L'Etape du Tour asks for prayers

L'Etape du Tour, an event now in its 16th year to give recreational riders the chance to experience a full Tour de France stage, will hit the pilgrimage place of Lourdes-Hautacam. On July 6, 2008, around 9,000 riders will follow the course of stage 10 of the 2008 Tour, taking in the climb of the Tourmalet via La Mongie side before entering Lourdes. But instead of heading to the holy waters that are said to have cured many, L'Etape du Tour riders will have to tackle the final climb up to Hautacam. Shorter than the 2007 epic ride from Foix to Loudenvielle-Le Louron, this year's l'Etape will cover 154 kilometres. After two uncategorized climbs the Tourmalet will offer some challenge, with 17.7 kilometres at an 7.5% average gradient.

Those who can make it to the bottom of the final ascent will face 14 kilometres of uphill at an average gradient of 7.2 percent. The climb first featured in the 1994 Tour, when Miguel Indurain proved he could actually drop the climbers. Emerging out of the fog he and Frenchman Luc Leblanc caught and dropped Marco Pantani, with Leblanc taking the stage and Indurain consolidating his overall lead. The climb featured twice more, the second time in 1996 when Denmark's Bjarne Riis dropped to the back of the lead group and checked out his competitors before flying off to a solo victory in an incredible display of power on the way to taking overall victory in Paris (he has since admitted using illegal performance enhancing drugs during that Tour and has surrendered his yellow jersey). The last stage to Hautacam was won by Spain's Javier Otxoa in 2000, who held out against a fast finishing Lance Armstrong, en route to his second Tour win.

After the Ariège, the Haute Garonne and the Hautes-Pyrénées departments on the 2007 Etape du Tour, next year the riders will pass through the Pyrénées Atlantiques and the Hautes-Pyrénées. The start town of Pau is – after Paris and Bordeaux – the third most visited town by the Tour de France, and is also popular with l'Etape, having most recently hosted a start in 2003 and a finish in 2005. The finish in Hautacam is also known for its skiing in the winter and offers extraordinary views of the Pic du Midi and the Val d'Azum.

As usual, the Host Village will be open for two days before the event: on Friday the 4th and Saturday the 5th of July, in Pau. And for the first time this Village will be set up on the Pau racecourse in order to welcome all participants. Bib numbers and all necessary race information may be collected here.

An entry form will appear in the February edition of the French Velo magazine, but riders from outside France will be given the chance to enter via various approved agencies and travel companies.

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