Grand Colombier, big ideas

Grand Colombier

The 2012 Tour de France hasn’t been announced but the blogosphere has a good take on the route already. Whilst rumours circulate it seems several reports are confirming that the first mountain stage will feature the Grand Colombier climb in the Alps. It sits above the Lac du Bourget near Aix Les Bains and regardless of the route to the top this a hard climb with double-digit gradients and ramps at 20%  at times. Many riders will know it from the Tour de l’Ain race held every August.

It won’t be a summit finish as the race will descend to the nearby town of Bellegarde for the finish. But it marks a change in the attitude of the Tour de France organisers. I found the 2011 race benefited from the first week’s use of uphill finishes to vary the outcome each day; many of you will remember the days when the first week saw sprint finishes day after day. Now it’s not just the first week that is being modified but the whole attitude of the race.

If you tried to learn French geography via the Tour de France you could get a good appreciation of the country but when the race visited the Alps you would get the impression that only a few roads existed. For sure the likes of the Galibier and the Izoard connect important valleys but France has a vast road network and there are so many routes in the Alps that have been ignored by the Tour de France. This has been in part-logistical, the Tour de France caravanne is so big that small roads are out of the question. It’s been part-financial with big corporate-owned ski resorts keen to host the race and outbidding more modest towns. But there’s been a conservative element too that saw the race returning to the same roads years after year. A bit like someone visiting a restaurant who always orders the same dish.

J-F Pescheux
Pescheux looking for new roads

Now though it seems that Tour director Jean-François Pescheux is looking for new roads. Some are being tested in the Dauphiné race, now owned by Tour de France organisers ASO and others are tried by the Tour de l’Avenir. Either way the Tour is changing a format that stood still for years, partly – it seems – inspired by the Giro d’Italia’s innovations. Whilst steep climbs like the Angliru and Zoncolan have been staples of the Vuelt and Giro the Tour de France has tended to stick to more accessible climbs.

The Grand Colombier is a steep climb and reconnaissance will be essential. And not just for the ascent but the descent too for this is just as technical.

15 thoughts on “Grand Colombier, big ideas”

  1. i think he was “moved aside” for being a little too combative in his actions and his words to teams complaining about the difficulty rather than simply making the difficulty itself.

  2. I’m surprised any race uses this road, as it’s very narrow, with precipitous drops in places that have no margin for error. Andy Schleck would hate it!

    There’s another road in the same area that is very challenging, the Mont du Chat further south on the western shore of the Lac du Bourget. It’d be an interesting stage if they could include both these climbs.

  3. Qwerty: it is hard but not too long and with a descent the gaps might not be too big. But as the say you can lose the race. I’d suggest the Schlecks visit this time and time again and employ a coach to help them descend.

    Ken: I think they got rid of the time bonuses in a bid to simplify the rules so I’d be surprised if that came back.

    Marty: I think there were several things but I should add that if this marks a change for the Tour, the climb is not that wild. Steep and narrow but not that long. As jkeltgv says, scaring off the best riders and upsetting team managers wasn’t ideal.

    Andy Powers: the Dauphiné has done the Mont du Chat, that is a very hard one. In fact there are many of these climbs but they are not always ones you can drive a big vehicle up. But the TV spectacle is now taking primacy over the needs of the publicity caravan.

  4. I wouldn’t describe this road as particularly narrow versus any other small road in France – it’s far wider than Grosse Scheidegg for example in last years TdS. Not too bad at all. I think it’s a very exciting addition.

    I think the descents could be slightly crazy descending on the side they pick – they certainly can’t pick the side with the 22% stretch. The side closest to Bellegarde has a fairly long, very steep, very straight stretch where we might see horrific speeds.

  5. Schlecks need a TT coach first and foremost. for the descending well, a winter trying out a few different extreme sports might do them the world of good.
    This climb is not going to work if it not put in the right place. It all smacks of hype. I think I will still be falling asleep in front of the TV next July.
    Vive il Giro!

  6. Why is it people continually insult Andy Shleck’s TT ability? It always seems to be exaggerated out of proportion. Andy came 17th, a remarkably better time trial than he did in previous years.

    Yes he lost the tour in the TT, yes Cadel Evans completely owned him but people are allowing that to cloud their judgement. Cadel was 7 seconds off the World Champion and arguably the best TT’er this year, all year. That was a phenomenal ride.

    Andy finished 2’31 down on that ride but look at the others around him: Cancellara finished only 46 seconds ahead of him, cyclists known for their TT’ing (such as Westra, Coppel, Millar etc) finished behind him.

    Andy is not one of my favourite riders, in fact I despise some of the comments he’s made over the last couple of years, but I think people have been too harsh on his TT’ing. Even now once the dust has settled from the TDF people are still leaping to the same exclamations. It is a weak point though, at least compared to other climbers like Evans and Contador and he still needs to work on it, not trying to make out like it’s all peaches and roses either.

  7. Good point @ Cameron. Evans just blew his socks off in the last TT. But you know we the fans love taking the mickey and feeling expert when in reality both of the brothers would put us in the ditch as the flew past on their TT bikes. We have no clue.

  8. Sammy Sanchez FTW! Bomb the “narrow” descent (assuming he drops Sagan – a joke)…

    Seriously, though, change is good. The same old, same old gets boring.

  9. I was thinking just this when I was suffering up this beast in the amateur version of the Tour de L’Ain this year! The cyclosportive version is run on the same roads just a few hours before the pros and takes in each of the stages and is a very well run event.

    While this final stage of the L’Ain had a summit finish on the Grand Colombier I can say that there will be huge gaps even if there is a descent at the end and possibly even more so. Any descent off this beast would be more technical than any in the 2011 Tour.

    Let the craziness begin!

  10. Andy Schleck needs a proper bike fit, then he might be able to reach the drops, rather than being locked into that stretched-out locked arm position he’s always in. He might be able to descend properly then!

    Good to see the organisers are thinking outside the usual climbs; as much as I enjoy the Tourmalet and the like, there’s no reason why some new discoveries can’t hit classic status. They’ve only been using the Mortirolo at the Giro since 1991, haven’t they?

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