Etape du Tour 2016 sportive: the climbs of the Etape – route preview

Sponsored by Sports Tours International: Riding the 2016 Etape du Tour sportive? Here's our analysis of the route

The Etape du Tour is at the pinnacle of the European sportive calendar, giving amateur riders the opportunity to take on a mountain stage of the Tour de France. It’s an event at the top of the bucket list of many cyclists – and for good reason.

This year’s Etape will follow stage 20 of the Tour in the Alps on Sunday July 10 – less than two weeks before the Tour comes to town. As the penultimate stage of the race – and the final mountain stage – the winner of cycling’s greatest race will be effectively crowned in the Alpine town of Morzine, at the end of a 146km stage which starts in Megève.

Official registration for the Etape du Tour has closed but entries are still available through Sports Tours International (Pic: Pierre Alessandri/Etape du Tour)

While official registration for the 2016 Etape has now sold out, entries are still available through Sports Tours International, who also offer a range of travel and accommodation packages. Sports Tours International are also running a series of official spring Etape du Tour training camps, in destinations including Tenerife, the Costa Blanca, the Alps and Lanzarote, giving you access to climbs and terrain perfect for preparing for the Etape.

Both Etape du Tour sportive riders and the Tour de France peloton will face four climbs on the punishing route: the Col des Aravis, Col de la Colombière, Col de la Ramaz and the Col de Joux Plane. What’s in store for Etape riders on July 10? Here’s our analysis of the route.

Turning the screw

While the numbers suggest the 2016 Etape is set to be a little ‘easier’ (and these things are always relative) than the 2015 event, being just four kilometres longer but with approximately 900m less vertical ascent, the parcours will slowly turn the screw on unprepared riders.

The opening ten kilometres from Megève are gently downhill, giving riders the chance to loosen the legs before the Col des Aravis, which in itself acts as an apéritif for what is to come. While none of the three climbs that follow are particularly high – all falling between 1,600m and 1,700m, they get progressively harder before the final sting in the tail – the fearsome Col de Joux Plane.

Stage 20 of the Tour de France sees four climbs are packed into the 146km route, finishing with the fearsome Col de Joux Plane (Pic: ASO)

Col des Aravis

The Col des Aravis can be split into three sections, with the road initially rising from Flumet for 1,500m before the road flattens for three kilometres and the climb starts for good.

That flat section means the 4.8 per cent average of the Col des Aravis isn’t a fair reflection on the entire climb, but the road rarely gets beyond seven or eight per cent. The final 6.8km have an average gradient of 6.7 per cent, with a handful of short stretches at eight per cent.

The Etape du Tour is one of the world’s top sportives (Pic: Pierre Alessandri/Etape du Tour)

As a result, the Col des Aravis acts as a good warm-up for a big day in the saddle, being long enough to set the tone for the day without ever being too steep. But don’t overstretch yourself, there’s still a long way to go – ride within yourself and keep the pace steady. It’s easy at this point in the Etape to get caught up in the moment and burn too deeply into your energy reserves. It’s a beautiful climb so instead enjoy the views from the hairpin bends.

The Col des Aravis itself has featured in the Tour de France 39 times and most recently on stage nine of the 2010 Tour from Morzine to Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne, when Sandy Casar won ahead of Luis León Sánchez and Damiano Cunego.

Col des Aravis vital statistics

Distance: 11.3km
Average gradient: 4.8 per cent
Start elevation: 936m
End elevation: 1,487m
Vertical ascent: 551m

The Col de la Colombiere is the second climb of the day. The Etape will use the easier side of the climb (PIc: Sirotti)

Col de la Colombière

The fast descent of the Col des Aravis passes through the ski resort of La Clusaz and drops to the pretty village of Le Grand-Bornand at 900m before the second climb of the day: the Col de la Colombière. Don’t get this one confused with the climb of Le Grand Colombier in the Jura Mountains, which features on stage 15.

This is the easier side of the Col de la Colombière, rising for 11.6km at an average gradient of 5.8%. In reality, the gradient normally falls between six and seven per cent, but it’s still relatively comfortable, with the final 1.5km the steepest at an average of eight per cent, and the final few hundred metres at nine per cent. Get used to it – there’s plenty more of the steep stuff to come on the final two climbs. Again, there’s still a lot of climbing ahead of you, so be sure to judge your effort and pace on the Colombière.

