On the penultimate stage of the 2018 Haute Route Alps, the peloton rode down in the opposite direction to yesterday’s time trial to reach Guillestre, before taking on the cols of Vars and Bonette, the highest peak of the week at 2,715 metres above sea level, and the final ascent up to Auron.
“Only two days left”, said Marcos Tam from Brazil when saying good morning to Michael Farrell from Canada on the start line before being absorbed into the peloton and descending from Risoul in a secured convoy. After passing Guillestre, riders then paced themselves to take on the 22km ascent of the Col de Vars, averaging at 5.5%.
Before the descent, Sérgio Barros from Portugal said: “This feed station is very nice with plenty of good products. I’m starting to be a bit tired but the ascent went very well.”
After refuelling with local produce and energy products at the first feed station, riders rode down and entered in the Ubaye Valley. Gathered in small groups in the second part of the descent, riders took turns until Jausiers to save energy before facing the col of Bonette.
With 1,499 metres of climbing over 22.6km, participants had to get into the rhythm in the ascent, between steep sections and flatter short portions that allowed the riders to catch their breath. While climbing to marmot whistles, they enjoyed breath-taking sceneries of trees, waterfalls and rivers, slowly replaced by a rocky and lunar landscape.
“I was a little afraid of the Col de la Bonette but I was feeling very good in the ascent. The gradient is not so steep, I passed 30 riders because I had a good rhythm”, said Fernando Sabella from Brazil. “I really like the climb and the view is wonderful.”
After riding down to Saint-Étienne-de-Tinée, riders hit the final ascent to Auron. After crossing the finish line, they took the time to share their feelings about today’s stage and looked back at their journey so far - a journey that will come to an end following tomorrow’s stage.
Coming from Ireland, Timothy O’Sullivan and Kacey O’Driscoll are riding their first Haute Route this week. “When we started the climb of the Bonette, I took a few pictures. It was spectacular, unbelievable to be honest. And I am really proud of my girl who is stronger than me. It’s her first race and she is second overall”, said Timothy.
“My main goal was to reach Nice and I am excited about the finish now”, added Kacey who won the stage today, for the second time this week.
“The week was incredible. First time doing the Haute Route, it won’t be the last. The views are spectacular. We are here to enjoy everything and we do”, concluded Timothy.
Enjoying his second Haute Route experience, Mike Castelijn from the Netherlands said: “Today was the queen stage. I thought Tuesday was the queen stage but also today. Now I am looking forward to the Mediterranean and to jump in the sea tomorrow. Two little climbs just for pleasure. Tomorrow is a champagne ride!”
“I’ve had a very good week, and I loved it”, he added. “I am enjoying this event very much. This is a real classic that every cyclist should do once in a lifetime.”
The sixth and penultimate stage of the Haute Route Alps was won by the overall leader, Carlo Fino from Italy. In the women’s category, Kacey O’Driscoll won her second stage and shaved several minutes off the lead of overall leader, Maria Camila Giannella. Still unbeaten since the beginning of the week, teams Brao Caffè – Unterthurner and McPherson finished first once again in the Duo Male and Mixed categories.
The last stage will start from Auron tomorrow to reach Nice via the cols of Saint Martin and Èze. At the top of the last climb of the week, riders will admire the view over the Mediterranean before riding down to Nice to celebrate their achievement on the Promenade des Anglais.