[ locale string ]
We are showing you the Taiwanese version of our site: would you prefer a different location?
Étape du Tour 2011 Acte II
Issoire > Saint Flour: Sunday 17th July 2011
The Etape du Tour Acte II is a very different experience to the grand Alpine stage of Acte I. We’ve referred to it as ‘The Real Tour de France’ because, as in the early days, the race travels to a wild and remote part of the country. For the inhabitants of the Massif Central it’s the biggest day of the year, when they dream of the day the Tour comes to their village.
Aside from all the commercialism and sheer size of the Tour, what is it that still makes it so special? If it’s the fact the race routinely touches little known parts of France and in so doing connects it to regular people, then the second act of the 2011 Etapes du Tour is the charm of the Tour personified. This is far from your typical sportive, in fact it’s more of an ‘un-Etape’, hence the following headings. Let us explain.
You’re going to be travelling through la France Profonde. This stage, which will feature as Stage 9 of the Tour proper before the first rest day, travels through far-flung towns, villages and countryside, the road less travelled. It’s about adventure and exploration, like a randonnée or old fashioned fleche ride. It’s as much about touring as racing.
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.
- Robert Frost
If Acte I offers the celebrity and glamour of the Tour as a global spectacle, Acte II has the heart and soul, the tradition. The region has a high concentration of extinct volcanoes (the largest in the world) and as such is a fertile landscape.
The terrain on this course comes like waves and riding them will be about timing and using your gears well. Find a cadence you’re comfortable climbing in; heavier riders typically like a bigger gear while lighter, fast-twitch beings prefer spinning. Rolling hills means rolling with the punches, so just remember there are only one or two long-ish climbs and the gradient will ease up. It’s like a rollercoaster, intimidating but ultimately a thrill.
The flip side is that the flat doesn’t last for long either so, just as the pros will discover, you can’t control the race or bunch. Just ride for your own benefit and within your own limits – it’s a long route.
The roads are sweeping, rolling and quite narrow but the tarmac is smooth. There are inclines all day, climbs within climbs, so to speak, but there are sights to take your mind off them. There will be birds of prey and plenty of cows (perhaps a reminder of the victory steak you’ll enjoy later).
Whilst your typical Parisian may scoff at the idea of even visiting, let alone riding a bike in the Massif Central there is a distinctive culture and character to this region. There’s a real rustic and wild feel to the surroundings and whilst it is a sparsely populated part of France you may see one or two “Kekes” or country bumpkins on your travels. The people here may at first seem unusual, but they are some of the warmest and most “down to earth” folk you’ll find in the country.
You’ll pass strange farmhouses, possibly with characters toiling with snails out the back, or taking a siesta in the afternoon heat.
There is plenty of “weird stuff”, relics and buildings that you can’t find anywhere else. Tumble down farm buildings, aging local cafés, what lurks beneath is anyone’s guess.
There are some real challenges and things to watch out for on the ride, in particular those climbs or inclines not on the official map, or cols that only the local coureurs know about. For example, the Col de Perthus, making its Tour debut, comes right after the highest climb of the day, the Pay des Peyrol. The Perthus is not long but has two distinctive sections, very steep rises of about 13% at 2km each. The Perthus is deceptive; it flattens out and then digs in again, possibly the hardest climb of the day.
The stage is categorized as medium mountains but the constant rolling and overall distance makes it one of the toughest days of the Tour. A.S.O. describe it as an accidentée stage, one for the baroudeur-type of rider such as Philippe Gilbert or Sylvain Chavanel. While there’s actually more climbing on this stage than the Alpine Etape, it’s drawn out over a greater distance so your time to recover is greatly improved.
But be aware of what’s lying in store around the corner. The Côte de la Chevade, about 80 miles/120km in, jumps out at you immediately after you roll through two very tranquil villages. It isn’t long but there’s a rise in gradient that you’ll certainly feel after a good four hours-plus of riding.
It’s going to be a long, long day. While there will be shade, there are plenty of unprotected stretches of road. Put on a good amount of sunscreen and be careful to keep hydrating even if you don’t feel thirsty.
The Col du Prat de Bouc, which comes at about 155km in, is a drag of a climb. At 8km, it’s technically the longest climb of the day and although it’s not necessarily the hardest, it is very exposed. However, there’s is a welcome feed station at the summit.
As mentioned already, it’s a ride made up of wave after wave of undulations. It’s an underdog’s stage (see Pierre Le Bigault) and like a dog it will keep coming back at you, snapping at your legs. It will be vital to fuel intelligently and using the route cards that Rapha and A.S.O. provide will let you know when you can refuel.
There are plenty of feed zones, six in total, which is key on a route like this as you never know when you might suddenly bonk. We’d recommend using all of them but it depends on how you’re feeling.
Etape feed zones sometimes have real food rather than horrible gels so even if you aren’t feeling hungry, load your jersey with cake and bananas. Remember that feed station 3 is just before one of the steepest climbs of the day, the Col du Perthus, so don’t stuff yourself here before a big effort.
Fluids are vital on a long, hot ride like this so take any opportunity to top up your bidons. You may even find some fountains en route to replenish bidons (and even dip your head in).
The route is beautiful but brutal and the road relentlessly moves up and down all-day long. As you scale one climb and begin to descend, the road rises up again. The twisting and yo-yoing topography never ceases. It’s a war of attrition but ultimately a highly rewarding one.
This is possibly one of the toughest and most intriguing stages of this year’s Tour and no one can predict who will win on the day. You can watch the pros tackle it on July 10th before you ride it yourself. While the Pyrenees and Alps are rightfully heralded as the grandest theatres of the Tour, this route will be as spectacular a day on the bike as any. It really is ‘The Real Tour de France’, exploring the country and taking riders to new places on one incredible journey.