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View from the saddle: the Haute Route Alps 2016

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STAGE ONE SUNDAY 28TH AUGUST

NICE – AURON 136KM | 4170m D+ ∗∗∗∗∗

The first stage of the Haute Route Alps 2016 takes us up to Auron, just like last year, but not by the same route. Race Director Jean-François Alcan obviously thought Stage 1 was too easy in 2015, and the Haute Route had better live up to its name…

You will soon find out if your training programme did the job. We head directly from sea-level to 1607m and the col de Turini, passing by the anecdotal col de Nice en route. The col de Turini is justifiably one of the most famous cols in the Monte Carlo rally – check out the pictures if you have never seen it. A lovely road to ride: the stunning views and innumerable hairpins will make you forget the pain in your legs. The toughest part is just after Lucéram, about 10km at 7% on average but highly variable in practice. After the col there are 15km of precipitous and tortuous descending back down to 500m where we turn right on the main road and immediately start the climb to the col de Saint Martin. The ‘real’ climb starts 10km further up in Saint-Martin-Vésubie but we will already have climbed 500m at 5% by then…

We lose all the hard-earned altitude down the other side before the long drag up the valley to the foot of the climb to Auron. Be prepared for almost 30km at a relentless, energy-sapping 2%. Best to get in a group and take turns, especially if there is a headwind. The final climb is 7.5km at 6.6%, not too taxing if you have saved the energy…

Tips: Start slowly and take it easy. This stage is as hard as they come and the week is only beginning.

STAGE TWO MONDAY 29TH AUGUST

AURON – RISOUL 111KM | 3400m D+ ∗∗∗∗

Hope the weather is good for the start, unlike last year, when conditions were epic. We roll out of Auron and straight down to the start of the col de la Bonnette. Not easy to warm up before one of the longest continual climbs in mainland Europe. It’s a fair bet however that you will be warm well before the summit, 26km away and 1652m further up. At 2715m the col is only just lower than the col de l’Iseran, at 2770m the highest paved pass in Europe. Not surprisingly, it is one of the toughest climbs in the Alps, due to the length and the altitude reached. The sting is in the tail: be prepared for 12-13% over the last few hundred metres.

Over the top and down we go to Jausiers, where we take a right, direction the col de Vars. The col begins after 12km of false flat and is pretty irregular but not too steep for the first 6-7km, before getting a lot harder for the last 5km. Beware the final straight before the switchbacks: there’s a ramp of 300m at 12.5%.

The descent to Guillestre is in two steps, steep and fast. No transition at the bottom: the climb to Risoul starts immediately. A welcome change from the col de Vars, the slope is very regular around 7%, the road is wide, in good condition and winds up through a series of big, open bends. This could either be a pleasure or a nightmare, depending on how well you managed your effort over the previous two climbs!

Tips: Another very tough day. Ride well within your limits, eat, drink, eat, drink and recover!

STAGE THREE TUESDAY 30TH AUGUST

RISOUL – VALLOIRE 118KM | 2900m D+ ∗∗∗∗

Two more “Giants of the Alps” on the agenda for today, the col d’Izoard and the Galibier. Neither needs much introduction, we are in for another fantastic day of cycling!

A cool (or cold?) early morning descent from Risoul will set us up nicely for the 20km ride up the valley to Arvieux, where the steep part begins. Take it easy up the valley and save your energy for later. The col d’Izoard is famous for the amazing scenery of the Casse Déserte, a lunar landscape of broken rocks and scree just before the summit, but before you get there you’ll have to climb another 700m and deal with a couple of 10% ramps. Read more about the col d’Izoard in our Iconic Climbs series.

There was a mega-storm on the Izoard during the Haute Route 2015, let’s hope for perfect summer weather this year…

Enjoy the long descent to Briançon, it is the last respite for the next 1h15 (if you are riding with Peter Pouly) or 2h30 (if you are just in front of the broom wagon). The 28km to the col du Lautaret rarely figures on lists of “favourite rides in the Alps”, but this is the only way to link the Izoard and the Galibier. The road is wide and there is often a headwind. Distract yourself by thinking of Andy Schleck’s impressive ride in 2011, but don’t try to emulate him!

