With 183km and 4,600m of climbing on the programme, today’s queen stage of the 2017 Haute Route Alps was more than worthy of her crown. Possibly the toughest stage in the history of the Haute Route, stage 5 came after a memorable time trial on the 21 hairpins of Alpe d’Huez yesterday.
Rolling out of Alpe d’Huez down into the valley via the Pas de la Confession, the stage proper got underway on the Barrage du Verney before the foot of the Col du Glandon. This first 25km climb of the day could be broken down into three sections with two plateaus in-between: a first steep section through the forest, a tough second section up to the Grand Maison Lake and then a final push to the summit on a shallower and more consistent gradient.
Refuelling and recovering at the summit, Rich Costello from Canada was taking a conservative approach to today’s stage. “We’re just pacing it up the climbs with my teammates,” he said, “we’re able to eat and recover in-between the climbs and we can push it a little bit at the end. The weather’s perfect as well, it’s a stunning day”.
The Wolves of Geneva team seemed to be having a good day as well, explaining that the Glandon was an irregular climb but they were riding together and trying to just have a bit of fun and enjoy the views on the way up.
After conquering the Col du Glandon, the second climb of the day up the daunting Col de la Madeleine beckoned; 19km at an average of 8%. Renowned for being one of the most feared climbs in the Alps, the Col de la Madeleine is an unrelenting and demanding climb that peaks at exactly 2000m with a panoramic view on the Mont Blanc.
With two cols down and one more to go, German rider Wolf Thyssen was delighted to have summited the mighty col de la Madeleine: “I’m looking forward to getting to Megève,” he said, “I used to live in Geneva so I know the climbs around there. It was my first time on Madeleine though, it’s nice and steady and the view on the Mont Blanc at the summit is great.”
“I’m keeping my pace nice and steady today,” he added, “that’s been my strategy all week, trying to get stronger as the week goes along”.
Frenchman Laurent Stacul knew the Madeleine climb but was relieved to have ridden up it with his teammate Benoit Culiez: “Benoit is getting stronger all week so it’s nice to follow him on the climb,” he said, “and I know most of these cols as well, we rode all the way through the Alps with my wife Stephanie for our honeymoon,” he added whilst looking back down the mountain to see if his wife was nearing the summit.
Having climbed both Glandon and Madeleine, riders now had over 3,000m of climbing in the legs before taking on the final col of the day: Col des Saisies via Bisanne. Another tough climb, this ascent averages over 8.5% for more than 12km before a short descent and final ramp up to the summit.
The climb to Saisies via Bisanne is possibly the hardest way to summit Saisies, and Michael Poulsen from Denmark was happy to see the end of it and cross the finish line on the day: “Today was beautiful but it was brutal,” he said, “it was a great stage for me but I reckon the last 3 to 4 kilometres on Saisies were tough for everyone”.
Riders regrouped after the final timing mat on Col des Saisies and rolled into Megève in small pelotons to cross the finish line and complete the toughest stage of the week.
Stage winner on the day was Laurent Stacul from France for the men and Emma Pooley from the UK for the women. On the general classification Nicolas Roux retains his leaders jersey ahead of Pierre Ruffaut; in the women’s race we have our third leader in as many days, Marjolaine Bazin now leads by nearly 15 minutes from Manon Testou.
Stage 6 tomorrow will set off at 7am from Megève for 145km and 3,400m of climbing on the way to Morzine via the famous col de la Colombière and col de Joux Plane.