If you’re still thinking about what cycling challenge you want to take on in 2018, the Etape du Tour could be the marquee event you’ve been looking for. This year, on Sunday July 8, the race takes in new climbs alongside the old, on a challenging course that should guarantee riding as difficult as it is unique.

Moreover, the Etape will start from Annecy this year, within easy reach of Geneva airport. It’s a host town last visited for the Etape in the 2013 when the sportive finished atop of the climb of Semnoz, and is noted for its lakeside beauty nestled in the foothills of the Alps.

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Individual entries are now closed, but there are still spots available if you book with Sports Tours International. Here are six reasons why you should.

Etape du Tour sportive 2017 (Pic: ASO)

Test yourself against a stage of the Tour de France

Every year, the Etape du Tour is the season’s major goal for riders from all over the world. And why not? In each edition, it takes in one of the pivotal stages of the most famous bike race in the world so you’re quite literally riding the same roads as the pros.

Etape du Tour 2018 sportive route

In 2018, the task facing entrants is the 169km stage 10 parcours from Annecy to Le Grand-Bornand, on the way taking in the famous climbs of the Col de la Croix Fry and Col de la Colombière, the latter of which tops out at an altitude 1,618m and hits punishing gradients of 13 per cent in places.

It’s set to be a true challenge for any rider, whether your goal is simply to finish, or get to the finish line in the fastest time you can.

Discover unknown climbs of the Tour

Alongside those two famous climbs, the Col de la Croix Fry and Col de la Colombière, there are two other significant uphill challenges that are relatively unknown to the Tour. In fact, the Montée du Plateau des Glières – the second climb of the day following the Croix Fry – has never been scaled by the Grande Boucle, while the Col de Romme has only been visited once by the Tour.

Col de Romme (Pic: Sjaak Kempe/Creative Commons)

The Col de Romme’s previous inclusion came in 2009, when Fränk Schleck won the stage ahead of race leader Alberto Contador, with Fränk’s brother, Andy, third. The trio put more than two minutes into Vincenzo Nibali and Lance Armstrong, while Bradley Wiggins finished sixth on the stage in what was the future champion’s breakthrough Tour.

One of the toughest editions of the Etape in recent years

It might only be stage ten of the Tour de France - and, indeed, the first mountain stage - but it represents one of the toughest tests riders are likely to face in this year’s event, with four high mountains and one hors categorie climb compressed in to its 169km length. When you’re not heading uphill - and there's more than 4,000m of ascent - you’ll be exhilarated by the fast descents. There’s not much flat in this year’s Etape!

Etape du Tour 2018 climbs

Those climbs are each serious challenges in their own right, too, with gradients that rarely dip below eight per cent. In fact, while this year’s climbs may not be the longest or highest, it is the steepness of the ascents that will make the 2018 Etape such a tough challenge. The Col de la Croix Fry is a relatively gentle introduction, with an average gradient of 6.6 per cent for 12.8km, before things get serious with the Montée du Plateau des Glières - six kilometres at an average of 11.2 per cent. Ouch!

The Col de Romme offers little respite, with an 8.9 per cent average gradient for 8.8km, while the Col de la Colombière provides the final uphill test for tired legs, with 7.5km at 8.5 per cent - and long pitches significantly steeper. As a result, this is going to be one of the most challenging Etapes to ride in recent years, and should be a true mountain test.

Gravel road

You might also have heard Tour organisers ASO have shaken up the racing this year, with the inclusion of 21.7km of cobbles in the north on stage nine, and a 65km three-mountain stage on stage 17 - you can read more about the key stages of the 2018 Tour de France here. That’s not all, though – they’ve also thrown up some gravel riding too, and you’ll be able to experience it yourself at the Etape this year.

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It’s to be found in a 1.5km stretch at the top of the Montée du Plateau des Glières, and is a first for both the Tour and the Etape. It’s a great opportunity to break new ground, while it’s also a chance to ride in an area of historical and cultural significance, where resistance fighters chose to hide from the Allies during World War II.

Closed roads

As every year, the Etape du Tour not only offers the chance to ride the same roads as the pros, but the roads are also in the same condition as they would be when the big names ride them: closed. You can focus on your riding, not what might be lurking around the next bend, and ride in conditions usually reserved only for the pros.

Etape du Tour sportive 2017 (Pic: ASO)

There’s nothing quite like sharing the road with 15,000 fellow cyclists, free from traffic, all invested in making it to the end. It’s the perfect cauldron for the camaraderie and spirit of the Etape to shine through, along with all the sounds and atmosphere you might miss on an open road. “Allez, allez!"

Keep it simple

Signing up to the Etape du Tour is relatively simple when entries are open, but after that, things can get a little trickier. Where will you stay? What will you eat? How will you get your bike transported to and from the start and finish? How much support will you have? Luckily, if you book with Sports Tours International, all this is taken care of.

Etape du Tour sportive 2017 (Pic: ASO)

Sports Tours International is an official partner of the Etape du Tour, and so has a number of tickets set aside for its riders, guaranteeing entry. In fact, with regular entries now closed, it’s one of the only ways of securing your spot on this year’s event.

There are a number of benefits of booking with Sports Tours International, including being looked after by experienced reps, conveniently-located hotel rooms, bike transfer arrangement, exclusive feed stops that make refuelling much easier en-route, and pre-event briefings designed to help you get the best out of yourself on the day.

It means you can relax and let the organisation take care of you, ensuring you can make the most of your Etape du Tour in 2018.