Stage 5: Bourg d’Oisans – Digne-les-Bains
187km overall, 162km timed
2900m of ascent / 3000m of descent
4 climbs: Col d’Ornon 1371m (2nd class), Col de Parquetout 1398m (2nd class), Col du Festre 1441m (3rd class), Col d’Espréaux 1160m (3rd class)
Stage difficulty: 4 out of 5
“This is the Haute Route! The sun is back and the route is marvellous.” Ottar Henanger
Following yesterday’s iconic Alpe d’Huez Individual Time Trial, the 450 riders from around the world were ready to get back into the traditional Haute Route Alpine climbs. Stage 5 was the longest stage in terms of kilometres in the Haute Route history, and included four ascents, more than any other previous stages; and whilst this stage was ‘only’ rated 4/5 for difficulty, the riders faced a long 187km on the bike, 162km timed. “It was very hot and exciting!” said Regardt Botes. “At the end all guys in the peloton were flying along at 50km an hour - it was exhilarating. It was completely different from the other stages and as the stage was long the second half of the day was like one normal day race.” With four days of racing in the legs and the harsh conditions of Tuesday’s Marathon stage still hurting – the immense physical effort of each rider is taking its toll on the body. Muscles cramping, knee joints hurting, the spine aching – all symptoms of a tired body that needs to keep delivering on these final stages. And the riders have to focus more on keeping their energy levels high and, importantly, rehydrating regularly; especially in the hotter conditions like today when the thermometer climbed to 36 degrees Celsius.
Today’s stage from Bourg D’Oisans to Digne-les-Bains had a little ‘bit of something’ for everyone… Gentle climbs on the Col d’Ornon (1,371m) and the Col du Festre (1,441m); a challenging climb with 8km over 10% and some extreme turns on the Col de Parquetout (1,398m) that took many riders by surprise; short and not too technical descents; and one long 65km rolling semi-flat section, allowing the Haute Route peloton to ride in groups, each ‘little train’ working together for maximum speed and efficiency. Some riders even took advantage of four-wheeled assistance for the optimum slipstream: “I was very lucky that the ‘pink TGV’ came passed me and I jumped on the back,” said 52 year-old Andrew Gale. “The pink TGV is famous, its one of the on-course Alpine Cols coach. I hooked up for 40 kilometres and I finished, otherwise I would still be out there! 3000 metres of climbing and 187km – I thought it was going to be hard but it was even harder in this heat.” As the riders get closer to the Mediterranean coast so the landscape is changing. Now in the Provence region the mountainous peaks are now more rounded, the sound of crickets emanating from the rolling foothills. “Some absolutely fantastic scenery, it was outstanding. It’s nice to have the sun on your back and have time to see how beautiful it is,” said Philip Burke at the finish.
The capital of the Alpes de Haute Provence, Digne-les-Bains lies in an area of geological richness where Provence meets the Alps. Famed for its thermal springs and lavender trade, it is also home to the largest geological reserve in Europe, the Réserve Naturelle Géologique de Haute Provence, with fossils dating back 300 million years. The Haute Route will visit Digne for the first time staying for two nights.