The Col de la Colombiere has featured in the Tour de France 20 times. Here Frank Vandenbroucke take on the ascent in 1997 (Pic: Sirotti)

Your reward will be a 16.5km descent down the more famous side of the climb. The first kilometre of the descent is the steepest at a gradient of more than ten per cent so, having just crossed the summit, take care to find your rhythm and beware of other riders around you.

The gradient remains steep at between eight and nine percent for the next five kilometres, traversing a beautiful cliff road, before it mellows out as you continue towards Scionzier at an elevation of 537m.

Col de la Colombière vital statistics

Distance: 11.6km
Average gradient: 5.8 per cent
Start elevation: 900m
End elevation: 1,618m
Vertical ascent: 718m

Col de la Ramaz

From Scionzier to the start of the Col de la Ramaz at Mieussy you have 17km along the valley road, rising very gently from 537m to 605m before the climb starts. Use the valley road to get into a group and save valuable energy, while also remembers to regularly take on food and water. By the time you reach Mieussy you’ll be just over half way through the Etape so should still be feeling fairly fresh.

This is a dramatic climb and from Mieussy you can see what’s in store, with the road passing through a gap in the cliffs nearly 1,000m above you. The climb opens at 7.5 per cent for the first two kilometres, climbing in a succession of hairpins before you get some respite, and it begins to get serious from then on.

The duo of the Col de la Ramaz and Col de Joux Plane serve as a nasty sting in the tail (Pic: ASO)

The toughest section comes between kilometres eight and ten, when the average gradient ramps up to ten per cent, with sections steeper as you pass through a tunnel and emerge onto an Alpine plateau. The gradient relaxes after the tunnel but kicks up again for the final three kilometres, touching ten per cent in places.

The Tour de France has only used the Col de la Ramaz twice, in 2003 and 2010, but it should be treated with respect – a tough climb in its own right and with the Col de Joux Plane still to come.

The descent off the top of the Col de la Ramaz is narrow at first and technical after the village of La Savolière, with six sharp hairpins before hitting the valley floor in Tangines.

Col de la Ramaz vital statistics

Distance: 13.9km
Average gradient: 7.1 per cent
Start elevation: 633m
End elevation: 1,619m
Vertical ascent: 986m

The Col de Joux Plane is one of the toughest climbs in the northern Alps and its steep slopes have hosted some memorable moments in Tour de France history (Pic: Sirotti)

Col de Joux Plane

Before you start the final climb of the Col de Joux Plane there are 12 kilometres along the valley road from Tangines to Samoens. The road only rises gently but, under a hot mid-summer sun, this can deplete valuable energy reserves before the climb, so ride intelligently and take shelter in a group if possible. Make sure your bottles are full.

The Joux Plane is a very tough way to end the day and one of the toughest climbs in the northern Alps. It was a regular in the Tour through the 1980s and has featured 12 times in total, but only twice since 2010. The steep slopes of the climb have hosted some memorable moments in Tour history, with Lance Armstrong cracking on the Col de Joux Plane on the way to his second Tour ‘win’ in 2000 and Floyd Landis dropping all of his rivals in 2006 – four days before testing positive for doping.

It’s a hard climb from start to finish, hitting 12 per cent inside the first kilometre and with no real respite as you climb. The gradient consistently remains at or above eight per cent, with only two very brief sections of five per cent. The final five kilometres are the toughest, sapping every last ounce of strength in your legs with an average of more than nine per cent, long stretches considerably steeper and no shelter from the sun as you ride up through the Alpine meadows. If you haven’t prepared properly for the Etape or have gone too hard earlier in the day then this is where you’ll get found out. Remember what we said at the start? Don’t burn your matches too early – the Col de Joux Plane is a real slog for any rider.

The view from the Col de Joux Plane is stunning – but you’ll have to earn it!

Once you’ve reached the summit then congratulate yourself and enjoy the spectacular views of Mont Blanc and the Alps before getting back to business. It’s not over yet as you have a short descent before another 70m of climbing to pass the Col de Ranfolly.

The descent to Morzine then begins properly and while the race for the yellow jersey will in full swing when the Tour comes here on July 23, take care as you drop towards Morzine, where, if you want a taste of the Etape before the event itself, Sports Tours International will be holding a training camp in the Alps in May. The descent is at its steepest and most technical at the top, but take care until you reach Morzine. Enjoy the ride – you’ve complete the Etape du Tour!

Col de Joux Plane vital statistics

Distance: 11.6km
Average gradient: 8.5 per cent
Start elevation: 704m
End elevation: 1,691m
Vertical ascent: 987m

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