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Beauty and the Beast
Etape du Tour 2007
Many of us thought that the 2006 Etape du Tour took suffering beyond the limit. The broom wagons were heaving and the drips and paramedics on each one of the 21 hairpins to Alpe d'Huez are a vivid memory. We assumed that ASO and Velo Magazine would choose an easier stage for 2007.
We've just returned from a detailed reconnaissance of the route, 196km from Foix to Loudenvielle in the Pyrenees. The 2007 Etape will be every bit as hard as last year. It's the most beautiful route we can remember, but it's also the hardest, requiring better fitness and preparation than ever.
To help you prepare for the challenge ahead here, as every year, is our account and recommendations.
The 2007 Etape will be epic. We spent two days riding the route in late May and describe the course in detail on these pages. Numerous photographs should help to give you an idea of what you're in for. The Rapha team are fit, regular riders, but not racers. Our impressions may well be closer to your experience than those of seasoned cycling journalists and elite level riders.
To give you a flavour, the following are likely to be the key features of this year's Etape du Tour:
This is the most beautiful Etape route we've ridden. Starting in the foothills you will take in glorious scenery, from lush wooded valleys to the pine forests and moorland of the high peaks. We would call this a perfect two day ride. Unfortunately you only have a day to complete it.
A quick look at the course and the cols jump out at you. The five climbs can be quite disorientating, but you shouldn't give them equal respect. The Port de Balès is ‘the Beast' and the Col de Menté is also a stiff challenge. The Cols of Port and Portet d'Aspet are relatively benign, as too would be the Peyresourde in normal conditions. On the 16th July the heat and distance will make even this climb a tough slog.
Don't depend on making up huge time on the descents this year. The Menté and Peyresourde are fast and safe, but the others will be dangerous and unprotected. The descent of the Col de Port comes after only 31km and it will be a real scrum as novice descenders tangle with frustrated racers with high start numbers.
40 degree heat caused mass abandons last year. If it's as hot on 16th July the 2007 Etape could prove to be the hardest yet. Hydration will be key to surviving the course. Let's hope the organisers have plenty of supplies this year.
Fortunately, the elimination points and times seem quite reasonable this year. 3 hours 50 minutes for the 70km to Saint Girons and 7 hours 45 minutes for the 132km to St Beat should be possible for most. The sag wagons will miss out the narrow Port de Balès, but expect to see them crawling up the Peyresourde at 6pm.
At 196km this is another long Etape and it will be vital to pace yourself. The good news is that the organisers seem to have positioned the feed stations in exactly the right places. We recommend that you make full use of all of them and build your ride around them when planning your effort. We have used the feed stations to break down the course for the purpose of this description:
Part one, from Foix to St Girons, as about riding within yourself and keeping out of trouble.
Part two takes you over the Portet d'Aspet and Menté climbs. This will be a time for controlled climbing and plenty of refuelling.
Part three is the Beast – the Port de Balès, an all out physical and mental effort.
Finally, Part four of the route will be a hot, slow grind over the Peyresourde and triumphant descent to Loudenvielle.