The Spin: Dauphiné Stage 5

The race heads for the mountains and the Grand Colombier. It is not a famous climb.

But consider this for a moment: the Col du Galibier from Valloire is 18.1km long and averages 6.9%. The Grand Colombier from Culoz is 18.1km long and averages 6.9%.

Before you leap to the comments, there are some obvious differences, notably altitude. The Grand Colombier tops out at 1501m, almost the starting point for the Galibier which rises from 1400m to a giant 2646m where the reduced partial pressure of oxygen becomes more than noticeable during effort, it extracts a price for any acceleration. But the Grand Colombier can trump the Galibier in other ways, notably the gradient. If the average for Grand Colombier is 6.9%, this is a redundant statistic because the climb is know for its irregularity, one minute the slope is 14%, the next it is 2%. There are even two short downhill sections.

Grand Colombier gradients

This irregularity makes it a hard climb to judge. Riders will need to work the derailleur and they will climb at variable pace, winching themselves up one minute and then rolling fast the next. But if you’re a bad day it means you struggle on the steep ramps and when it eases up you’re left gasping for air whilst the fresher riders power away.

The Tour de France has never tackled it, the mountain has not had the chance to enter cycling mythology. This will begin to change in July when it is used for the first time. Today’s stage is a copycat of the Tour’s Stage 10 with roughly two thirds of the same route. If it’s not been in the Tour de France, the peloton is no stranger to the climb as it’s been a staple of the Tour de l’Ain every August and the Dauphiné itself has climbed it once in 1988.

The descent is worth a mention too. For just as the climb features some steep ramps the descent is equally steep. It’s selective on the way up but dangerous on the way down. Many riders have visited the climb in reconnaissance ahead of the Tour de France so hopefully there are no nasty surprises.

For all the climb brings steep gradients worthy of the Giro d’Italia to this race and the Tour de France, there’s a long way to the finish. From the top there’s 68km to the finish line, some 70-80 minutes of racing. The Col de Richemond features but it’s 7km at 4%. It’ll be interesting to see who has their mountain legs, especially to check how Wiggins is climbing.

In the Tour de France the finish will be closer. So we’ll see what the favourites do today, will someone amongst the top contenders have a go? Or is there too far to go from the main climb to the finish. Instead it seems likely a breakaway is allowed some room, especially since it’ll be wet. David Moncoutié is an obvious pick, the Frenchman is climbing well and has won in the Tour de l’Ain before. But there will be many others looking to exploit the terrain, for example Thomas Voeckler gave up five minutes yesterday and his team mate Pierre Rolland had a stinker, losing time in the time trial and then getting a two minute penalty for “excessive drafting”, presumably of another rider who passed him.

But don’t exclude some kind of bunch sprint. Some sprinters and fast finishes who lose time on the big climb might have time to get back on and then win from a reduced peloton, for example Boasson Hagen. The finish in Rumilly is flat, a roundabout with 800m should be ok and then it’s straight to the line on a road six metres wide.

Weather: wet. Heavy rain is expected to clear in the afternoon but it could still be pouring during the climb of the Grand Colombier and its steep descent. Temperatures will reach 20°C (68°F).

TV: annoying it looks like the live coverage will start about the time the riders reach the top of the Grand Colombier so we won’t get to see up close how the riders are climbing. With the feed beginning around 3.00pm Euro time you can tune in for the descent and the remainder of the stage.

Food: the local dish in the Jura is quenelle de brochet sauce nantua, or pike – a freshwater predatory fish – in pastry with crayfish butter sauce.

Geography: the race isn’t in the Alps. Instead the Grand Colombier is part of the Jura, a chain of calcite mountains formed well before the Alps, in fact they have given their name to the Jurassic era (yes, as in “park”). They stretch in an arc from France across to Switzerland but which have been used very sparingly in the Tour de France. Whilst the Col du Grand Colombier is indeed a pass over the top, the actual pass is only a tiny gap. Instead think of the Grand Colombier as a large shoebox-shaped mountain and the race will ride right over the top, a bit like Mont Ventoux. The climb is said by some to be a furnace, especially on the lower slopes where the rocks reflect the heat. In fact it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity. The area around the bottom of the climb is marsh alongside the Rhone river and so humidity is high and when riders sweat, it doesn’t evaporate.

