Twice up Galiber, twice up Alpe d’Huez?
The Tour de France route is announced next week. Every year though the details leak out and you can get a pretty good idea of where the race is going. The start in the Vendée region has already been announced. With time you get to join the dots after local newspapers and radio begins to leak the news, hints of a stage finish here, a summit finish there. There’s even a dedicated blog to stitch together the rumours.
Others get wind of the route in advance. Pro photographer Graham Watson’s apparently already booked his hotels for July, although he says he’s waiting until the presentation to get it confirmed.
The big theme for the 2011 Tour will be the Alps. Just as last summer’s version celebrated the Pyrenees, next year marks the centennial of the Tour’s first trip into the Alps. A “summit” finish is planned for the Galibier, although it’s a mountain pass and not a peak so there can’t be a summit. Indeed the finish is expected to be near the tunnel and the Henri Desgrange memorial (to commemorate the founder of the Tour) which is not even at the top of the pass. Nevertheless that’s still 2,400 metres high.
The race is expected to visit Italy and the Colle de Pra Martino is expected to feature. I don’t think it’s been used in the Tour but the Giro d’Italia used it in 2009 where it where it proved a decisive moment of the race. Of course the riders make the race but sections at over 15% means the gradient has its say too.
The race will return to France via the Fréjus Tunnel and there’s supposed to be a stage from Modane, just in France, to Alpe d’Huez, via the Galibier. Only this route is only 109km. A short stage could still be exciting but it is exceptionally short.
There’s now talk that the stage could feature two climbs of Alpe d’Huez. The idea is that the race climbs up to Alpe d’Huez and then takes a back road which keeps on climbing up to 1999m. Then follows a tough descent which has for years been passable but only just, thanks to large storm drains at first and then later down the road gets very narrow and large sections see rockfall covering the road meaning the steepest sections are pretty tough. Then the road opens up and it’s a long descent to get down and the race loops round to the foot of the Alpe and up again.
This double-ascension is a stunt but it borrows from innovations in the Giro. Above all, huge crowds on the Alpe could encourage a lively first ascension, especially if the riders know being near the front is essential for a safe descent. And the Alpe is a tough climb, it starts steep and continues. No, it’s not the hardest climb but twice is quite something.
If climbing the Alpe twice is original, it’s also a sign of the Tour sticking to familiar territory. The nearby Col d’Ornon has only been climbed five times for example. But the double Alpe / Sarenne version is going to be a lot harder than anything else around.
In summary, it looks like we’re going to get a real Alpine festival including some steep and relatively unknown climbs. The route is announced next week and I’ll try to give a full impression soon after the route is announced.