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Tour 2007 – L'Etape du Tour

Bradley Wiggins at the launch

Organisers of the L’Etape du Tour have picked one of the toughest stages
of the next year’s Tour de France for the 15th edition of the classic cyclosportif,
and have confirmed a second ‘Etape du Legende’ for next September.

As had been rumoured over the past week, the Etape 2007 will follow a classic
Pyrenean route of 202km from Foix to Loudenvielle on Monday July 16 crossing
five unrelenting cols.

A true ‘casse patte’ or leg breaker, race director Jean-Francois
Alcan has paid no regard to any of those who may have thought he would pick
an easier stage next year following the mass abandons on the slopes of L’Alpe

“It’s going to be tough,” Mr Alcan told Londoncyclesport at
today’s (Thursday) launch of the Etape. “I want to keep it a challenge.”

Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme said to satisfy the ever increasing
interest in the Etape, race orgainser ASO would also launch this year an ‘Etape
du Legende’, tackling one of the Tour’s classic stages.

The first edition will run from Strasbourg to the Ballon d’Alsace over
186km on September 23 next year, following the route of the eighth stage of
the 1967 Tour.

The surprise announcement of the new Etape du Legende came during the presentation
in Paris today (Thurs), where London mayor Ken Livingstone heralded next summer’s
Prologue and Grand Depart in London as offering a great opportunity to develop
cycling in the city. Londoner Bradley Wiggins was on hand to fly the flag for
the city, while David Millar was one of the cycling stars also present.

David Millar

Next year’s Etape will be tough from the flag. After just 15kms on the
flat south from Foix to Tarascon, the route will turn west over the narrow and
twisty Col du Port, familiar to all those who’ve ridden the Raid Pyrenean.
Although not to steep, averaging 5.3% over its 11.4km, the narrowness of the
roads will undoubtedly help thin out the field.

A fast technical descent through a wooded valley and on to St Girons after
65km, leads to the draggy lower slopes of the Col de Portet d’Aspet, climbed
from the ‘easy’ east side (5.7km at 6.9%).

Caution will be needed on the vertiginous descent, the scene of Fabio Casartelli’s
fatal crash in the 1995 Tour.

No respite is given before the short but sharp (and classic) Col de Mente (7km
at 8.1%). Although the road surface is good, any weakness will now start to
be felt.

Another long screaming descent – with several extended straightaways that
will see the pros touch 100kms per hour – drops the race down into the Garonne
valley through St Beat.

If you weren’t suffering by now, you soon will be. After less than 10kms
down the valley, the race will turn east again through Mauleon-Barousse at the
foot of the Port de Bales.

A new climb for the Tour, let alone the Etape, the Port de Bales will be the
toughest climb of the stage, with 19.2km at an average of 6.2%, rising to the
day’s high point of 1.755m.

But that doesn’t do it justice. No only is it long, it’s narrow (of
course) twisty and steepens up near the top to hit sections of 14%. Memories
of the 2003 Etape through the steep cols of the western Pyrenees come to mind.
A local Pyrenean sportive, the Lapebie also takes the Port de Bales.

‘Our Ken’

Off the top, another steep decent, on roads only recently surfaced, drops the
route thankfully 4.5km up the final strength-sapping climb of the day, the Col
de Peyresourde. It’s long exposed sections (9.7km at 7.8%) will leave only
the fast descent, where Jan Ullrich performed his spectacular somersault into
a ditch in the 2001 Tour.

Thankfully, only a brief roll up the road is left to a beautiful valley finish
in Loudenvielle.

London Phoenix CC road race co-ordinator and 10-time ‘Etapist’ Pete
Richardson said: “Like the 2006 edition, you’ll need to be very well
trained, preferably with some sportives already in your legs if you hope to
perform well.”

Pete’s first Etape was in 1997, which also finished at Loudenvielle, that
time approaching from the west over those classic cols, the Soulor, Tourmalet,
Aspin and Azet. “The climbs were bad enough, but it was the heat that ground
you down,” said Pete.

“In the Pyrenees in July it’s either 35 degrees and blistering sunshine
or 10 degrees and raining – both pose something of a challenge!”


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