OK Etapists, pay attention. So we know that Alpe d’Huez will be a tough finish for this year’s Etape, but it is a walk in the park compared to what we will have to get over first. The Col d’Izoard is a beast of a hill, no it’s not steep but it is relentlessly long. A hill of two halves, if you excuse the cliche (it is the World Cup after all).
The yellow jersey of Levi Leipheimer on the Izoard
In the Etape we will be approaching the Col from the classic Southern side, this is the usual route that the Tour takes and the first 17 kilometres from the town of Guillestre are pretty easy and steady with 2-5% gradient. After the start the Izoard will be taken on with fresh legs, but be warned if you over cook this section before the Col you may not even get to the Lauteret. This section does slowly build up the pain quite nicely before the climb really starts when the route leaves the main road to Chateau Queyras and before the last 7kms of climbing to the summit. Remember also that the road to Guillestre from Gap is hardly flat and that this hill is going to take time to get to as well as get over.
Once you’ve turned onto the Col road the Alpine meadows begin, these are at the valley floor and are open, hot and relentless. The road is a straight ahead ramp and is seemingly never ending as you climb through the villages of Le Pasquier and Brunissard. It’s a steady increase in gradient and you will certainly have to use bottom gear through this first section of the Col proper. Not because of the gradient but just because of the length of time it takes.
The hairpins through the forest – nice wide roads
Like the giant Mont Ventoux, its Provencal cousin, the Izoard has three stages; the prelude through the valley and steady climb to the foot of the col through the villages and meadows, a more sheltered forest section with hairpin switchbacks (actually Mont Ventoux doesn’t have as many hairpins!) before opening out onto the Casse Deserte, a place where nothing much grows and the scene is almost moonscape. The views are simply stunning from here on up to the top and although the climb is savage the reward is perhaps some of the best views in this Alpine region.
As the road winds it’s way around the side of the mountain you notice that the climb is now in a valley most of the way to the top, even on a still day this can mean a tailwind assisted ascent.
Thor Hushovd on Look’s new 595 on the Izoard. Pic: Gerard Brown
There is actually a small section of fast downhill with about 3kms remaining, a chance to rest up before the final 2kms to the summit. I wouldn’t stop pedalling though as the road quickly ramps up again and getting your legs going again will be mighty difficult.
Like Alpe d’Huez it does tend to get a bit easier the closer you get to the summit which at 2360 metres is a few hundred metres higher. The final few hairpins are a suitable place to view your past hour’s toil as you can see most of the Casse Deserte section and the valley below. It’s very pretty. Like Alpe d’Huez there is a good surface and it has been well repaired pretty recently, it’s also quite wide and there is plenty of shade in the forest section. Then after that the Lauteret, which by all accounts is going to harder than the course profile suggests…
Col d’Izoard – number crunching
Starting Altitude: 1000 metres
Finish Altitude: 2360 metres
Distance: 32 kilometres
Vertical Climb: 1360 metres
Gradient: 5% average – 10% maximum
Want to know more? Read Rapha’s account of the whole Etape route here:www.rapha.cc
Many more pictures to follow…