Orcières Merlette

France

Fast and pretty.

First celebrated in the history of the Tour de France in 1971, Orcières Merlette is a purpose-built alpine resort found on the edge of the Ecrins National Park, France. Over 11km, the climb ascends 638m and has an average gradient of 6% (max 9%).

This climb will be a 2020 Tour de France stage finish – the rolling and very scenic road travels from the gateway town of Gap towards Col de Manse, to the start of the climb at Pont de Corbière. Along this route, the signs can be confusing as some distances are indicated in miles, some in kilometres, and some in both!

At Pont de Corbière – it is time to hit “LAP” and segregate effort. To be said, the official start does not feel particularly like a start to a climb, as it is relatively flat and fast. A handy tailwind can also help push you along.

It is only after the first few kilometres where the increased gradient becomes noticeable. After the road passes a river, the views start to be leading ‘up’. It is not surprisingly, the Tour de France classifies the start of the climb, here, at Bousensayes.

1st of September 2020. Tour de France.

The road is wide, then narrows significantly – a pinch point, whereby being well-positioned in the peloton will be key.

Past the church, which is prominent in the landscape from afar, the climb continues on freshly laid, silky smooth, glass-like surface. Since the gradient is not as savage as many Tour de France climbs – the pace-up this will be furious.

The business end.

The climb is also a little deceptive. It features some false summits – where you think you’re at the final bend, then to realise, the end is far from sight. Also, here, either the wind is a friend or also a foe – and it would be easy to go too hard too early and forget that there are still many metres of climbing.

In riding higher, the valley opens up, and the evening sun in the summer gives a golden sheen on the landscape. The mountains surrounding are steep, green, and sculpted – all making for some gorgeous views, almost painterly.

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

For a climb, this finish is going to be fast.

It will be a stage finish available for climbers and riders (such as Sagan) to take the win.

The finish: a final turn before a sprint to the line – all happening in the centre of the village. Finishing in front of the Office du Tourisme.

The bike.