127KM | 3,700M+ · Tuesday 22nd August
If you thought Stage 1 was hard, wait for Stage 2. The day starts easily enough with the short, neutralised descent from Pra Loup. You’ll soon know if you recovered well, however, because the leaders will certainly set a good pace up the valley from Barcelonnette to Saint-Paul-sur-Ubaye and the foot of the Col de Vars (2,109m). This is a tough one. The climb is pretty irregular but easy enough for the first 6-7km, before getting a lot steeper for the last 5km. It’s important to get in a rhythm wherever possible, especially in the early part, and conserve energy for the final 5km. Bear in mind it is the first (and shortest) of three major climbs today…
There is a wonderful, fast descent off the back down to Guillestre, where we turn right and start climbing again, direction the legendary Col d’Izoard (2,360m). There are 1,460m to climb over 30km, the first half being a long energy-sapping false flat. The last 10km average 8%. Just to make things easier the road is straight and seems never-ending. The toughest part of the climb is a ramp of 12% in the village of Brunissard, part of a long straight. The road then winds up for another 4km through a pine forest, the slope varying between 9% and 11%, before a 500m descent opens up the amazing panorama of the ‘Casse déserte’, a lunar landscape of broken rocks and scree just before the summit. This is where all the classic pictures of the Col d’Izoard are taken: it is worth the trip for this alone.
The thrilling descent from the Izoard is long and fast, bringing us to Briançon. The ride through this busy town will probably be neutralised, like in 2016. Take the opportunity to recover: the final climb of the day is a brute. It was last used by the Haute Route for the time trial in 2015, and it was on these slopes that Greg Lemond sealed his supremacy over Bernard Hinault in his final Tour.
The climb to the Col du Granon (2,413m) rises over 1200m in 16.7km, at an average of 7.2%. Unfortunately there are long stretches at 10-11%, making it one of the hardest climbs in the Alps. The road surface is poor and being fully exposed to the sun it could be very hot. It would be easy to lose a great deal of time here if you do not manage your energy and especially your hydration and nutrition well throughout the day. There’s maybe no shame in cracking on the same climb as the Badger, but it would be a pity.
Stage description by Alpine Cols
The Ubaye Valley is a cycling playground situated in the heart of a protected environment and on the border between the two famous areas of Piedmont and Provence.
Seven high mountain passes allow access to the valley. The Tour de France has crossed it dozens of times before. All different from one another, they allow you to cross the alpine pastures while enjoying the beautiful scenery and breathing the fresh air. For some cyclists, the seven Ubayan passes have become the pillars of an extraordinary challenge. The Col de la Cayolle has been ranked by the magazine “Le Cycle” among the 30 most beautiful climbs in Europe. The route of the Cayolle has not changed throughout the years with its passages carved in the rock where the cyclists are kings. The route goes up the mountainside of Bachelard towards Bayasse and then leaves 9 km of hairpins at a gradient of 7% in the splendor of the Mercantour National Park. Part of the Route des Grandes Alpes, the Col de la Cayolle culminates at 2326m in altitude.
The Tour de France has proven it, Pra Loup is a privileged destination for cycling lovers.. The great names of the past were Van Impe, Thévenet and Merckx, all three have written part of their stories in Pra Loup. During the 15th stage between Nice and Pra Loup through the Allos pass, the yellow jersey Merckx was flying through the mountains and seemed to be guaranteed stage victory. But fate intervened! Thévenet overtook the “Cannibale” and beat him at Pra Loup, re-gaining the yellow jersey that he would keep all the way to Paris. After that stage, Eddy Merckx would never again wear the yellow jersey. The station remembers and celebrated this victory by building an arch in the climb of Pra Loup in honor of Bernard Thévenet in July 2015, 40 years after his victory.