20 thoughts on “The Spin: Dauphiné Stage 5”

  1. Was looking forward to how Wiggins tackled the Colombier following his blitz of yesterdays TT, obviously no thanks to eurosport who have denied me this pleasure – poor scheduling as usual, that’s if they even show the race at all – wouldn’t be surprised to find Womens Tennis taking its place!

    • Its been on eurosport 2. I know the coverage isn’t great but I’m just glad Murdoch hasn’t got his claws into covering the races yet!

  2. Let’s see who attacks on the Grand Colombier… I see that Movistar and Rabobank have a decent set of well-positioned climbers to launch long-range collective action, and force Sky to chase hard. Let’s see if the audacity is there.

    • I’m willing to forgive Eurosport a little for showing the French Open, it is a fairly major sporting event after all (though I don’t see why the online Eurosport player can’t just add an additional Dauphine channel to the 5 additional tennis channels they have, I don’t even care if it has commentary!).

      Today though I am particularly aggrieved – they weren’t even showing tennis (on British Eurosport at least) they were showing ‘Beach Soccer’. That’s not even a proper sport, its a novelty!

  3. Nice preview. Excited to finally see this mountain start to get noticed by the Dauphine and soon the Tour.

    At least the Tour stage has the mountains a little closer to the finish.

    Maybe they can cycle up all 4 sides in 2013?

  4. I can’t see anything happening in terms of the GC guys today. Sky will probably ride tempo over the climbs and the people who fancy a result in the race will wait for Saturday.

    • There seems enough distance between the top of the climb and the finish for any small breakaway groups to get caught. It seems (based on the Giro this year) that time has been taken by the lead contenders when the finish is a mountain top one, and one breaks away for a few seconds gap.

  5. A typical “ASO” mountain stage, hours of downhill to allow any rider on half a bad day the opportunity to get back on, and compounding that is the TV schedule which as Inr says comes on after the racing for the day is over.
    That said, if (and its a big if, in modern cycling) someone puts in a massive dig and gets clear of the yellow by a few minutes on the top of the final climb it will be interesting to see the reaction, do they chase it down or save their team for July?

    • What is worrying me more is the downhill aspect. So early in the tour and then a very dangerous descent. Yes, I know that being capable of descending is a big part of the game. And yes, I know that in the Tour 2011 the descents were also risky but very exciting and that i was lamenting on the Schlecks for their complaints. But especially early in a Tour with many contenders still in the race and within seconds of each other, it seems strange to plan risky finals in a stage.

      What do you think of the first week of Tour 2012? Are the finals in the first week typical sprintstages or are they as dangerous as last year?

  6. By the way, on the subject of accurate numbers in the mountains… ASO reckons the climb is 17.4km but I stated 18.1 at the top of the piece. The difference is counts the route right from the start of the town centre whilst ASO say it begins from a junction on the way out of town.

  7. I haven’t checked but I would say one would get good odds on Wiggins for the The Tour. I’d say odds will drop if he wins this race.

  8. Just thinking out loud, but it can’t be long before we may see an entirely British sky squad for one of the one-week stage races.
    It may not be the absolute best Sky team, but you’d be hard pressed to find weaknesses in a quad consisting of…
    Wiggins, Cavendish, Froome, Thomas, Kennaugh, Stannard, Swift, Dowsett, Hayman (or pick between Tiernan-Locke, Rowe and Hunt).

    It would a fantastic publicity in the UK!

  9. Wow!! i think its safe to say Frandy will not be winning the tour this year! you can say he was in poor form at the tour of swiss last year before the tour but did he win the tour last year..No!

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