Following a peaceful night in Courchevel, the peloton descended to the valley to start the Queen Stage of the 2019 Haute Route Alps. The 144-kilometre (89 mile) stage featured three massive climbs and a combined total of 4600 metres (15091 feet) of elevation gain. “It would be a hard stage for the Tour de France, and it will be a big accomplishment for everyone today,” commented event announcer Fergus Grant.
The stage started in earnest when timing began at the base of the Col de la Madeleine. This iconic 25-kilometre climb starts tough, features a few respites in the middle, and then finishes with steady but steep grades in the final kilometres. Riders were rewarded for their efforts with panoramic views of surrounding mountains, including Mont Blanc, and a fun and technical 21-kilometre descent!
Lorenzo Brown, at Haute Route Alps with a group of teammates from the 9W USA cycling team, explained his approach to the day: “Don’t try to finish the whole day on Madeleine. If you try to finish the whole day on Madeleine, you’re done. I’m looking forward to enjoying Alpe d’Huez. I want to have enough to not be suffering totally, but to be able to really take Alpe d’Huez in.”
Peter Knight, one of the riders working on completing both Haute Route Pyrenees and Haute Route Alps back to back, decided Stage 3 would be a good day to encourage others. “Once we descended to the start I let everyone go, so there were 400 people ahead of me, I got to cycle through the field, giving good ‘let’s go, let’s go’ messages on the way.” Asked about his motivation to ride the double, he said, “I just thought it is the hardest thing you could do as an amateur, to do this double event, so I did it. I did Haute Route Alps by itself before.”
Before Lorenzo, Peter, and the rest of the peloton could tackle the switchbacks of Alpe d’Huez, there was a second giant climb to tackle. The 21-kilometre Col du Glandon is a classic Tour de France favorite that features extraordinary views and excruciatingly steep grades in the final switchbacks.
Catching his breath at the summit of the Col du Glandon, Christopher Riley commented, “Toughest I’ve ever done. It’s just so steep at the end. It just finishes you off. But I’m okay. With day after day of big climbs, it’s all about pacing yourself.”
American Randy Warren arrived at the summit with a big smile on his face. “Today I made a point of putting a governor on my power, so I can enjoy these iconic climbs and not go so hard that they’re not fun. I’m competitive, but for me today is about enjoying the experience and taking in the views.”
The descent from the Col du Glandon quickly joins the Col de la Croix de Fer and continues on a rolling descent toward Allemond. After a few mercifully flat kilometers over to Bourg d’Oisans, riders started up the final climb of the day, the mighty Alpe d’Huez. Famous for its numbered switchbacks and storied Tour de France history, riding up Alpe d’Huez is at the top of many cyclists’ bucket lists.
“There is no place on earth like this for cyclists,” said Lior Cohen, a cycling coach from Israel. “It’s like something spiritual for cyclists. I’ve been cycling for 25 years, and it’s my first time doing the Alpe d’Huez. It’s very meaningful.”
Nimrod Eldar, one of the athletes Lior coaches, let out an ecstatic yell as he crossed the finish line. Later, he explained, “I broke my leg a year ago and came here with not enough training. I saw the third stage and thought, I won’t make it. But I made it, like a champion!”
Over lunch, on the massage tables, and around the Village, riders reflected and swapped stories about their experiences on the Queen Stage of the 2019 Haute Route Alps. With an evening to rest in the town of Alpe d’Huez, riders will start Stage 4 tomorrow with fresher legs for an 80km journey over the Col du Lautaret and down to Serre Chevalier Briançon, where they’ll turn up to climb to the summit finish on the Col du Granon.