As the Transcontinental Race draws to a close this week the Silk Road Mountain Race and Race Across France will both kick off, keeping the ultra cycling dot-watching community on the edge of their seats for a few more weeks! My good friend Robbie Ferri also sets off on his record breaking mission to cover the most countries by bike in 7 days. Good luck to Robbie (third time lucky, eh) and everyone taking part in the upcoming racing.
I’ve signed up for the inaugural challenge distance of the Race Across France, which starts at 9.00am local time on Saturday 18th August. The race isn’t quite ‘across’ France (I would have signed up for the full monty ‘ultra’ distance for that treat), but still manages to take in 21,600m of vertical ascent over 1050km. See the route and follow the race by clicking below.
Because I didn’t quite know what I had let myself in for, here’s an alpine rookie’s desktop recon as to what’s in store.
The race starts at 0900 from Mandelieu-La Napoule, a coastal resort on the French Riviera just south-west of Cannes. Seeing as there’s 21,600m of up to crack on with, the climbing starts immediately. Heading out of town on the D109 the race kicks off with a long ascent of the Col de Bleine. The summit at 1439m is reached at 55.5km into the race, the gradient gentle the whole way with only the last 6km ramping up slightly. From here the road gives some respite, dropping a few hundred metres to Saint Auban before kicking back up to reach the Col de Saint Barnabé (1367m), some 78.5km into the race. Passing west through the stunning Alpes de Haute Provence, the Col d’Ayen (1031m) at 122km should glide by, having not dropped back below 600m after the Col de Saint Barnabé.
122km / 3115m
Dropping down to the Lac de Sainte-Croix and the village of Moustiers Sainte-Marie the route rolls west toward Carpentras for the next 160km.
297.3 km / 4788m ascent
Approaching Carpentras, the giant of Ventoux and it’s bald crown should be a sight to my right. I expect to the climbing into the first night, maybe crossing paths with the last of the daytime riders as I approach the ascent. The town of Bedoin is reached after 314km, the climb up Ventoux starting shortly after. As my first ascent of Ventoux I’m quite happy to be doing the ‘classic’ route, from Bedoin. From 300m above sea level the climb to the summit at 1912m is 21.5km, giving an ascent of 1612m and average gradient of 7.5%. This doesn’t sound all that bad on paper, but I’ve read enough about Ventoux’s torrid landscape to expect otherwise! Climbing at night, could provide a salve for this. The summit of Ventoux is reached at 335.4km into the race before dropping down to Malaucene, heading north for another 95km on the flatlands to Crest.
451km / 7601m ascent
From Crest the route turns east, reaching Die at 486km and the start of the ascent of the Col de Rousset. This climb belongs to the Alps and has been visited by the Tour de France in 1984, 1996 and 1998. From Die the Col de Rousset ascent is 20.6km to the summit at 1254m above sea level. The route drops to 1055m through the village of Vassieux-en-Vercors. This will no doubt be a welcome stop for espresso before continuing to climb, reaching the ski station of Font d’Urle at 1500m. After 525km this is approximately the mid distance point of the race.
525 km / 9407m ascent
From the ski station, my ears should be popping after the 25km decent to the village of De-Saint-Jean en-Royans. From here the route heads east, the next notable climb to start carb loading for being Alp D’Huez at 634km into the race. I expect that riding up Alp Du Zwift a number of times has made me no more prepared for the real deal. A favourite on the the Tour de France, it’s iconic 21 bends over 13km should be a treat, reading the summit at 1860m. Considering the delightful 33% ramps of the Mille Pennines Audax earlier in June, the max 13% gradient of Alp D’Huez sounds somewhat reassuring. ‘Reassuring’ image as follows.
670km / 12,660m ascent
Dropping down to Mizoen at the head of the Lac du Chambon should be another good opportunity for espresso and food, given that the double dose of the Col du Lautaret and the Col du Galibier awaits just a few kilometres down the road.
Starting from Col du Lautaret (at 715km into the race), the Col du Galibier ascent is 8.52 km long. Over this distance, the average gradient is 6.9 % with a maximum gradient of 10 %. At 2642 m elevation the summit marks the entry into the Savoie department of France and what I expect to be a blissful 34km decent into Saint-Martin-d’Arc.
As I write this recon, I feel that some sort of crescendo is building. And I’m quite right since learning that next on the menu is the Col de l’Iseran, the highest paved pass in the Alps at 2,764m (and also the 5th highest paved road in Europe). And given that the Tour has successfully crested the summit just seven times in the race’s history, it deserves to be treated with caution and respect. Approaching from the South, the climb is 31.9km from Lanslebourg, with an average gradient of 4.3% over this distance. The 46.9km decent passes the ski town of Val-d’Isère, reaching Bourg-Saint-Maurice. No doubt I’ll stop in Bourg-Saint-Maurice for a bite, looking for the Mont Blanc giant to the North.
Straight out of Bourg-Saint-Maurice I’ll be greeted with the Cormet de Roselend. This is another alpine col beauty, the word “cormet” meaning col or pass in the local dialect (try and disguise but you can’t hide). The climb is a short one this time(!) – 19.4km to the summit at 1967m, giving a elevation difference of 1194m. The cols are coming thick and fast now, the route increasingly keen to top that 21,600m of vertical ascent as the finish nears. Or does it?
Another casual col: next up on the agenda is the Col Des Saisies (1697m), an ascent of 967m from Beaufort.
Because I should really be getting off to bed, I’ll finish with the Col de la Colombière (1613m). And finish I will, because this looks to be the last alpine ascent of the race. My research tells me that this is a long tough climb from Schionzier, so it should be a good one to finish up on (or put the final nail in the coffin). Over 16.3km, the first section climbs along the flank of a valley and gains almost 400 m over 6 km. The grade increases steadily, first 3.5%, then 4.5%, then 7%, to finish with 2 km at 8.5% before the road levels out to a gentle 2% – 3% on the intermediate plateau (ahh). And that looks to be it – it really is all downhill from there – a 39km decent to the finish in Talloires, on the shore of Lac d’Annecy.
1050km / 21600m
Many thanks to the guys at Cycle Republic (Glasgow) for sorting my bike out in time, and everyone who has supported me to this point. I expect it to be a beautiful experience.