Alpe d’Huez lies at 1860m and enjoys 300 days of sunshine a year, impressive for the Alps. On a good today there are stunning views of surrounding mountains but today every rider who reaches the resort can expect to see the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
Race organiser Christian Prudhomme probably couldn’t imagine a scenario like this. A Frenchman in yellow, several contenders still able to win the race, all on the last mountain stage of the race.
At 109.5km this is almost a sprint and it’s likely the pace is furious from the start. It’s downhill for 14km as the race leaves Modane. Then suddenly the race will turn left and hit the slopes of the Col du Télégraphe.
Straight away the climbing begins with ramps at 8%, there’s no warm-up, no easy start. Once the first three kilometres are out of the way the Col du Télégraphe is regular as the race winds its way through woodland. When riders reach the top of the climb there’s almost no time for recovery, the descent is short and the 4km will fly by.
The Galibier starts. This is the harder side compared to yesterday, being significantly longer. There’s a long ramp at the start of the climb before the road heads up the valley, gradually climbing up but nothing severe. Then comes a wide bend and the race crosses over a small bridge and then edges up a cliff face. It’s here that things get serious. You can see this first ramp in panorama and from there it’s 6km at 8-9%. It’s here that Marco Pantani took off to win the race in 1998 and there’s a new memorial to the Italian.
The race will head through the tunnel at the top and emerge at yesterday’s finish line and then descent yesterday’s finale in reverse, it’s not too technical. But once the Galibier is over riders will head down the other side of the Lautaret. Like yesterday’s climb this is a main road and a lone rider here could suffer. It’s a long descent with a couple of bumps at the bottom to warm up the legs before Alpe d’Huez.
This one of the famous climbs of the Tour de France, a steep road that needs 21 hairpin bends to the ski resort of Alpe d’Huez to climb up steep face… but actually there are 23 hairpin bends to reach the finish line. It’s steep and the hardest part is at the start, the sudden shift from flat roads to 10% and the long ramp to the first bend. Then it’s matter of going on and on to the top amidst hundreds of thousands of cheering fans.
Things flatten out for the finish as the race goes through the ski resort, a chance for the big ring to be deployed before the final uphill finish for 200 metres.
The interesting thing with the stage is the distance. It’ll be very fast from the start. The Dauphiné had a similar stage last month, 117.5km over the Col de la Croix de Fer and then up to the Toussuire ski station and the race was constantly changing shape with new moves coming and going, riders bridging to breakaways and then attacking. By the end the favourites were in charge but some of the early attackers were in the lead group at the finish.
I think we’ll see Frank Schleck in the driving seat, he’s my favourite for the stage. But so far the point of The Spin has been to pinpoint the physical factors that are certain to influence the race rather than the more random aspect of picking winners. It’s just that the Schleck are in a good position but far from safe with Cadel Evans, so the brothers will have to try something. Evans though might pay the price for yesterday’s efforts and he too will want a result, his one minute deficit to Thomas Voeckler and Andy Schleck is not easy to overhaul in the final time trial. The Australian will remember 2008 when he hoped to take back 1.34 of Spanish climber Carlos Sastre on the penultimate stage but only reclaimed about 30 seconds. As for Thomas Voeckler, surely today he loses the jersey, I don’t think he can cope with many accelerations on the final climb but he’s in with a shout of a podium finish and both he and 62 million French citizens would surely settle for that in Paris?
Time Cut: this matters today, with the race going full pelt up the first slopes of the Télégraphe some riders will go out the back almost immediately. Of all days, today is the hardest one for some riders to make the cut-off as there is no space on valley roads to to make up for lost time. For more on the delays, see the Making the Cut post.
Hotels: all the riders get to stay near the finish line in the ski resort. Lucky for them as the transfer is avoided but some riders don’t like sleeping at altitude. As tired as some might be, sleep can be hard to come by because of aching legs and the altitude doesn’t help some to sleep.
Weather: a stage sunny, with a few clouds just above the Galibier pass and the finish. A light breeze except on the weather phenemenon that is the Col du Lautaret where riders can expect an breakaway-ruining unfavorable headwind. 22°C at the start and dropping to 9°C at altitude.