- Posted by Robert Garbutt
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Judging by the reaction on the internet, the 2010 Etape du Tour is creating quite a stir. The Tour de France organisers have chosen well, selecting probably the most exciting stage, from Pau to the summit of the Col du Tourmalet.
No wonder riders are clamouring at the chance to sample these roads only days before the big race, but how many truly know the magnitude of the task in hand?
I'm not being a killjoy, honest. I speak from experience: I was an Etape failure in 1998. And there's that figure of some 2,000 non-finishers from this year's entry of 9,500 riders. Climbing the Ventoux can never be considered easy, but the remainder of the 2009 Etape route should be considered virtually flat compared to what's on offer next July.
First off, there's the ultra-steep Col de Marie Blanque, then the long, ong climb of the Col du Soulor before the leg-breaking 37km climb to the summit of the Tourmalet.
Of course, with the right preparation, the Etape is perfectly achievable and the majority of entrants will have a fantastic day out. Then you read those online comments asking: how to enter (fair enough) and - wait for it - what type of bike to buy (grrrr). This isn't London to Brighton, you know.
Robert Garbutt is editor of Cycling Weekly magazine
Riding the 2010 Etape du Tour route
- Posted by Andy McGrath
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The same words that had passed the lips of a half-delirious Octave Lapize atop the Aubisque amid the toughest Pyrenean stage of the 1909 Tour de France, shot through my mind again.
I'd come to the Pyrenees under the auspices of a magazine photo shoot. Yet, after the announcement of the Etape du Tour route, plans suddenly changed.
The CW editors decided that it would be an excellent idea for me to ride the stage, giving me 36 hours to gird myself mentally. From a molehill to (three) mountains...
And what a stage it is. 174 kilometres, taking in the Marie-Blanque, Soulor and Tourmalet as well as numerous tough bumps in between. All in all, it's about 4,400 metres of climbing.
With Dominic, owner of our gite for the week, Pyrenees Pursuits, acting as a one-man driver, photographer and supporter, we set off in the mid-dawn freeze for Pau. After initially getting lost in the city's circuitous streets, we got stuck into the parcours.
The opening 30 kilometres to Oloron Sainte-Marie are on Route Nationale dual carriageway: fine for a charging Etape bunch on closed roads, but dangerous for a lone rider. We drove this gently-undulating section, with me unwilling to play chicken with the giant HGVs.
The Marie-Blanque started inauspiciously, as I took the wrong turning, climbing up a goat-track for 4 kilometres (très Octave Lapize) before an even narrower and rutted gravel descent, spitting me out in front of a bull.
He eyed me, I eyed him and I passed by, silently thanking the heavens I hadn't opted for the matador-esque red Cannondale top that morning.
As seemed par for the course that day, I was then chased by four rather large dogs as the descent opened out into a tiny hamlet, enshrouded in wood-smoke. Mercifully, I came out - having avoided both puncture and death by wild animal - on civilisation a few kilometres up the climb proper.
Back on track, the Marie-Blanque has an early steep-and-sharp section before settling down to more benign gradients. The first half reminded me of climbs in the Surrey Hills, similar both in gradient and vegetation. However, this swiftly changes nearer the top.
The last three kilometres don't mess around, the steepest of the day at nine, twelve and then thirteen percent before the summit. The first feed stop of the Etape is also rumoured to be at the top of the climb, so prepare yourself for the traditional frenzy, where previously upstanding citizens become push-and-shove starving beggars for five necessary minutes.
From here lies the joy of descending on a bicycle. An hour of Pyrenean climbing is rewarded by fifteen minutes of speedy, harum-scarum descent. You sure don't get anything like this in England. With sharp but safe turns and the road ahead often visible, I was able to open it up, pass a car or two and enjoy unadulterated speed all the way down to Bielle and the valley floor.
After a rolling and winding 30 kilometres through rural Pyrenean backwaters, the Tour then takes in the Soulor from its oft-unused north side at Ferrières. The 12-kilometre climb will certainly surprise a few, though I found that a cautious pace on my behalf meant I could sustain a good rhythm on the 7% gradients, saving something for the final climb.
As for the Tourmalet? Having already climbed several hundred metres up the valley floor on the stunning corniche road, both time and progress seemed to slow for the 18-kilometre haul from Luz Saint-Sauveur.
To put it nicely - much more sweetly than my under-the-breath mutterings in the final kilometres - it really is a pig's ear of a climb, coming after 100 miles of Pyrenean riding. The final 12 kilometres from the ski resort of Barèges rarely drop below 8% gradient, with kilometre-markers smartly informing you of the altitude and gradient to come.
Vegetation and rock faces shade riders from the worst of the heat, ensuring that there will be fewer Ventoux-esque Etape meltdowns this time round, though the cumulative effort of the day will leave many riders on their last legs.
The scenery in the second half is terrific, with fine mountain views across to the west. Frankly though, I could only focus on the road ahead and the searing pain in my calves. The last kilometre is a hellish response to the question "what could make the last five minutes even worse?", averaging a soul-destroying 10%.
Though the col-top signpost was removed, the sense of ceremony and achievement came from the stunning view at the top. The Tourmalet will be both the literal and metaphorical high point of the Tour de France. Despite not having ridden the whole route, I'll admit that I felt great pride - and relief - as I looked down on the road I'd just climbed. Like the Galibier in the Alps, I felt like I was on the roof of the world.
