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Part 1 - Durance Valley
The route leaves Gap to the North east, up the wide flat Luye valley to the Durance. The sun will be coming up and you’ll be riding through lush meadows on a wide, fast road. The speed will be high and big pelotons will form, with many bowling along at over 40kmh.
It will be cold at the start and will remain so when riding in the shade. A windproof jacket or arm warmers will be needed for the long wait at the start and you’ll probably keep them on for the first 60km of the ride.
Surrounded by giants
Oak forests to the right and the Puy de Manse massif on the left will be lit by the early morning sun. If the weather’s fine you’ll see the Ecrins and Queyras ranges up ahead – a daunting sight.
The first 60km of the route will be a gentle preamble, a time to warm up and get some distance under the belt. It will be tempting to go much faster than your usual average. To the left will be a stream of local racers, shooting past in the gutter shouting “A droite!” Don’t get caught up in that ‘race’. There’s likely to be a strong headwind as cold air rushes down the Durance valley from the high mountains. Tuck into a group and avoid spending time moving from group to group alone.
An early descent
After Chorges there is an unexpected descent. It’s quite long and fast. A time for exuberance. If you’re on a compact chain set you’ll find yourself spinning out here and may think that you’re under geared. Don’t worry, there will be plenty of opportunity to make use of those smaller gears ahead.
The route descends to the beautiful Lake of Serre Ponçon. Deep blue-green water, with the solitary white chapel of St Michel stranded on a small island. You’ll then cross the lake over a windy bridge to Savines.
Our first target
After Savines there is a short drag through poppy fields and pine forest until you see the first target on the left bank up ahead: Embrun. This prosperous trading town sits on a rocky bluff above the Durance river. There will be a sprint here when the pros come through. It’s a 1km climb up and through the town. Enough to get you breathing hard.
The road then keeps to the left bank for another 10km as the Durance cuts through a sharp gorge, with glacier damage visible in the rocks. Huge cliffs dominate the valley here, with a waterfall visible to your left. You’ll hear cicadas and the bells of mountain sheep.
Gateway to the high valleys
At St Clement the first road sign indicates that the cols are open (disappointed?). There is a nice flat drag to the old fort of Mont Dauphin and Guillestre (likely to be the site of the first feed station).