The Spin – Stage 10

The first mountain stage of the race, some have dismissed today’s route as the main climb is too far from the finish, meaning there’s time for riders to regroup and recover instead of allowing an attacker to power to the finish. That’s true, but only just as the climb is so big that time taken isn’t easy to pull back.

The Tour’s handbook lists this as one of only three étapes de grande difficulté or “stages of great difficulty” owing to the climbing and the distance.

  • Km 90.0 – Côte de Corlier 6.4 kilometre-long climb at 5.5% – category 2
  • Km 151.5 – Col du Grand Colombier (1 501 m)17.4 kilometre-long climb at 7.1% – category HC
  • Km 174.0 – Col de Richemond 7.2 kilometre-long climb at 5% – category 3

The Route: flat and easy to start with, the race leaves the wine town of Macon and heads across the plains of the Saône, going east towards the Bugey, an area of the Jura mountains in France. The first climb of the day is the Côte de Corlier, a steady ascension that shouldn’t pose any problems, if anything it’ll help the legs after the rest day. The race then crosses a plateau before descending.

The Intermediate Sprint: the race comes off the descent from the Plateau and then there’s a straightforward approach to the sprint along the valley road. The climbing before this point shouldn’t worry the likes of Sagan and Goss too much but others might be up the road to mop up the points. It comes right before the big climb.

The Grand Colombier: race director Jean-François Pescheux says the Grand Colombier is the hardest climb in France. A bit of hype is understandable. But consider this, 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%. Obviously the Galibier soars to 2645m meaning the air is thinner but in retort the Grand Colombier has sections at 12-14% along the way making it steeper in parts. But today the riders have no choice, the Grand Colombier awaits for the first time ever in the Tour de France.

At 17km this is a long climb but the distinctive aspect is the irregularity of the gradient. From the moment it leaves the town of Culoz it has steep sections where the road ramps up to a gradient of 12%-14% then flattens, then rises again and this happens several times on the way up. This makes it harder, especially for a rider who is struggling as the changes of pace are abrupt. Note the two green sections, brief moments when the big ring can be deployed and, if a rider has attacked, a chance to pull away whilst others behind look for someone to chase. Altogether the climb is probably 50 minutes long, an effort that is longer than climbing Alpe d’Huez and more technical.

Talking of technical, the descent is very tricky. Those steep slopes on the way up are mirrored on the way down and so a rider clear over the top can expect to stay clear on the way down as it’s hard to chase on such steep slopes although things ease after a few kilometres.

Col de Richemond: the profile at the top of the page is deceptive, instead look to the numbers which say this is 7km at 5%. In other words it is not much. It’s here where a chase can be organised. Indeed when the Dauphiné borrowed a similar route in the Dauphiné back in June, Evans jumped away with some BMC team mates but Sky got them back on this climb, including a chest-beating display of power by Bradley Wiggins. in It has a downhill section before the final sprint to the top. Unlike the Colombier, the descent off here is not technical with just a couple of hairpins and plenty of fresh tarmac.

The Finish: after the descent of the Col de Richemond the road climbs up to a village called Billiat and this looks is the last chance for a stage winner to attack if they are worried about being outsprinted by rivals.

Then it is a fast descent into Bellegarde with what looks like a detour via the town’s industrial estate and then an uphill finish. As you can see the last 2.5km drift upwards and the final kilometre averages 4.8%, enough to make the sprint tactical.

The Strategy: yes the top of the main climb is some way from the finish… but all the more reason to attack early on the Grand Colombier. I’m not sure this will happen but the ideal scenario for the challengers of Wiggins is to send some riders up the road in an early breakaway. Once the serious climbing begins the team leader attacks and then finds a team mate or two waiting for him up the road, to pace him for as long as possible. Sky will have – in their stock phrase – “trained for that” so they won’t let anyone get too far ahead. If Evans or Nibali wants to jump on the climb, ok. But they’ll be winched back in.

With a good chance that an early breakaway stays away – as happened in the Dauphiné when similar roads were used – it’s hard to pick a stage winner. But if the main contenders start racing hard on the Grand Colombier then the lead group will thin down very quickly and we should see the big names contest the uphill finish in Bellegarde. A stage win for Cadel Evans perhaps?

Weather: a top temperature of 23°C (73°F) but much of the stage will be cooler at altitude by a few degrees. A light breeze of 10km/h from the west offers the slightest of tailwinds. The foot of the Grand Colombier is surrounded by the mighty Rhone river and some marshland and riders say it makes the air very humid, making the start of the climb even more asphyxiating.

TV: live from 2.00pm Euro time with the finish expected between 5.00-5.30pm. As usual it is shown on many broadcasters around the world or see the likes of or for pirate internet feeds.

Local Rider: first a mention to the “Eagle of Bugey” Roger Pingeon who lives on the route near the feedzone in Hauteville. He won the Tour in 1967 and isn’t dissimilar from Bradley Wiggins as a tall rider with the rangy legs of a heron.

Less glorious but more touching, spare a thought for Maxime Bouet of Agr La Mondiale who was born nearby. His mother died of cancer in 2010 and her ashes were scattered across the top of the Grand Colombier. Once a week his father rides up the climb in tribute to his late wife and if there’s a rider trying to get in the breakaway today, it’s Maxime.

Do: if you’re a rider say merci to Christian Prudhomme and Jean-François Pescheux for including this route up the Grand Colombier because there are steeper roads to the top.

Don’t: confuse this with the Alps and the Col de la Colombière. The race goes into the Alps tomorrow but today uses the Jura mountains. As many are discovering – including the Tour organisers – there are more mountain ranges in France than the Alps and Pyrenees.

