For the second year running the Etape du Tour, the annual cyclosportive that follows the route of a stage of that year’s Tour de France, will take place in the Pyrenees. However, the 2008 Etape should offer a less demanding challenge than the long and extremely difficult stage from Foix to Loudenvielle, which punished participants in the 2007 event unmercifully.
Slated for 6 July, the 2008 edition breaks with Etape tradition by moving from the date of the first rest day of the Tour. Instead, it takes place early on, at the same time as Stage 2. It will follow the same 154km route as Stage 10 of the Tour between Pau and Lourdes-Hautacam, although the Etape press release lists the distance as 165km.
The ride features the legendary climb of the col du Tourmalet, which peaks at 2115m. It is approached from St Marie de Campan, famous as the village in which Eugene Christophe once repaired his fork while being penalised for allowing a boy to work the bellows of the forge. Prior to this there are a couple of small bumps at Labatmale and Loucrup to enliven the long drag to the foot of the Tourmalet, which comes at around 100km. The eastern side of the col is steep and exposed, offering little shade once past the shelter below la Mongie. Beyond this ski village lie another 4km of ascent before reaching the restaurant at the col itself.
The descent to Luz St Saveur is fast, with a great combination of long-steep straights and tight hairpins. There follows a steady descent until the foot of Hautacam, which is a stunning climb through typical Pyrenean meadows with a sting in the tail. As ever with the Etape, logistics may prove awkward, but the combination of famous climbs, superb scenery and a relatively undemanding parcours should make this one of the most eagerly-awaited Etapes of recent years.
UK cycle tour operator Sports Tours has already begun taking pre-bookings for the 2008 Etape du Tour: for details visit the website.