The professional approach to road racing these days is to know, understand and visualise the route before the critical moment. For Cavendish, Boonen et al knowing that left hand turn 350m from the finish is critical to winning the race. For the Schlecks and Contador, a deep understanding of a climb will make all the difference on race day to knowing when to make that key attack.
In the same way, a sportive rider looking to better a time, or avoid the dreaded Voiture Balai, should take with them on race day, a knowledge of the route.
The Etape du Tour is one of the most important sportives on the European calendar. Following the Queen Stage of the Tour du France it is the amateur cyclists’ opportunity to emulate and admire the feats of the professionals. For 2010, the route rides from Pau to the summit of the Tourmalet. Three key climbs mark the Etape – the Marie-Blanque, the Soulour and of course the Tourmalet, on its 100th anniversary of its’ first inclusion in the Tour.
A month before the big event, La Fuga led a group of Etape Riders on a Reccy Weekend. Based in Pierrefitte Nestalas, on the route of the Etape, the aim was to provide the riders with a comprehensive knowledge of the route, and to offer tips and guidance of how to make their best effort on the day really count.
Day 1, did not, unfortunately lend itself to riding in the big mountains of the Pyrenees. A weather system, seemingly abusing all of Europes high mountains deposited large volumes of rain in the area. Still, the riders, showing stong motivation took in the majority of the last 50km of the route. In preparation for its limelight and two outings on the 2010 Tour, the Tourmalet is having a re-surface.
Riders rested for the evening, eating a glorious meal at Le Viscos in nearby Saint Savin.
Day 2 saw the riders taken to Pau to reconnoitre the first 145km of the route. Heading from Pau to the Marie-Blanque on undulating roads, the severity of some ascents took several riders by suprise. This left the group in no doubt that this detailed and first hand view of the course provided excellent and hugely valuable information and preparation.
The Col de Marie-Blanque is not one of the grandest climbs in the Pyrenees. However, it is one of the most fiersome. A gentle introduction after the turn off from the valley road, climbing casually through lush greenery, the last 3km will test everyones legs. Rising to 1035m the summit remains wooded. The descent passes logging sites as it winds its way to Bielle.
Following a quick lunch stop to refuel and share stories of the Marie-Blanque, riders headed to Asson and the climb of the Soulour. The climb itself is only 12km long from the Arthez-Asson side, beginning after Ferrieres. However, the road itself climbs gradually all the way from Asson – 29km. These 12km are tough yet stunningly spectacular. Broad vistas across to the descent of the Aubisque are followed by a keenly awaited coffee at the summit.
All of the riders then descended, and rode to Pierrefitte Nestalas on the valley road in a long pace-line, again providing experience of riding in a group- a key way to save energy and time come race day.
More photos from the Reccy weekend, and La Fuga’s other great European cycling holidays can be found here – La Fuga Flickr
For more information into riding Europe’s greatest cycling routes please visit – La Fuga