The climb to the Galibier starts at the turn-off on the col du Lautaret, at 2057m. The summit is 588m higher up, at an average slope of 6.9%. This is the easier side, although it probably won’t feel like it, especially the last few hundred metres above the tunnel. The Race Director has saved the hard side as a treat for tomorrow…

After crossing the col, you can free-wheel all the way down to Valloire.

Tips: The scenery changes but the challenge remains the same: ride at endurance pace and manage your effort, especially on the long drags to the Izoard and to the Lautaret where it is vital to be in the largest group possible.

STAGE FOUR WEDNESDAY 31ST AUGUST

VALLOIRE – COL DU GALIBIER 18KM | 1245m D+ ∗∗∗∗

Time Trial day, and what a time trial! After the previous three days, the emphasis is definitely more on the “trial” than on the “time”. As far as we know the Galibier has never been used for an official time trial so this is your chance to be part of history!

As always in the high mountains, the severity of the challenge is highly affected by the weather, but even in ideal conditions the Galibier is a serious climb. Respect!

The first couple of kilometres out of Valloire are surprisingly steep. The climb then levels off to a false flat heading straight up the side of the valley, the slope increasing almost imperceptibly to 7% for the last few km to the famous bend and bridge at Plan Lachat. You’ll know you are there: the road crosses a bridge and hits a wall… Welcome, you are about to find out where the legend comes from.

The next 8km encompass multiple switchbacks as the road ramps higher and higher, never less than 7.5%, often closer to 9%, opening up ever-wider views over the barren slopes. The final section above the tunnel is the toughest, make sure you keep something in reserve.

Tips: tomorrow will be the toughest day of the week: this is not the time to chase a Strava segment. Enjoy the climb!

STAGE FIVE THURSDAY 1ST SEPTEMBER

VALLOIRE – COURCHEVEL 141KM | 4300m D+ ∗∗∗∗∗

A short, easy climb to the col du Télégraphe to warm up before the fast, easy descent to the bottom of the valley. The timing only starts in St Jean de Maurienne, around km 30, so make sure you ride easy in a group at your level along the valley floor. Spin your legs, you are in for a tough climb, it is still a long way to Courchevel.

We begin with a real delight, climbing the amazing lacets de Montvernier on the way to the col de Chaussy. Almost worth the trip alone, just for the photographs, last year’s riders were denied this treat. Enjoy the view if you can, the slope is often at 12%… It eases off after the switchbacks and through the village, but there’s still a hard climb to reach the col de Chaussy, at 1533m.

Down the other side you’ll have plenty of opportunity to practice your cornering skills before reaching the road to the col de la Madeleine. This is one of the toughest climbs in the Alps, long and unrelenting. Even though we will join it part way up, there are still 1150m to climb over 14km, at an average of 8%.

It’s a long way down the other side to La Léchère – 25km – and the first third is very fast, dangerous if it is windy. There is a lumpy 10km along the bottom of the valley to Moutiers, where rather than taking the main road to Courchevel we will strike off up a much prettier and quieter road on the left-hand side of the valley, through Les Frasses and on up to Bozel. As is often the case on minor side-roads, it’s a very steep start out of Moutiers, and overall an extra 200m vertical to climb…

Take advantage of the false flat after Bozel: the last stretch up to Courchevel 1850 (and the home of Alpine Cols coach Stéphane) will feel long, very long at the end of this five-star day.

Tips: The second 5***** stage. Pay careful attention to how you are feeling, manage your effort and your energy levels well, eat and drink appropriately.

STAGE SIX FRIDAY 2ND SEPTEMBER

COURCHEVEL – MEGÈVE 134KM | 3500m D+ ∗∗∗∗

Two days left, we are certainly not done yet. The stage starts in Le Praz, just below Courchevel, but will probably be in convoy for the first part due to the heavy traffic on the main road. We’ll turn off to tackle the col de Tra, an innovation for the Haute Route. Expect a tough little gem: 9km at 8%, pretty in the forest, with many sections at 10% and dozens of switchbacks…

Over the top we should stay on quiet roads until Bourg St Maurice, where we will cross the town and begin the main dish of the day, the 20km climb to the Cormet de Roselend, 1150m higher up. This is another classic climb of the Alps, crossed 10 times by the Tour, most recently in 2009. Expect a fairly steady climb, nothing too severe, a short kilometre at 9% and then an easier section in the middle (even a slight descent). The overall average gradient is 6%.

