Perfect weather welcomed riders to the start ramp of the Stage 5 time trial on Thursday morning in Briançon. Starting off one at a time at the base of the Col d’Izoard, riders faced a 19-kilometre test against the clock to reach the iconic summit.
The north side of the Col d’Izoard can be thought of as a climb in two parts. The first half of the ascent, from Briançon to Cervières, features grades mostly in the 3-6% range, and there’s even a short descent to take some pressure off the legs. From Cervières to the summit, however, the grade steepens and stays at a consistent 7-9%, with one even steeper ramp around kilometre 13-14.
Even as the climb gets steeper, the beauty of the surrounding landscape helps occupy the mind, and the inexorable motivation of reaching the summit keeps riders going.
Francisco Sanchez from Mexico commented, “I think it’s the best day. Obviously it’s a short ride, but it’s still difficult after everything everyone has been through. You want to take it easy, but knowing it’s a time trial you want to push it. I’m really excited. This is my first time here and I’ve been looking forward to this one. The Haute Route is coming to Mexico and a lot of friends have done the Haute Route before, so I wanted to prepare fro the Mexican event. But this is more than a preparation!”
Many riders found themselves torn between the desire to ride hard and the temptation to maintain a more sustainable pace and conserve energy for the days to come. Christopher Golby said he’d decide once he left the start ramp: “I’ll see how it goes. I’ll decide at the feed stop whether it’s a recovery day or a race day - probably a recovery day. I haven’t done Izoard before. It’s a beautiful day, so why not stop and take pictures. I think a lot of people will take it as a recovery day. This is a very famous climb and it’s a shame to stare at your stem.”
Even for some riders driven to compete, the reality of being five days into the immense challenge of Haute Route Alps was setting in. “The beginning of the week was the hardest I have ever done on my bike,” said Anders Minge, one of the Lantern Rouge riders at Haute Route Norway. “But I guess that’s why I’m here. This is my fourth Haute Route, two in Norway and once in the Dolomites. But this is my first 7-day event. You cannot compare it; seven days is so much harder. It’s completely at another level. Three days is something almost everybody can manage, but 7 days is something different. In Norway we have mountains, but no long climbs like this. This is something I’ve never done before.”
At the sharp end of the peloton, Stage 5 was an opportunity to ride alone against the clock and take time from rivals without the tactical complexity of riding as a group. The General Classification leaders in both the Men’s and Women’s Solo competitions, Ruari Grant and Linda Farczadi, won their respective time trials today and maintained their leads.
At the other end of the rankings, Anthony Dubois, the rider in last place in the General Classification, also had a great day. “It was amazing. Great stage, perfect weather. Everyone was smiling. I’m last in the GC so I have nothing to lose. I just wanted to have fun without paying attention to my time. And then you ride with friends and you start to increase your pace and it’s great to ride together. There is something very special, very emotional, about Haute Route. This is a party every day.”
Tomorrow the party continues with a 104-kilometre stage over the Col de Vars and down a 33-kilometre descent and gradually downhill valley road, before the final 7.8-kilometer climb to Pra Loup, most recently the site of a Tour de France stage finish in 2015.