A cloudy and cool morning greeted the Haute Route Alps peloton as they started Stage 4 from Alp d’Huez to Serre Chevalier Briançon. Following yesterday’s massive effort, many were relieved to have the Queen Stage behind them and looking forward to a more moderate 80-kilometre stage today.
Though the 21 switchbacks of the main road to Alpe d’Huez are the most well known route up and down the mountain, there are other ways to get to valley below. Haute Route used one of the most beautiful, the descent of the Col de Sarenne down to Lac du Chambon. The neutral rollout included the short climb from the town of Alpe d’Huez and the technical descent of the Sarenne, which helped spread out the peloton before crossing the timing mat and starting the climb of the Col du Lautaret.
The long, dark tunnels on the Col du Lautaret mean many riders find the climb a scary experience if they try it solo or in a small group. Riding in large groups and safely escorted by gendarmes and Haute Route motos, riders today had the rare opportunity to have a stress-free climb up the Col du Lautaret.
Gwill Morris thought the steady climb up the Lautaret was a welcome follow up to Stage 3: “It’s a pretty good day to have after a big day, because if you’re feeling really tired you can take the first bit on the Lautaret as fast or as slow as you like, then do the fast descent, and just grind up the Granon.”
While the first climb of Stage 4 may have been moderate, the final ascent of the Col du Granon is one of the toughest climbs in the region. It’s not long, at just 11 kilometres, but it averages 9% and finishes at higher than 2400 metres above sea level. A hidden gem compared to more famous ascents nearby, the Granon was only used in the Tour de France once, when Eduardo Chozas won Stage 17 at the summit in 1986.
For Timothy Gray, the combination of the Col du Lautaret and Col du Granon led to a tactically-challenging stage: “I wanted to be in a big group going over the timing mat to go up the Lautaret and down, and then on the Granon you just do your own thing. But the tactics are whether to stop at feed stations or stay in the group, managing your food and water and clothing.”
Looking relieved at the Rider Village in Serre Chevalier Briançon, Christophe Bourges said, “I feel much better than yesterday. I was in pain in the ascent up to Alpe d’Huez. At some point, I thought I would never make it. I cried like a baby when I crossed the finish line to let go of the pain. So I thought I would have another tough day on the bike today, but it all went well. And now I will do a quick cryotherapy session to recover. Someone told me to do it yesterday after my long day, so I did. It might have helped, so I’ll do it again today and we’ll see how I go tomorrow.”
The individual time trial up the Col d’Izoard awaits the peloton on Thursday. Setting off at 20-second intervals, riders will test themselves against the clock on one of the most iconic climbs in cycling. Men’s Solo race leader Ruari Grant will try to hold off a determined rival in Guillaume Bourgeois, who ended Grant’s streak of stage wins by winning Stage 4 by 24 seconds. There was a similar result in the Women’s Solo race, with Catherine Greves taking the stage win ahead of Linda Farczadi, who still leads the general classification.