Rolling out of Megève on yet another sunny morning, the Haute Route peloton set off in a secured convoy towards the real start and first timing mat of stage 6 in Flumet. Easier than stage 5 on paper, today’s stage remained a big one with 145km and 3,400m of climbing on the schedule via the Col d’Epine, Col de la Colombière and Joux Plane.
Turning right over the Flon River after 14km of neutralised riding, the peloton was rewarded at the top of the first little climb of the day with a panoramic view across the Arly Valley. The peloton remained relatively compact as it approached the first categorised climb of the day on Col d’Epine, but soon split up as each rider found his or her own rhythm.
A first for the Haute Route, the Col d’Epine gets progressively steeper as it winds up through the forest to the summit at 978m. Following yesterday’s stage, this 7km ascent at 6.9% average gradient paled in comparison to the challenges already overcome. “We rode up Epine quite fast, it was a nice leg-loosener to start the day,” explained Swiss rider Matthias Wyss.
After the descent off Epine the next part of the stage had a few rolling hills until the riders reached Grand Bornand and the start of the climb up to the Col de la Colombière. Riding it from its ‘easier’ side today, the road rises 700m through 11km with a plateau in the middle and a final kilometre at 8%. Riders were once again rewarded with a panoramic view for their efforts on the climb, and were able to drink it all in as the descent would be untimed.
Following a good night’s sleep, Spanish rider Alberto Delgado felt he had managed his effort well on the first two climbs: “I feel quite good this morning,” he said, “even after yesterday’s big stage. Colombière is hard at the end but it’s very picturesque, the views are stunning”.
The neutralised descent from Colombière took riders back into the valley and into a short ramp in Chatillon-sur-Cluses before another descent and false flat back uphill into the start of the Joux Plane climb. Known as one of the toughest climbs in the Northern Alps, the ascent to Joux Plane from Samoëns features hairpins and a few ramps at over 10%. The final three kilometres are the toughest, as it ramps up on its final approach to the summit at 1,700m.
Crossing the final timing mat of the day at the summit, Finnish rider Jukka Kakkonen took the time to immortalise the moment: “I rode well until the final climb today,” he said, “it was a hard one, so I took the time to take some pictures at the summit so I can appreciate the views before heading down to Morzine”.
Reflecting on his experience this week, he added, “It’s been great, the camaraderie and spirit in the peloton is brilliant. We spend time together on the start line, during the stage, at lunch and in the evening; we get to share our experiences and talk about the best moments. Being able to meet people from all over the world is great, I came with a team of 9 Finnish riders of which I only knew a few. But now we form a great team and know each other really well”.
Having crossed the finish line in Morzine, American rider Felipe Loureiro was both happy to have finished, but also melancholic at the thought of the Haute Route finishing tomorrow: “I’m a bit sad the Haute Route is already done tomorrow. I’ll have to go home to my day-to-day life after having ridden with a bunch of new friends all week in this beautiful country. It’s been a superb experience”.
Finally rewarded for his hard work at the front of the race all week, Pierre Ruffaut won today’s stage narrowly ahead of race leader Nicolas Roux. In the women’s race it was race leader Marjolaine Bazin who took the stage win to extend her lead on the general classification.
For tomorrow’s final stage riders will have to conquer a succession of small cols in Haute-Savoie before heading to Yvoire to collect their medals and finishers’ polos; and then parading into Geneva in a secured convoy to conclude their weeklong adventure.