With the 27th edition of the Etape du Tour taking place on the 16th July 2017, 15,000 riders will line up to ride one of the mountain stages of the Tour de France - the same towns, routes and climbs, and under the same conditions, with closed roads throughout.
This European cyclosportive is a colossal challenge but is also hugely rewarding, and will take the riders through some of the most stunning parts of France, with breathtaking scenery and iconic climbs. This year, the Etape will be following the same route as the 18th stage of the 2017 Tour de France.
By now, you should have trained hard, prepped your bike and sorted your kit and nutrition. Now all that's left is to check out our list of essential items to consider along with some tips to help you enjoy the ride.
Along with the standard travel essentials, before you depart you should ensure you have considered the following:
Essential, in order to participate, a completed medical certificate must be presented in order to collect your race number. It must be dated within one year of the event.
In case anything happens, you should have health and travel insurance for yourself and some form of insurance for your bike.
It’s best to test anything you plan to use in advance, both to see if it agrees with your stomach and if it has the desired effect. Getting your nutrition right is essential when it comes to enjoying this ride. You will need more than you think so ensure you have enough to eat little and often. Take advantage of the feed stops, however, they are likely to be busy so it’s best to have enough on you. A mixture of energy bars and chews/gels should provide variety for what is sure to be a big day in the saddle.
The weather can be changeable, even in July. Take arm warmers and a gilet at the very least, and maybe a rain jacket such as the Sportful Hot Pack Ultralight Jacket, which is easy to tuck into a jersey pocket if no longer needed. If it’s looking to be particularly wet and cold, overshoes, long finger gloves and knee warmers may be required. It may be hot in the valleys but the temperature can change dramatically the higher you get, as well as being chilly on long descents. Take everything with you that you may require and keep an eye on the forecast when you get there - you can always leave anything you don’t need in your hotel room.
It’s a good idea to make sure anything you plan to wear has been tested beforehand. Try to steer clear of buying new shoes, bib shorts or other kit in the days before the event. There is nothing worse than being uncomfortable for hours in the saddle. Good bib shorts and chamois cream should prevent the potential discomfort of chafing or saddle sores. The sun can be strong in the mountains, make sure you remember to take suncream and you can complement it with a short sleeve jersey with UV protection added to it, such as the Castelli Climbers 2.0 Short Sleeve Jersey.
By this point you should have done plenty of training on the bike you plan to take, but ensure everything is in working order before you leave. The gears should be running smoothly, and you should check for excessively worn tyres, brake pads, cassette, chain, and replace if necessary.
Gearing: You will need easier gears in the mountains compared to what you are used to at home. Consider compact gearing (50/34); a low gear of 34 - 28t should suffice.
Saddle bag essentials
Look after yourself
Hopefully something you have been doing throughout your training, but it is just as important in the final weeks and days. Eat well, ensure you stay hydrated, stretch, use a foam roller and book in for a massage the week before you go to ensure you are in the best possible shape.
The start: Briançon
This year the L’Etape will be starting in Briançon; the highest town in Europe, and known for its art, history and mountains. It is overlooked by a UNESCO heritage site and part of the Serre Chevalier ski area. Picturesque, and with lots to do for non-cyclists, it is also within riding distance of the Galibier, Montgenevre, Col d’Angel, Alpe d’Huez and the Bonette climbs. If you want to stay longer, 3 days after the Etape the pros will come into town, and the next day they will be racing the stage you have just completed.
Flat sections, stunning views of an Alpine lake, roads through a gorge and, among a few smaller climbs, two huge HC climbs; this year's Etape has everything.
178km with around 4000m of climbing, the first 50km or so are actually mainly flat, which is rare for the Etape, and the time will fly by. Some short, sharp climbs including the first test - the Côte de Demoiselles Coiffées, and a false flat to Barcelonnette, follow.
After this, it’s almost constantly up or down, with some sections featuring gradients of 7% - 10%. Gentle gradients will take you to the start of the Col de Vars, a typically Alpine climb. At 9km, with an average gradient of 7.5%, it is best not to go at this too hard too soon. Instead, take a more conservative approach as there are some pretty steep sections at the top. Stay in an easy gear, control your breathing and try to save some energy. Once you hit the summit, there are a couple more kicks so you’ll appreciate any reserves in the tank. Enjoy the scenery during the descent and try to recover, ready for the last climb.
Before you even hit the Col d’Izoard, there are about 15km of false flat with a 3 - 4% gradient, only then are you onto the real climb. The climb itself is 14km at 7.3%, a deceptive gradient as some sections at the start are very shallow and there is a small descent so the col is actually very steep, it’s going to be tough so try and save some energy for the last few kilometres. Reaching the top, and the finish, will be a reward in itself, but the ‘casse deserte’ – like a moonscape - is spectacular.
Tips to help tackle this ride:
If you are taking part in this year’s Etape, you are in for a treat, with spectacular views, challenging mountain climbs and the benefit of closed roads, and the 2017 edition is finishing atop the Col d’Izoard, at 2,360m, for the first time. If you hang around for a few days after, you’ll be able to see how the pros do it.
- Both of the biggest climbs are in the second half of the ride. Take it steady, pace yourself and save something for the later sections. If you feel great when nearing the end, you can use that reserve of energy to push on
- If you are experienced at riding in groups, try and get into a group on the false flats, they will help carry you along at a faster pace and will save you energy, but try not to get carried away
- Shift into the small ring before you reach the big cols, and get your legs spinning as the road rears up
- Keep well hydrated - it's worth adding hydration tablets to your water - and eat throughout, taking advantage of the flats and drags to fuel, but be sure to keep this up during the climbs. You should take in food at least every 30 minutes. Little and often is key and make the most of the well-stocked feed stations the organisers put on
- Take the climbs steady and at your own pace, don’t chase other riders as you may go into the red and pay for it later up the road
- Riding on the tops of the hoods when climbing will allow you to take in more oxygen. Try to limit the time you spend climbing out of the saddle as it raises your heart rate and puts more stress on your upper body
- Ride within your limits, especially on the descents, and be aware of other riders varying abilities. Changeable weather conditions can alter braking distances, so be aware of the road conditions before you go too hot into a corner
If you are taking part in this year’s Etape, you are in for a treat, with spectacular views, challenging mountain climbs and the benefit of closed roads. Most importantly though, enjoy it! The 2017 edition is finishing atop the Col d’Izoard, at 2,360m, for the first time and is sure to be a once in a lifetime experience.