Today’s time trial had been highly anticipated by the riders of the 2018 Haute Route Alps. Under blue skies, riders set off one by one from Guillestre to take on the 14-km ascent up to the resort of Risoul.
The time trial is a particular stage and its preparation began the day before. During yesterday’s briefing explaining the stage, each participant calculated the estimated time it would take them to climb this ascent. For the leaders, the ultimate dream was to finish as close as possible to the record set by Nairo Quintana.
In Guillestre, riders waited in the start zone where they could watch the riders ranked behind them in the general classification setting off from the ramp. Jean-Claude Wetzels from Belgium shared his feelings with us a few minutes before the stage: “It is my first time trial so I feel a little bit nervous. It is exciting to start from the ramp and there is a great atmosphere here.”
Before the start, the two locals Max Brémond, Mayor of Risoul, and Lucile Lefevre, finalist in the snowboard slopestyle competition at the Pyeongchang Olympic Games, shared their advice about the climb. “You must push all the time. It is quite a short ascent with an average of 6.5–7%, so you should stay strong”, said Max Brémond. “For us, it is always a pleasure to host all cycling races in general and particularly the Haute Route that often comes to Risoul.”
Knowing the ascent really well, Lucile Lefevre added: “I have decided to participate today because it is my resort and it is an honour to take part in this race. I have not trained a lot, so it will be more for pleasure than for performance. To prepare for the Olympics Games, I did it many times. It is really cool. A little bit steep at the end, but it is fun to do it and the view is beautiful.”
After crossing the mat at the exit of Guillestre, riders started the ascent on a tagged road, harking back to the atmosphere of the greatest professional races. Some riders, like Kenji Yagi from Japan, waited until the final kilometres to give it his all: “This morning I feel great. I will pace myself and push as hard as possible for the last part. I will save my energy for the end”, he said at the start.
On the contrary, Carsten Stahlke from Germany chose consistency. After crossing the finish line, he explained: “My objective was to stay within my limits that I have defined for the entire trip. I was a bit above today but my legs are feeling good.”
He added: “It’s really impressive to see the names of pro riders at each hairpin, and it’s a great challenge to follow them. We’ll never be that fast but it’s good to be in their tracks.”
In this race against the time, every second mattered and so riders pushed themselves until the finish line located in the heart of the resort. Just before his massage, Jarno Martikainen from Finland talked about his performance: “I thought if I could do it under 1 hour it would be good, and I did it! I just stared at the green socks of the rider in front of me for 3 kilometres and then I caught up with them so I am happy.”
Finishing less than 4 minutes behind the time of Quintana, Christian Meier from Canada won the time trial and will receive a watch offered by the event’s official timekeeper, TAG Heuer, during the prizegiving tonight. In the women’s category, the victory comes to Laura Sims from the UK who also wins a TAG Heuer watch. In the Duo’s division, the leaders of the Man and Mixed categorie, Brao Caffè – Unterthurner and McPherson won their fifth consecutive stage.
Tomorrow, riders will take on the penultimate stage between Risoul and Auron and will cross the Col de Vars and the Col de la Bonette, the highest col of the Haute Route Alps at 2,715m above sea level, before climbing up to Auron.