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Epic Cols: Orcières Merlette

Written and photographed by Daniel Hughes, for Epic Cols.

First celebrated in the history of the Tour de France in 1971 (the legendary Lucien Van Impe was the victor in 1972), Orcières Merlette is a purpose-built alpine resort found on the edge of the Ecrins National Park, France.

Eager to ride, what will be a 2020 Tour de France stage finish, the rolling and very scenic road took us from the gateway town of Gap towards Col du Manse, and then to the start of the climb at Pont de Corbière. The signs can be confusing as some are in miles, some in kilometres, and some in both!

It’s time – time to hit “LAP” and to segregate our effort. This official start does not feel like a start to a climb, as it is relatively flat and fast.

A handy tailwind pushing us along, it is after the first few kilometres where the increased gradient becomes noticeable. It’s now 5% or so, and not surprisingly, the Tour de France classifies the start of the climb, here, at Bousensayes. 

Onwards to Orcières and the business end.

The street is wide, then narrows significantly, a pinch point where being well-positioned in the peloton will be necessary. 

Past the church, which is prominent in the landscape from afar, we continue the climb on freshly laid, silky smooth tarmac. With the gradient not being as savage as many Tour de France climbs and a glass-like surface, the pace-up this climb will be furious.

As we ride higher, the valley opens up, the evening sun gives a golden sheen on the landscape, and the mountains surrounding are steep, green and sculpted – all making for some gorgeous views, almost painterly.

This climb is a little bit deceptive; featuring several false summits – where you think you’re at the final bend to realise that it is far from sight. Here, the wind is a friend and also a foe, it would be easy to go too hard too early and forget that it is still 700m of climbing.

The final bend approaches before the long drag into Orcières Merlette 1850.

 

The finish (for a climb) is going to be so fast. A climb that is available for climbers and riders, such as Sagan to take the win. The finish? One final right hand turn before what I believe will be a sprint to the line in front of the office du tourism. I cannot wait to watch this climb live.

To read and see more iconic climbs from around the world goto:

www.epiccols.com

The stats:

Distance – 11.2km

Gradient – 6% rising to 9%

Meters climbed – 638m

 

@danielhughesuk Equipment:

Shimano Dura-Ace R9170

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Shimano Dura-Ace R9100-P

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Shimano Dura-Ace R9100

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@caralimccall Equipment:

Shimano Ultegra R8070

Di2 hydraulic groupset

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PRO Vibe Carbon

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High-end, full carbon stem

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