off the Couillole, through the Gorges de Cians, looks spectacular, and typical of that deserty, arid vibe that dominates the Alpes Maritimes. The environment around there blew me away on the Nice-Pra Loup stage in 2017 as we climbed through the Mercantour park en route to the Col de Cayolle, and so this stage should be a spectacular way to round off the race. Just remember to look up from your stem every now and then.
That’s it for a quick look. There’s loads that could be said but (a) I can’t be arsed and (b) you wouldn’t read it if I wrote it anyway…
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Photo credits – Haute Route, https://gpsrepublic.wordpress.com/, and, umm… Google