View from the saddle: the Etape du Tour 2018

The Etape du Tour

The 2018 Etape du Tour promises to be the toughest since 2012, which was an epic 197km ride through the Pyrenees. This year ASO has selected four of the steepest climbs in the Alps, and capped it all with a section of gravel road over the summit of the second climb. The total distance is unusually long at 169km and climbing is also more than normal, at 4,000m, inviting comparisons with the Marmotte (174km and 5,000m).

The stage begins in the lovely lakeside town of Annecy, probably on the same leafy boulevard where it began in 2013 (Annecy – Semnoz). We’ll head out of town along the lake and do a three-quarter circumnavigation in the anti-clockwise direction to Talloires, where the climbing begins at km 26. There’s a short, sharp rise to the Côte de Bluffy (220m+ over 4km), followed by a 5km easy descent and then a false flat climb up the valley to Thônes and the start of the first of four serious climbs, at km 44.

The col de la Croix-Fry has become a regular on the Tour de France in the last ten years. It lulls you into a false sense of security, with the first 3km at a steady 7%, followed by a couple more at 2-3%. The shock comes after the pretty little village of Manigod, where the slope suddenly increases to around 10% for the next 3 km. Mercifully, the last 4 km are once again at a steady 7%. Watch our 2014 video of the col de la Croix-Fry.

Once over the top, there is a fast, easy descent through La Clusaz (the Alpine Cols base for training camps) and on to Saint-Jean de Sixt where we will turn right and then soon left again to go down the Gorges du Borne. Enjoy the scenery, because pretty soon you’ll have your nose in the handlebars and won’t be able to look at anything else!

The turning to the Plateau de Glières at km 76 is a sharp left over a narrow bridge. The first kilometre is easy, then the road steepens dramatically and remains at an average gradient of 11.5% for the next 6km. There are 500m or so of flat towards the end, so you can imagine how steep much of the rest of it is. The road is very narrow and winds up the side of the slope in multiple hairpins. It is heavily forested and nicely shaded on a hot day.

The top arrives very abruptly after 6km. The road levels out in a car park and immediately turns to gravel for a bit less than 2km of gentle climbing to the highest point. There’s no need to worry about the gravel. The road is perfectly passable on a normal road bike with normal tyres. In October 2017 there were a few potholes and loose stones but nothing to cause concern. Better carry a couple of spare inner tubes just in case, but don’t expect to need them.

Watch our video of the climb to the plateau des Glières.

The descent from the col des Glières is on a normal-width road in relatively good condition. It is interrupted after the first kilometre by a few hundred metres of steep climb: this is likely to provoke a lot of cramps on July 8th. To avoid this, make sure you have eaten and drunk enough and don’t dig too deep on the earlier climbs.

There are plenty of switchbacks in the descent, which is at 9% for long stretches so potentially very fast. Keep your wits about you; not all riders on the Etape du Tour are strong descenders and it would be a shame to have an accident here.

Once off the descent and through Thorens-Glières there is a 6km easy climb to the col des Fleuries, followed by another fast but easy descent to the valley floor. Make sure you get in a group for the next 19km of essentially flat riding to Scionzier and the next challenge, the infamous col de Romme.

The col de Romme is a tough climb when you are fresh. With 135km and 2,300m+ already in the legs, it is a climb to be respected. The tone is set from the start, where the road goes from 0% to 11% in a few metres. The first couple of kilometres are carved into the rock face, affording stunning views across the valley (if you are still interested in such matters). The climb never lets up, maintaining a relentless slope all the way to the summit. To reach the top without putting a foot down you must absolutely settle into a steady endurance pace from the start. There’s no shade on the upper slopes so if it is a hot day it will be very important to keep drinking. Watch our video of the col de Romme.

Three down (not counting the anecdotal col des Fleuries), one to go. The initially easy descent from Romme is tricky in places, with several very tight bends that are quite hard to read. You will be tired by now so it is essential to stay concentrated. The descent brings you to the village of Reposoir (the “Resting Place”), about half-way up the col de la Colombière. Only 7.5km and 640m+ left to climb, but not the least.

If you are not sure to make the top without putting a foot down, better stop and rest in Reposoir. The final section of the Colombière is notorious, especially the last 3km. The entire climb is in the full heat of the sun. To add insult to injury, you can see the top from 3km away, and it never seems to come any closer as you crawl up the never-ending steep slope to the summit. Watch our video of the col de la Colombière.

All good things do come to an end, however, and once you do reach the top there’s nothing more to do except guide your bike down the last 13km or so to the finish in Le Grand Bornand. Be especially careful for the first hairpin in the descent: it is a tight left-hander after a long straight at 9%. It is very easy to come into this bend way too fast.



This is a tough event and requires serious preparation. Alpine Cols can help you through coaching in the months leading up to the event and through training camps to build your skills in the mountains.

Our special Etape du Tour training camp is from July 1st to 8th and includes accommodation, logistics and entry to the event.

Watch our video of a typical Alpine Cols training camp.

Don’t hesitate to contact us for more information.

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