October the 26th can only mean one thing? Time to go ride the 2019 Etape Route after just being launched to the media. Sportive Breaks had me lined up and ready to head to the course, which was not too difficult am I am now living in Chamonix. I had approximately a 40-mile drive to reach Albertville where next year’s stage is due to start. The Etape has been here before and though the race village and final logistics info is not shared with us until a couple of weeks before the event, we can be pretty confident it will be a smooth start. I will break down the route into sections:
Albertville to Beaufort:
Don’t be taken in by the shorter length of next year’s Etape, they have squeezed an awful lot into those miles and it starts from the off. No time to warm up with any flat rolling section!
The 11-12 miles from Albertville to Beaufort are not the easiest of miles, this is a gradual drag of climb, with some sections feeling like a full on climb. (this helps in hitting 4,500m of elevation through the day)
The road surface conditions along this stretch are pretty good and super smooth in some places. As ever on our recon rides, we expect any bad road sections to be re-surfaced before the Tour. About 2 miles out from Beaufort you reach a beautiful stretch of open road (almost flat) and on your left you will see Col de Sassies, a regular on the Tour.
As you hit Beaufort you will encounter sections of road through the village that are rough cobbled and a bit disjointed so watch where you put your front wheel as there will still be big groups on the road at this point as everyone is riding excitedly to the first climb.
Col de Meraillet to Bourg St Maurice:
Now the lead in is over and the real climbing can start. You will be heading out the back of Beaufort and straight into the climb, nothing too steep, and going through some beautiful tree covered switch backs which will allow you time to find your climbing legs. This will be busy with slower riders heading to the right of the road and quicker people passing on the left. One of the challenges is to be disciplined to ride at your pace and not be caught up in the excitement. At 3-4 miles the gradient picks up a bit but nothing to panic about, also around this point you will get some amazing views back down the valley towards Albertville (if you’re not too focused on on pedalling and breathing)
The road surface is good and switch backs are not steep or aggressive which makes this a nice climb up to Lake Roseland. Once there, you get amazing views of the lake on your right as you get a much needed moment of respite as you cruise down and round the end of the lake before starting your climb up Cormet de Roseland.
The route is clear as you approach with nice long straight sections cut into the rock. With only a few miles to go of the climb, the road gets narrower and the surrounding terrain changes into more rock as you twist your way up the last few switch backs- gradient again is nothing to worry about here. There will likely be a feed station at the top so you can put on some arm warmers and top up your bottles.
Now for me, the next section is the part that makes this Etape worth the pain. As you go over the top (which can be windy as it’s an open pass) you get onto one of the most amazing descents in the Alps (in my opinion) with beautiful switch backs and amazing views down the descent. There’s some amazing long straights with a great range of sight so you can really open up on the speed. As you reach the lower section of the descent you will need to hold it back a little as the road gets narrower and the switch backs a lot tighter than the upper sections.
Bourg St Maurice to Notre Dame Du Pre ascent:
You guessed it, it is not flat. After heading through Bourg, there is a small short climb out before heading onto more back roads. This is undulating with a couple short switch back (speed bumps) climbs. The route takes you through some lovely countryside for around 10 miles before reaching the foot of the Longefoy which leads you up to the Notre Dame Du Pre. Do not underestimate this climb! I found this climb by accident 8 years ago while taking a group out to the Madeliene- and she is a leg sapper, mainly because people do not expect her to present much in the way of a climb. The climb is 11km with a couple of tight hairpin sections. It levels off after 7km before another little kick to the summit.
Notre Dame Du Pre to Val Thornens finish:
As you go reach the summit you will find the village of Notre Dame Du Pre. Beware of a few tight corners very close to buildings and unexpected drain covers across the road. You will quickly learn the descent is narrow, fast and tight. The switch backs are close and very narrow so you will need to be aware of the space around you. I think this climb and descent are a great addition to the Tour as it gives people the chance to experience some of these lesser known climbs that offer us something a little different.
So keeping alert on this descent is key- at the time of writing this the road conditions need some attention but I am sure that by next summer as always these will be sorted.
As you get to the bottom you will go through another narrow village which you will need to keep alert through. Again it’s tight with man hole covers in odd places.
You next have to make your way through to Moutiers (so dealing with junctions etc.) and before you know it (a few kilometres) you will find yourself at the start of the final 37 kilometres that will take you to Val-Thorens.
Firstly, don’t panic it’s not all up! Ok maybe panic a little considering it’s the finish climb- this is a big ascent. The start is pretty steep but this does ease off and there are long drawn out climb sections not tight switch backs. After around 10K you get some flat and then are even treated to some down for around 6K. This is a welcome chance to take a breather as you head on up and along the newly built Chalet/Ski communities, not that at this point you will be too concerned by your surroundings but sometimes it helps to distract the mind.
This climb does have some much needed false flats which will give that little respite to tired legs.
Try and brake the climb down into stages, as thinking of the whole thing can be a little daunting. The road is wide and in good condition and as you climb you will notice that over 2,000m the air will be thinning. Again do not panic if you are feeling more tired, just keep fuel and hydration going in.
You will reach Les Menuires resort first and you may feel this is the top! It’s not but you get some nice short downhill before making you way up for the last time to Val-Thorens. Dig deep as you will have reached Europe’s Highest Ski resort and the finish of a real climb focused Etape. As you can see from the profile, there is nothing apart from the length of the climb do worry about.
My personal thoughts on 2019 Etape:
Next year’s Etape is like a small yet super strong chilli that packs an amazing punch. I love the route as it offers so much, Classic tour climb- Roseland, smaller narrow climb and descent- Notre Dame, New finish town above 2,300m- Val-Thorens, which is also an amazing challenging long climb.
A great mix of scenery if you get the chance to take it in, a really beautiful and demanding Etape.
Key Points to consider pre Etape:
• Bike handling will save you time as the downhills do require a little more attention, so if you want to make up time on descents then get those skills sharpened up.
• Climbing endurance, this Etape has little if no flat sections and so you will need to be able to cope with a long day of up and up.
• Core strength will help you maintain a good riding position and this will delay onset of fatigue in certain muscles, especially your back.
• Timing your fuel, it can be hard to eat while climbing (digestion and breathing conflicting) it can be dangerous to eat while descending, which leaves few opportunities so check your nutrition plan against the route map.
• Clothing as always will be important when heading up to over 2,000m so when tired at the end of the day your body will find it harder to regulate temps and so will potentially feel the cold more.
The Golden Coaching Tip:
Using your indoor trainer to help with climbing endurance. Doing some long, hard, slow draggy sessions that replicate the long climbing stress for your legs will be really helpful and also give you a super strong mind set for dealing with long steady climbs.
After a warm up set the resistance that slows your cadence to 60 rpm start by holding for 5-10 minutes then increase the time to progress the session.
For anymore advice on training for this Etape or any other cycling events then contact email@example.com
Book your place on the 2019 Etape du Tour HERE.