Averaging just 3.2% for 21km, the climb up Lautaret bisects the Parc National des Écrins and was a pleasant first climb to loosen the legs after yesterday’s summit finish on Granon. Estonian rider Rein Lida enjoyed the start to the stage: “It was a nice way to start the stage, a good way to warm your legs up,” he said, “The course is great, and all the landscapes are stunning in this region”.
At the summit of Lautaret, 2,058m metres above sea level, riders enjoyed a breath-taking panoramic view over the snow capped La Meije Massif before plunging back downhill into the Romanche valley.
Following the fast and flowing descent off the summit, riders turned right over the Chambon dam and then immediately left up the first steep ramps of the Col de Sarenne. Averaging 11-12% for the first few kilometres, most riders were seen stamping on the pedals and standing out of the saddle until they reached the town of Mizoën.
The road eased off after Mizoën and even provided some respite with a small descent. Exiting the tree line nearer the summit riders were greeted with yet another breath-taking view, this time over the Muzelle Glacier on the opposite side of the valley.
Frenchman Gaëtan Chasle, currently riding the 2nd of his three weeks on the Triple Crown challenge, was full of praise for the Col de Sarenne when we spoke to him at the summit: “As expected the first few switchbacks were rather steep, but the final weaving turns along the mountain face at the top were splendid. The views more than made up for the difficulty of the climb. It’s like this every day I love it. The Chambon dam was a rare beauty as well!” he said.
Laurent Brun lives in the area and had recced the stage twice before today, allowing him to pace himself perfectly: “We held back a bit on Sarenne,” he said, “because we knew the toughest was to come on the Villard-Reculas ascent up to Alpe d’Huez to finish”.
Halfway down the descent of Sarenne riders would have been able to make out and hear the Haute Route race village in action, as they swept by the finish line on their way down to the foot of the final climb. The 21km ascent to Alpe d’Huez from Villard-Reculas rose 1,070m to cap off the stage and finish in the ski resort of Alpe d’Huez.
Mike Thomson from the UK was relieved to finish the third stage of the week: “I rode hard on that final climb so I was relieved to see the finish line as I came through that final corner. I’m going to do my best in the time trial tomorrow, but it will be nice to have a relative day off to recover as well”.
At the pointy end of the race it was Frenchman Nicolas Roux who took the stage win yet again to extend his lead on the general classification. For the women it was another French cyclist Marjolaine Bazin, 3rd at the French National Road Championships this year, who took the stage win ahead of leader Emma Pooley.
Tomorrow morning riders will set off one by one from the centre of Bourg d’Oisans to take on the mythical 21 switchback ascent of Alpe d’Huez in a 16km uphill time trial.