Over the last 2 weeks we have given RCUK readers a sample training plan and some tips on what to carry in your pockets during the Etape. This week, after having just returned from riding bits of the route, I will give you my insight into the course as I saw it.
First 45km: I didn’t ride these first few km, but looking at the profile and the roads that you are on, it should be part of the course where you can ride at a fair pace. I have heard talk of riders suggesting they should ‘hammer’ these early km’s to a) establish a good position and b) make up some time before the climbs. Unless you are aiming for a place in the top 500, I would not recommend this option at all. With the tough climbs ahead you want to conserve your energy. You will be in fast moving pack from the off – sit in, draft as much as possible, stick on low gears and follow the general pace being set. There is plenty of time to ride hard later in the day…
Col d’Ichiere: When you turn right off the big road you begin a drag uphill for a few km to the bottom of the Ichiere. This incline is barely noticeable, but you may want to use this opportunity to get past the 16 stone Dutchman you have been happily drafting behind up till now. The Ichiere is a fairly nice climb, only about 4km long and on a pretty good surface. This climb will not present too many problems with a max gradient of a little over 7%. The descent is steeper than the climb, narrow and a little twisty so take some care – the surface is good though.
Col de Marie-Blanque: After the descent of the Ichiere it is onto a big road for a couple of km before turning right and starting the Marie-Blanque. The first few km are only about 2% and you begin to get confident. However, with 5km to go the climb steepens to about an 8% average and with 4km to go it rears up to an average of 12%. And it feels harder. There are no real hairpins and the road just goes up in front of you. This is the hardest section of the 2005 Etape – no false flats, no corners, just steep climbing. You will be needing a very low gear for this section – however good you are. The only advantage is that the climb is largely in the trees and in the shade. Once at the top there is a false flat for a few km before a safe descent (only 3 or 4 tight hairpins) towards Lauruns. This road into Lauruns is great – gently downhill all the way…
Col d’Aubisque: Downhill into the Aubisque that is. Now firstly yes, the Aubisque is a very long climb and yes, it will be hard after the Marie-Blanque. However, I like the Col d’Aubisque, let me explain why; The Marie-Blanque has 3km with gradients of over 10%. The Aubisque has a mere 200metres of 10% +, it is a hard climb due to unrelenting nature and the length (almost 17km). Now, if you have the correct mindset for the Aubisque and you are ready for the long haul, it should be a nice climb to do. Use your gears wisely, set off at a sensible pace and keep ticking over a nice tempo. Remember – it could take you the best part of 2hrs to climb. Be mentally prepared for it. The road between the top of the Aubisque and the Col du Soulor has some great scenery and the climb up to the Soulor is pretty easy. The descent off the Aubisque is not so straight forward, it is tight, it is blind and in places it is very steep. Take your time, brake early and concentrate 100%. Remember your braking distances on the bike apply in the same way as they do in the car – if you are doing 75kph, it will take a long time to slow down… Be prepared.
The good news is that after the town of Ferrieres it is pretty much downhill into Pau – all 50km of it. The small blips at the end are nothing and in general this is the time where the speedy among you can get it on the big chain ring and make up some places. For those of you feeling less than speedy after climbing mountains for over 3hrs, it is at this point where you can begin to relax and maybe even enjoy the Etape du Tour.
Next week: 2 weeks to go. What training should I do between now and then?