The Etape route is always brutal and challenging. However, with the centenary anniversary of the Tourmalet's inclusion, it carries a particular poignancy this year. Certainly, Octave Lapize's "assassins", barked at the commissaires, still rings true. The face of the Tour de France may have changed beyond recognition, but the mountains stay the same. The Col de Tourmalet broke men in 1909 and will do the same again a hundred years on.
See next week's Cycling Weekly for a full Etape du Tour 2010 preview.
The steepest gradient of the day.
Sweeping bends and fine scenery halfway up the Soulor
The corniche road, built into the rockface, to Luz Saint-Sauveur
My mid-October recce was blessed with unseasonal warmth
Exactly what you want to see after 173 kilometres
The blessed final metres at the top of the Tourmalet
Thanks to Dominic and Liz at Pyreenees Pursuits for photos and hospitality.
- Posted by Robert Garbutt
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It was great to meet so many of you at the Cycle Show in London last week. I had expected to be able to wrap things up on the opening day but things were pretty busy at Earls Court and I needed a return visit.
I'm not complaining. Friday was every bit as good, and there was certainly a buzz about the place with Alberto Contador and Eddy Merckx among the celebrity guests signing autographs.
There seemed to be a happy, feel-good factor to this year's show. With more people than ever turning to two wheels for recreation and sport, road bike sales are booming and the cycle trade is in a confident mood. It was great to see so many smiling faces!
There was talk of a 60 per cent increase in visitors on the trade day, which is believable with the show, now in its third year, settling into a regular slot at an ever-popular venue.
It's a shame, then, that some of the biggest names still do not exhibit. This is the UK's top show, and visitors expect to see major players such as Giant and Trek. Those who went to Earls Court to get an overview of the market would have been frustrated by the big name no shows.
And if you're already thinking about Christmas gifts, what could be better than giving someone a subscription to Cycling Weekly? Our offer includes the DVD of this year's Tour de France plus a 15 per cent discount. Click on the banner below to find out more...
Robert Garbutt is editor of Cycling Weekly
- Posted by Robert Garbutt
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Thanks to everybody who rode our innaugural Bike Blenheim Palace Sportive at the weekend, it certainly was a very grand day out. Well I certainly enjoyed myself and judging from all your feedback, it seems the same goes for the rest of you, all 1,200 riders.
Blue skies, traffic-free lanes and the idyllic Cotswolds countryside - there really wasn't much not to like, although the 8am start was just a little too early and chilly for my delicate constitution.
Of course, being an older chap, I was excused the longer 100-mile course, opting for the slightly less strenuous 63-mile option. I wasn't silly enough to consider trying to stay with the rest of the large CW office contingent, letting the youngsters ride away at the start in the belief I would get them back later.
Indeed I did, but only by not stopping at the feed station, so while my colleagues dined on bacon sandwiches the editor rode on, only to blow to pieces with 15 miles to go when my hunger eventually overwhelmed by ambition.
The plan nearly worked, but fail it did and being re-overtaken by my co-workers and the majority of the rest of the field who had stopped was demoralising in the extreme. I needed an entire box of energy bars to restore power but I was still back at the palace inside four hours.
So would I do it again? See you all next October.
Robert Garbutt is the editor of Cycling Weekly
- Posted by Emma Silversides
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Emma Silversides is a professional cyclist for the Lotto Belisol team and is based in Belgium. Here she shares her insight into the continental women's scene.
I am writing this blog from the middle of the Channel- I could be considered a frequent visitor to these waters this month! I spent only three full days in Belgium. Enough time to move out of my apartment, secure a contract for next year and return my Pinarello to the team (no one is allowed to keep the bike, I was sorry to part with such a lovely frame). With all this done I am now looking forward to a stress-free October.
My coach encourages me to keep active in the off-season; in reality I do not need any encouragement! I will ride the bike if I feel like it, but more often than not I will enjoy a run or a swim. The first few sessions of anything other than cycling usually play havoc with the muscles, however!
For my friends in England it is a mystery how someone ‘so fit’ struggles to walk up and down stairs simply because they ‘went for a run yesterday’! It is a reminder that, despite working your body into a top condition for your specific sport, there are still many other muscles in the body that are not being engaged! Building up things slowly is important in order to avoid injury; something I certainly do not need right now!
I can not report much from the cycling scene in Belgium since all the best action was in Mendrisio. I watched the women’s road race from the Eurosport studio alongside Sean [Yates] and Matt [White]. From the comfort of an armchair it would be easy to judge rider’s performances against what I have witnessed throughout the season, but I think that there are too many outside elements in a one-day event to make such a judgement when you do not know all the facts.
Do not forget that to be on the start line in the first place puts you among the world’s best; an achievement in itself. I have read in places that the British performances in Mendrisio were disappointing, if this is your opinion I would like to say that you should not let it overshadow what our girls have achieved this season- Emma [Pooley] has two World Cup wins and a Grand Tour to her name, Lizzie [Armitstead] has three young riders’ jerseys in Grand Tours and Nicole [Cooke] several stage wins in Grand Tours. Also remember that several of these riders are in the top echelon on the track or in cyclo-cross. I think we have plenty to be proud about where our female cyclists are concerned!