The Etape du Tour is one of the highlights of the European sportive calendar and is the yearly goal of many a British rider. Last year saw the event split into two, with the tough medium mountain stage of Issoire to St Flour somewhat eclipsed by the chance to ride the Galibier and Alpe d'Huez.
This year though there's two equally tough challenges, in fact it's difficult to say which would be the bigger draw. On the one hand there's a summit finish alpine stage that may well be decisive in the race itself; on the other a long Pyrenean day with five legendary climbs. Let's have a look...
Acte 1: Albertville - La Toussuire, Les Sybelles, Sunday 8 July 2012
Okay it's not the longest stage at 140km, but you'd better believe you're in for a tough day. From the start at 345m the first job is to crest the 2,000m Col de la Madeleine, so that's a vertical mile of climbing in the first 40km. Then a huge descent into St Etienne de Cuines before a second hike a mile into the sky, over the 2,067 Col de la Croix de Fer.
A quick bump of the Col du Mollard on the way down deposits you at St Jean de Maurienne, ahead of the final climb to the ski station at La Toussuire at an altitude of 1,705m. That looks like a hard day at the office for the pros, and promises to be a real grind for all you sportivistes too.
Acte 2: Pau - Bagnères de Luchon, Saturday 14 July
The Aubisque. The Soulour. The Tourmalet. The Aspin. The Peyresourde. Five names that pretty much guarantee a hard day at the office. The Tourmalet, at 2,115m, is the king of them all, It's climbed from the longer side on this route meaning a 1,650m vertical ascent from Adast. After that and the 1,709m Aubisque, the Aspin will seem like a walk in the park.
Then it's just the steep and tricky Peyresourde before you can barrel down into Bagneres for a well earned cuppa. At 197km it's a long mountain stage too, and there's very little in the way of flat valley sections. If you're not going up, the you're going down.
So which one do you fancy? There's no easy option. With the massively increased capacity from two separate etapes there's a bit less competition for places, but you can still expect both to sell out before the event. If you're going from the UK there's a good number of travel companies offering packages to suit most pockets, so have a shop around to see who's offering what. And get training!
Dave is a founding father of road.cc and responsible for kicking the server when it breaks. In a previous life he was a graphic designer but he's also a three-time Mountain Bike Bog Snorkelling world champion, and remains unbeaten through the bog. Dave rides all sorts of bikes but tends to prefer metal ones. He's getting old is why.