The five day Tour de l'Ain stage race starts tomorrow.
An interesting course with each stage getting progressively harder: A prologue, a flat stage, a bumpy stage, a mid mountain stage, and then a Queen stage mountain top finish.
As usual, the final stage will end at the summit of the Hors Categorie "Col du Grand Colombier." (NOT the easier Col de la Colombière). This fearsome climb was included on our list of 5 Worthy Climbs Ignored by the Tour de France (although there are occasional rumours that the 2012 Tour may add it). They will be climbing the Culoz side (3rd hardest of the 4 possibilities). But still very steep and very Hors Categorie - details of all four sides of this great mountain here.
The start list is a collection of top pro teams mixed with some smaller teams. Podium Cafe favourite Johnny Hoogerland is racing along with several French stars such as John Gadret, JC Peraud, David Moncoutié and 2011 Tour sensation Pierre Rolland.
The Tour de l'Ain began as an amateur race in 1989. First opened to pros in 1993, it is now a UCI class 2.1 race. Haimar Zubeldia won in 2010. Other former winners include Bobby Julich, Axel Merckx, Cyril Dessel, Jerome Pineau, John Gadret, Linus Gerdemann, and Rein Taaramae.
More info and links after the jump
L'Ain (named after the river that runs through it) is the French department just north/west of Geneva. Part of the Rhone-Alpes region, it also borders the Rhone river, across from the department of Haute Savoie. The French part of the Jura mountains are primarily in l'Ain - plenty of beautiful, steep, virtually traffic-free cycling climbs.
Prologue: Tuesday. 3.7 kilometres. Flat. Map / Elevation profile
The Tour starts in Bourg-en-Bresse, the largest city in l'Ain, and renowned for its chickens.
Stage 1: Wednesday: 140 kms. Flat but two Cat 4 climbs early. Map / Elevation profile
Much of the stage passes through the Dombes region with its centuries old man-made lakes.
Stage 2: Thursday. 154 kilomteres. Small Hills. Map / Elevation Profile
A Cat 4 and three Cat 3 climbs, including on just 4 kms from the finish.
Stage 3: Friday. 131 kms. Mountains Map / Elevation Profile
A beautiful route through the Jura mountains including two Cat 1 climbs. The last 10 kms are uphill.
Stage 4: Saturday. 135 kms. Queen Stage !! Map / elevation profile
Don't confuse Col du Grand Colombier with it's easier but more famous Alps neighbour: Col de la Colombière - about 50 kms away. "Colombe" means "dove" but there is nothing peaceful about this slope. It is nasty.
A Final Word:
This "smaller" race is nicely organized. There are various animations at the start / end towns for every stage, as well as a publicity caravan. But best of all from an amateur cyclist's point of view: All the stages are also organized as amateur cyclo-sportives. So before the pros, anyone can ride the identical course as a supported event - very nice!
Below: Views from the - lower slopes of the "Culoz" side of Grand Colombier - Rhone River, and Lac du Bourget in distance.