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Étape du Tour 2011 Acte I
Modane > Alpe d'Huez: Monday 11th July 2011
This route will be, to quote Henri Desgrange, “an act of adoration”. For many the Alps and in particular the Col du Galibier and the Alpe d’Huez are the grandest stadia of the world’s most famous bike race.
The Col du Galibier is celebrating 100 years since it became part of Tour legend and this year the race is going over it’s dizzying altitude not once but twice. It’s a sacred climb and has witnessed some great victories, such as Marco Pantani’s escape in the 1998 edition of the race, featured in Ben Ingham's film Galibier. The Alpe d’Huez is equally famed, not because of its size or natural majesty, but because it has been a key battleground for so many Tour winners including Coppi, Hinault and Armstrong.To ride up these monuments in July is to follow in the shadows of the greats.
The Alps is the quintessential Tour de France arena, so this will not only be a challenge but also a tribute to some of the greatest riders, teams and stories of cycle racing. Whilst it is only just over 100km – roughly 70 miles – it’s a route that should be respected, there is a lot of climbing: The Col du Télégraphe 1566m, Col du Galibier 2556m and the Alpe d’Huez 1850 m – this totals 3200m of elevation.
The route is the podium of all the alpine climbs and you’ll tell your own personal story from this very podium. Every story has a start, middle and end and so we begin, of course, at the start.
The start of any ride with 10,000 people will suffer from bottlenecks but this particular Étape has about a 15km roll out and then a sharp left to begin the first climb of the day, the Col du Télégraphe. This is why ASO are departing people between 7 and 8 am, rather than the typical half hour departure window. The départ will be staggered but caution is necessary from the start line all the way to the top of the Col du Télégraphe.
Everyone has to be there at 06.30am so we recommend taking warm clothing and food to graze on, particularly if you are setting off towards 8.00am.
Fast riders will be first from the gate to avoid unnecessary overtaking and unless you are determined to move up the field, overtaking from the descent to the foot of the Télégraphe from Modane, it’s recommended you sit tight and roll steadily towards the first climb.
It’s a fast road to Saint-Michel-de-Maurienne where the road switches left up towards the Télégraphe. It’s generally a wide road running parallel to the Autoroute. Careful of one or two roundabouts, keep to the right side of the road and hold a steady line. Chances are the bunch will pull you along. It's worth practicing group riding skills between now and the big day.
Be very careful on the left turn up to the Télégraphe, this is where things could really begin to bottleneck. Once you make the turn, try to use the Télégraphe as a warm up. The fast road from Modane, on which you might even have been freewheeling, won’t allow for getting your body going.
The Télégraphe is 11.8km with a 7.2 average gradient. It’s a category 1 climb with maximum grade of 9 - not easy, but not one of the hardest climbs either.The profile develops very steadily, there are no unexpected jolts in gradient so you can really find a rhythm. Don’t think this is a doddle, treat it gently as it could bite later on.
Let others ride past if necessary, the temptation may be to follow the mahogany-legged French as they pass you. Take it steady and get your rhythm, unless you're Andy Schleck then you aren't going to be gritting your teeth for the maillot jaune.
You’ll glimpse some wonderful Alpine vistas between the evergreens which line the climb. It’ll still be early and cool but you’ll start to notice the altitude. (It may be valuable to get an easy ride in the day before to turn the legs and prepare your lungs.)
Although the road is quite wide there’s a real risk of congestion and hold ups so keep your head up and watch for blockages (don’t look at the wheel in front). Spin in an easy gear. By the top you will be 27km in and nicely warmed up, you’ll see slumbering snow capped giants from the top here. So far so good!
Then it’s a short descent to Valloire. A little bumpy but steady, keep eyes on where you want to go and feather the brakes.