Organisers have released details of the 2010 L’Étape du Tour – an event which gives amateur cyclists the chance to race over the same route as a Tour de France stage.
The sportive, which normally attracts around 8,500 riders, will take place on 18 July, starting in Pau in the foothills of the Pyrennes and ending on the Col du Tourmalet.
It will be California cyclist and BikeRadar diarist Lindsay Crawford's ninth L’Étape. Here's what he had to say about the route:
"Once again, it’s fall and time to start your planning for L’Étape du Tour. The date for the 18th edition of L’Étape is 18 July 2010, four days before the pros attack the same climbs in stage 17 of the Tour de France.
"It's 174km for the riders, starting in Pau with almost 50km of gentle climbing before ascending the notorious Col de Marie-Blanque from the west side. Don’t be fooled by the posted 7.5 percent gradient: that’s an average over 9.5km and even the kilometre-by-kilometre graph only shows the average for that kilometre. I have seen sections up to 13 percent.
"Next there's a fast descent off the Marie-Blanque, left turn and mostly rolling downhill to Asson. At this point, you will start the long climb to the Col du Soulor using the same road as L’Étapé du Tour 2005, only in the reverse direction.
"Then there's another fast descent to Argelés-Gazost, where riders will once again join the reverse route of a previous L’Étapé du Tour. After that there's 37km and 1,658m of climbing to finish atop the Col du Tourmalet. As in 2009, riders will descend a few kilometres after the finish to refreshments, storytelling and awards.
"Will the weather be better than when it was very close to 0°C in thick fog at the summit of the Tourmalet in 2008, with the finish on Hautacam in fog and drizzle? Whatever the weather, there will be 9,500 riders in Pau, at 7am on 18 July, waiting for the start of another epic day on the bike. Mark the date on your calendars, renew that gym membership, set up your winter bike for base mile training and prepare for a fantastic day on the bike.
"This writer will be back in the gym on 1 November, at times, riding to the workouts on a fixed gear bike. Living in the hills above Woodside, California, it’s always a minimum climb of 1,600ft to get home.
"January will see the start of many long rides to build endurance, as last year, no longer using a couple of spring stage races in Arizona and New Mexico to prepare for the events in Europe. As a substitute, I plan on doing some good mountainous rides in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains this spring.
"This will be my ninth L’Étapé du Tour. Quebrantahuesos – I'll attempt my third consecutive category win – and L’Ariègeoise are also in my calendar for 2010."
Here's Crawford's final report from the 2009 L’Étapé du Tour, which finished atop Mt Ventoux.