Less than 24 hours after the 2016 Etape du Tour route was announced, we got ourselves to Megeve. At 9am in chilly 2 degree weather, we embarked upon the 146km route to Morzine. These are our notes from a stunning day’s riding:
This route feels like a war of attrition. There are no monsters, no Ventoux / Glandon / Tourmalet focal points. Because of this, it is quite easy to underestimate the challenge. Also, the route is much lower than previous Etapes with a high point of under 1700m. For us, this meant a beautiful ride mostly under the tree line with stunning autumn colours.
Megeve to Col des Aravis
Megeve is a very pretty, upmarket resort built in the 1920s. From the start, there is a flat 8km section along a main road. Here the groups will be tightly packed – fortunately the road is wide enough for riders of different speeds to easily co-exist. At the 8km point, there is the first bump – this is short and only lasts 1km but will get the heart working for the first time. After this, there is a very technical descent with several hairpins packed into a very short section to Flumet. If you are aiming for a really fast time, get to the front before the start of this descent.
Flumet is the start of the Col des Aravis. Due to work on a tunnel, we rode the first few kms then had an hour detour in the support vehicle via the Col de la Croix Fry to get back to the other side of the tunnel. Maybe the rest in the middle helped but this felt like a very comfortable climb. Though fairly long at 11.5km, the gradient is very steady so you are never pushed too hard. Half way through the climb is the town of La Giuttez where there is a boulangerie and pattiserie – useful if you struggle to get down a decent breakfast at 5am and don’t won’t to fill your back pockets with bread rolls. 1km after the town the road turns left. From here road surface is quite poor (though it is quite likely this will be resurfaced before the Etape). 3km after the turn is a small tunnel leading straight out to some sharp hairpins and the toughest part of the climb. The top is only 2.5kms from here where the road plateaus before the long descent.
La Clusaz to Col de la Colombiere
From the top of the Aravis there is a long and winding descent to the fairly large ski resort of La Clusaz with wide sweeping corners and long straights lasting 7km. La Clusaz has all the facilities you need including a supermarket, bike shops and cafes. From here, the descent is less steep for the final section from La Clusaz to Le Grand Bornand. All together the descent is 12km and though the first half will be fast, there will be an opportunity in the second half to get some food and drink before the next climb.
The Col de la Colombiere starts out of Le Grand Bornand. Similar to the Aravis this is another very comfortable climb and easy to find your rhythm and stay in it for the entire 11.7km. The climb stays in the build up areas of Le Grand Bornand and Le Chinaillon for over half the climb with the gradient steady at 6% most of the way. From here the road opens up into open countryside with stunning alpine views in all directions. With the gradient remaining very steady this is one of the highlights of the route and the summit comes quickly. By this point 2 of the 4 cols are done though only 30% of the distance has been ridden.
Le Reposoir to Col de la Ramaz
The descent off the Colombiere is on narrow roads with steep drop offs. The first 6.5km before Le Reposoir are steep and quick with some sharp hairpins so attention is needed on this section. After Le Reposoir the road widens and the gradients drop taking you all the way to the valley floor and the large town of Scionzier. All in this is a 16km descent.
Along the valley floor we pass the half way mark. There is little beauty to occupy your mind in this section so ensure you take advantage of one of the few flat sections to get some food in. From the town of Marignier there is a 4km false flat to Mieussy and the start of the next climb. The Col de la Ramaz is 14km at 6.9% and a real challenge. The climb starts hard at 8% which after the 4km drag feels like hard work for the first time in the ride. The climb looks very English at the bottom with green fields and tree lined lanes. Unlike the first two climbs the gradient constantly changes with 9% sections popping up in between 5% sections. The higher we climb the more beautiful the scenery with views of the sheer cliffs surrounding the valley. The toughest part is a 4km section averaging 9% with multiple points over 11% through the tunnels. After the last tunnel there is about 500m more of steep road before another change of scenery into a more gentle last 4km through an alpine meadow. Having glided up the first two climbs, it was suprising how much of a struggle the Ramaz was and hard to say whether this was the cumulative affect or just a reflection of how tough a climb this was.
La Savoliere to Morzine
Due to another road closure, we were forced into a long detour in the support car to get to the descent back to the valley floor and the town of Taninges. Initially the descent of the Ramaz is steep with several 10% sections. Half way through, the Ramaz joins the Col de L’Encrenaz. This is a well paved and wide road resulting in one of the quickest sections of the day. This is another long descent at around 16km ending back in the valley. As we turn left in Taninges there are 35km to go including a 12km flat section along a wide road – another opportunity to fill up with food before the last climb.
The calm of the flat section is blown away immediately as the Joux Plane starts in the town of Samoens. The final climb is a similar length to the first two at 11.5km but averages a scary 8.5%. Similar to a climb like Alpe d’Huez there is no let off and as such if you can find a rhythm, no matter how slow, this is a manageable but tough climb – we had a 32 rear cassette and used every gear on the Joux Plane. However, by this stage and after the struggle up the Ramaz this climb was hard work. The pass has been shut all year due to heavy rain last spring so there should be a nice new road surface laid in time for the Etape. This caused another detour to the final descent into Morzine. After 135kms in the legs and having just finished a grueling climb, there will be a lot of tired riders. The final descent is the most technical of the day by far with several sharp hairpins and one near 90 degree turn into a small and narrow bridge – ensure extra caution on this section. The exact finish has not been announced yet though everyone thinks this will be in the square by the Tourist Office.
Conclusions and Notes on Logistics
This is a very backloaded Etape. The first two climbs are very enjoyable with great scenery and friendly gradients. Though the Joux Plane is definitely the toughest climb and a real challenge, the Ramaz is probably the defining climb of the route. If you can feel good getting over this then fighting up the final climb should be manageable.
Both the start and finish towns are lively and attractive with plenty of great routes for warm up rides in the preceding days.
1. Stay in Morzine. The finish town is very popular with Brits all year round and there is lots of amazing riding from here. Staying close to the finish means you can jump into your bath / bed / bar moments after crossing the finish line – do not underestimate how great this is after those tough hours in the saddle. If you choose to stay in Morzine, don’t forget you need to get to Megeve on Friday or Saturday to collect your entry and of course, on the Sunday for the race start.
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2. Stay in Megeve. This is the start town and the location of the race village. You must collect your entry in person on Friday or Saturday so being in Megeve makes this nice and easy. Megeve is a very nice resort with lots of great restaurants and bars. There are plenty of places to ride in the days before.
One consideration for staying in Megeve is getting back from Morzine. The Etape put on buses from Morzine to Megeve on the Saturday so you can take your car to the finish and get the bus back to your hotel. When you finish your car will be close by but the drive back can take up to 2 hours due to the road closures.
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