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Gavin Baylis has very kindly allowed us to use his very informative blog regarding riding this year’s Etape. Gavin has lived in Serre Chevalier since 2011 and is a veteran of three previous Etape Du Tours. You can find his full version here at the Style Altitude website.
I have ridden much of this route over the years, both sides of the Izoard, a fair few ascents of Col de Vars (from Guillestre), around Lac Serre Poncon, but I have never ridden from Lac Serre Poncon on to Barcelonnette and ascend the Col de Vars from the south side from Saint-Paul-sur-Ubaye.
While out this autumn, on All Saints Day, 1st November, I rode 126km of the 178km stage.
Parking up at Mont Dauphin, I cycled down to Embrun and on to Savins de Lac then around the lake, where you climb up to the highest point at Le Sauze-du-Lac at 1,020m, and stunning views with the backdrop of the lake.
From Sauze du Lac you descend down and ride along just above the shore of the lake to the very end where you cross over the bridge and then it’s a long undulating drag all the way up to Barcelonnette along the Ubaye gorge that then opens out into a valley.
Best tactics here, like at the start from Briancon to Savins de Lac, is to get in a group and get dragged along. From Barcelonnette it’s still a gradual climb to Jausiers, where the long climb to the Col de la Bonette 2,715 starts!
After Jausiers it’s still a drag as opposed to a climb as you pass by the amazing Fort de Tournoux. By this time you are wondering when the climb will start as you see signs giving 15km to the Col. The hard part of the climb starts at Saint-Paul-sur-Ubaye and I was quite amazed at the severity of it with 6km to go as you can see from the profile!
Once over the Col, it’s a cracking not too technical descent all the way back down to Guillestre passing through the ski resort of Vars. At the bottom it’s then a right turn at the roundabout heading into the Queyras along the stunning Guil Gorge and on to the Izoard.
I’ve ridden this circuit four or five times now, and in both directions. What’s great is that you stay off the main Briancon / Embrun N94 main road and, at the same time. end up with more climbing, though luckily the Etape du Tour stage is not taking this route as there’s quite a sting in it, Le Chambon Climb.
This circuit incorporates the rest ot the Etape du Tour stage as you then cycle up and into the Queyras along the Guil Gorge which, in some ways, is very similar to the Ubaye Gorge.
The Izoard climb starts as you turn off heading towards Arvieux. There is a fountain here so good to top up your bottle – in fact, in all the villages you can usually find a fountain.
By the time you’ve cycled through the Casse Deserte you’re in touching distance almost of the finish.
Water is not an issue, I cycle with just one bottle as in all villages there is always a fountain, usually by the church. And, yes, I will fill my bottle up from mountain streams especially at altitude. And, when feeling hot and a bit flakey, I drench myself to reduce my overall body temperature and ‘paddle’ still wearing my shoes, again to cool myself down.
When it is hot, obviously, the lower down you are in terms of altitude it will be so much warmer.
The good news is that for the Etape du Tour stage the lowest altitude is circa 800m.
When riding in the summer, it does make sense to pack a rain jacket if out for a long ride, though again does depend on conditions forecast. We can have a week of unbroken sunshine and temps in the high 20s low 30s (no need for a jacket) followed by a week of changeable weather.
Few years back I cycled from here to ride Alpe d’Huez in July and the weather was hot as I set out. Four or five hours later, climbing back up to the Lautaret I was caught in a heavy shower and the weather then closed in. By the time I arrived home after descending down from Lautaret, I was nigh on in the early stages of hyperthermia.
I do check the rain radar but often, in the summer, the thunderstorms have not bubbled up before I leave!
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