Nothing can prepare you for the stunning views on the other side. 3km or so after the summit you will descend through a narrow gorge which suddenly opens out over the Roselend lake, normally a deep, deep blue… You have plenty of time to enjoy it as you ride down and then around it, past the famous chapel and then plunge over the col du Méraillet and down through the forest to Beaufort on a steep, twisty descent.

Remains the col des Saisies. A regular on Alpine Cols training camps, it is a 15km climb from Beaufort. It’s not an easy climb at the best of times and after the col de Tra and the Cormet de Roselend we will be glad to see the village of Les Saisies…

Down the other side and the false-flat climb to Megève might seem like a mountain to some…

Tips: this stage could be a real trap for the unwary. The col de Tra is steep and difficult, but it is important to stay in a good group for the transition to Bourg St Maurice and the start of the climb to the Cormet de Roselend. Keep plenty in reserve for the col des Saisies.

STAGE SEVEN SATURDAY 3RD SEPTEMBER

MEGÈVE – GENEVA 138KM | 2330m D+ ∗∗∗

If you have got this far, congratulations! Barring accidents, you should now be confident you can finish. The last day is not an easy one, however, far from it.

It starts easily enough with the descent to Sallanches and the valley leading to Chamonix. Don’t forget to look right – if the weather is clear you’ll get a great view on Mont Blanc, almost close enough to touch. We have 13km of valley floor to ride before the first climb of the day, to Araches. This is a nice detour, a well-chosen route to avoid the main road through Cluses and over the côte de Chatillon. It brings us without too much difficulty to Taninges and the start of the col de la Ramaz.

This is another kettle of fish altogether. We will climb it from the other side than the 2016 Tour de France (and the Etape du Tour). Just our luck, it is the harder side… Expect to climb almost 1000m over 16km, at an average of 6.1%, which is even more misleading than usual because there are long stretches at 11-12%… If you can still appreciate such things, there’s a wonderful view from the summit.

Parts of the descent are steep and fast. Once at the bottom, we are left with 50km of rollercoaster ride (including the col de Cou, a relative formality) before arriving at last at the lovely lakeside village of Yvoire where you can enjoy a well-earned beer and swap stories with your fellow riders – it is all over bar the ceremonial parade into Geneva.

Tips: The col de Ramaz is the last serious climb of the week, but by no means the easiest. Get in a good group for the remaining 50km to Yvoire and enjoy!

CONCLUSION:

At first sight this new route might seem very similar to last year’s, but there has been a real effort to innovate and propose an original event. The cols de Turini, Tra and la Ramaz are all welcome additions, as are the lacets de Montvernier and the climb to Araches. The time-trial on the Galibier is a first in world cycling and not to be missed. The challenge announced on paper once again lives up to the event’s reputation: the “highest and toughest cyclosportives in the world”.

Haute Route Pyrenees 2016

Haute Route Dolomites & Swiss Alps 2016

PREPARING FOR THE HAUTE ROUTE

Update: Alpine Cols was the official partner to the Haute Route for coaching and training for the 4 year period 2014 – 2017. We offer individual coaching as well as coaching camps (in small groups) both intended to help you perform at your best and enjoy the experience. Between them, our coaches have ridden well over 25 Haute Routes, as well as innumerable other mountain sportives, and they will be delighted to share their experience with you.

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Graham Walters
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Graham Walters

Scares the Hell out of this rider. Great review guys, honest, but reassuring. No false beliefs in the magnitude of what lies ahead. Can’t stay, got to get back to training…thanks Marvin

Kazim
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Kazim

thanks for the detailed analysis. looking forward to riding in the camps and in haute route with you.