View from the saddle: the GranFondo Gassin – Saint Tropez
By Olivier Dulaurent and Marvin Faure
The GranFondo Gassin Golfe de Saint Tropez will take place on April 7th, 2019, starting at 8am from the Quai Suffren in Saint Tropez. The course is 162km long with a total height gain of 3,050m. It includes 5 climbs of 200m – 540m height gain each as well as innumerable smaller ones. The majority of the route is on narrow, mountainous roads, constantly climbing or descending. There are very few flat sections. The climbs are irregular with gradients varying up to 10-12% in places. Many of the descents are technical and hard to read due to tight, unpredictable bends and thick tree cover. Local knowledge is thus a great help to anyone attempting a fast time.
This is a typical French sportive in the “moyenne montagne” category. We expect 750 to 1000 competitors, many of whom live in the south of France and thus ride all year round. The standard at the front will be very high and it will start extremely fast. The majority of participants will be between 40 and 60 years old and will be experienced sportive riders. The general level of skill (bike-handling, bunch riding, descending, etc.) will be high.
Benchmark times and pace
These results are from 2018, when part of the route was comparable but different. They may not be matched in 2019. The 2018 event was the qualifying event for the UCI GranFondo world championships, so will have attracted a particularly strong field.
1st: 04:43, 34.3 km/hr
100th: 05:09, 31.5 km/hr
250th: 05:27, 29.7 km/hr
500th: 06:22, 25.4 km/hr
714th: 09:24, 17.2 km/hr
The first woman finished 123rd, 05:10.
What is it like to ride?
The race is in three parts: the first 35km along the sea to the foot of the col de Canadel, the 65km mid-section including the col de Babaou and the loop over Notre Dame des Anges, and the final 62km through La Garde Freinet and Le Plan de la Tour.
Part 1: Start to foot of col de Canadel
The start will be very fast. The leaders will be trying to break away from the main peloton, and all other riders will be trying to reach the foot of the first significant climb in the best possible group. These first 35km are rolling, including three short climbs of 110-125m each as well as a mix of wide, fast roads and narrow, twisting descents, especially from the col de Collebasse, km 14.5.
You will need good bunch-riding and descending skills as well as the ability to judge how deep to dig in the first hour without compromising your later performance. There will still be 125km to ride after this first part, including practically all the climbing!
Beware the tight pinch-point at km 35 where you will turn off the coast road on to the climb. Make sure you are at the front of your group.
Part 2: Col de Canadel, col de Babaou and Notre Dame des Anges
The next 65km are a constant succession of climbs and descents on narrow, twisty roads, with multiple opportunities to make a break. The major time differences will be created here. Your goal should be to use the least energy to achieve the highest average speed. Limit any above-threshold efforts, climb steadily, stay close to the wheel in front and descend smoothly, braking as little as possible.
The climb to the col de Canadel and the Route des Crêtes totals 413m over 10.2km. The gradient never stays the same for long and there are two short descents in the climb. The road along the ridge line then rises and falls fairly gently. Try to find a fast wheel to follow here. You must stay vigilant however as the narrow road is never straight and visibility is not great. Stay close, otherwise you will have to expend too much energy in repeated efforts to get back on the wheel.
There’s a 7km descent to the start of the col de Babaou requiring due care and attention. The road surface is poor. Expect people who know the road well (or who have a high tolerance for risk) to overtake fast on blind bends.
From the bottom there are 8.5km to climb to the col de Babaou, 223m higher up, with most of the climbing in the first 4km. The descent is a little over 6km, again twisty and technical, requiring concentration and quick reactions.
The first feed station is at the entrance to Collobrières, km 76. This is a typically Provencal town with plenty of shady trees, but unfortunately you won’t have much time to appreciate it today…
The climb to Notre Dame des Anges begins at the exit of the town, km 89.5. Expect a sudden change in rhythm as you hit a narrow forest road, often steep and with a poor surface. The total climb is 10.5km and 515m higher up. Beware: many people will ride this too hard and pay for it later.
The descent is again challenging, often steep, twisty and hard to read, although thankfully the road surface is slightly better.
Part 3: Final 62km to the finish.
Back in the valley, the final 62km are again mostly rolling. If you find yourself alone, don’t waste energy pushing on hard. Better to slow down and wait for the next group. The goal here is more to hold your position than make any more significant gains, but you should of course jump on any fast wheels that come from behind.
There’s a short climb to the col de Taillude before a two-step descent to Grimaud, where you will find the second (and last) feed station. For those doing the full distance, this is also the start of the final long climb. Finishing in La Garde-Freinet (km 130), this climb is 8.4km long at an easy average of 3%. The road is wide and the surface good so powerful riders will climb this quickly: follow the right wheel. The leaders will average 25-26 km/hr up here.
The descent to Le Plan de la Tour is once again technical. You will most likely be tired by now so beware any lapses in concentration. From the bottom there are only 20km to go to the finish, but it is not all flat!
Leaving the bottom of the valley after Le Plan de la Tour, you will climb 120m over the final ridge on the north side of the Gulf of Saint Tropez (look out for fantastic views) before descending to the valley floor near Port Grimaud.
If you still have the legs, you can enjoy 7km of fast-paced riding on the flat before the final 2km effort up to the finish line in Gassin. Keep something in reserve however: the average is 6% but there are a couple of nasty ramps closer to 12%!
Want to perform at your best during the GranFondo? Join the Alpine Cols coaching camp March 31st to April 7th, recce the route, improve your skills and learn race tactics from our expert coaches.
SPECIAL BONUS: Benefit from a 3-month free trial of a set of InfoCranks®, the best power meter currently available (preferred by the UCI development centre and British Cycling).
If you would like a professional coach to help you prepare for this (or any other road cycling event), contact us. We will tell you immediately if we can help or not.