29 thoughts on “The Spin – Stage 10”

  1. I have put my money on Taaramae, thinks he can follow, Evans, Wiggins, Froome and Nibali, to the top of Grand Colombier and Col de Richemond, but can he beat them on the way down???

    Rolf er ren

  2. If Evans or Nibs have ANY chance, they have to attack Wiggens where he is weakest, and this is when the road gets steep. Even if they bring Froome, this could be to their advantage. If Wiggo cannot hold on, this forces Froome to have to choose, and this can cause discord and confusion on Sky.

    But there are only a few of these opportunities. A lot of people have been claiming that we need to wait until the Alps and Pyrenees. But the Alps especially are suited to Wiggo. Those are grinding climbs, without the steeper pitches. It is perfect for guys like Wiggo (and Basso and Lepheimer) who prefer a more TT style, even paced climbing style.

    In a way, you have to hand it to Prudhomme. He designed this year’s Tour wonderfully. Chapeau.

  3. Very cool to see all these new climbs and towns in the Tour this year. Next year is the 100th, no? That probably means a return to the classic stages and climbs. This parcours is a nice juxtaposition to what I expect out of next year’s.

  4. Wiggins won’t break down with just one day of attacking. Evans/Nibali/JVDB will have to attack constantly today and then again tomorrow. Menchov will just sit there at the back and take advantage of others, I really don’t understand what’s the deal with him. It will be a ‘steal’ in the literal sense if he finishes on the podium.

    Sky will try to make the race boring but given the predicament of other protagonists, there will be attacks and lot of tactical moves. All in all, it will make for great racing even if Wiggins is going to win the MJ.

  5. Today is Cuddles and Nibbles… I expect Liquigas to set one of its idiotic tempos up the Grand Colombier, with 25 riders following, with Nibali accelerating a little on the descent and getting caught on the Richemond, and then saying “we did what we could”.
    Now seriously, ragazzi: Basso and Szmyd can reduce the field to 8 people in the first 4 kms of the climb, no problem, then it’s up to Nibali.

    • Worked wonders for Basso in the Giro, didn’t it… Maybe different if he’s not the one following the wheels but the Liquigas big push/asphyxiation in the mid/late Giro didn’t amount to much, if I remember rightly.

  6. As Marc Sergeant said yesterday, let’s hope that the GC top 10 doesn’t start defending their ranking, but that we see a fireworks of attacks. I agree with Cat4Fodder, they need to attack relentlessly on the steeper section, forcing SKY to make a difficult choice.

    Am delighted to “see” these more unknown climbs (= listen to radio + twitterfeed) in the tour!

    As we say in Flanders “laat de koers maar beginnen”

  7. You write this:

    “But consider this, 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%.”,

    but at the same time, the profile of the climb says it’s 17.4km long and 7.1% in average.

    So which is it?

    • Good question. When the race crossed for the Dauphiné it was 17.4 and 7.2% so it seems to vary.

      Obviously the mountain doesn’t move and the finish is fixed. Instead it depends on the starting point as there are several roads up through the town of Culoz at the bottom. My Galibier comparison ignored those, using the start point set by, a website with a database of climbs. ASO by contrast want to make the climb as long and steep as possible!

  8. From a Sky perspective, I should imagine the DS’s will want Froome to shepherd Wiggins through the mountains, but if Wiggins is not strong enough to get through the mountains without help, then they could be shooting themselves in the foot? Especially if Froome hangs back.

    Is Froome more likely to stay with the Cuddles/Nibbles combination in the mountains? If he is, then surely Sky should consider asking him to stay with that pair at all costs, leaving Brad with the task of keeping up with them. It seems counter-productive for Froome to pull Wiggins through the mountains if he is the more capable of the two.

    • I assume it is quite clear for SKY, Wiggins is the leader! Based on this they will (and have been) riding the tour. Wiggins is not explosive (the same goes for Evas and Nibali / I think this is their main problem) so all the team will ride at high tempo with the most strong rider (Froome) doing the job last..

      Personally I would be a happier person if Froome was given the chance to shine, but is it in his contract???

  9. Anyone know roughly what time they’re due to arrive at the bottom of the Colombier? I have to drive two hours this afternoon 🙁 If I can time it so I make it for the main event that would make me less depressed at missing the most exciting looking stage of the tour so far.

  10. Maybe this is a bit of a noddy question, but there are times when I can’t make sense of the system for classifying climbs.

    I know it’s a function of gradient and distance, but is it a fixed formula or something more subtle?

    • There is a rough formula, but the results can vary. E.g. if a climb is at the end of a 250 km ultra-stage, it can be shifted up a class, or down if it’s at teh start of a short one. And elevation counts too. It’s a subjective rating and it can be changed for ‘marketing’ reasons as well. Furthermore, you can’t compare it between different races.
      There’s lots of formulas to determine how hard a climb is, but in the end the only thing that really determines that is what pace you ride. Let’s say there are two roads up a mountain, starting and ending at the same point. One is steep and short, the other shallow and long. If you ride them up in the same time, the steep one is easier. At the same speed, the shallow one is easier. In a race, an important factor is that the steeper the gradient, the less advantage you have from drafting.

      • Thanks for that.

        I was confused because there is a 4km climb near where I live in the Lot that was classified as Cat
        3 one year, and Cat 4 when they went up it a couple of years later.

        Mind you, to my old legs it feels like a Cat 1. 😉

  11. Sorry if this is a silly question;
    Why are Sky at the front at the moment setting the pace and using energy to chase the lead group? don’t they have the least to lose with Wiggins and Froome at the top end of the GC? I would have thought it would be the likes of AG2R and Movistar pushing for Roche and Costa to counter the threat of Scarponi.

    • There are a number of possible reasons, for example, the lead group contained some BMC riders so it could be that they were keeping the pace high to stop Cadel Evans from jumping off the front and joining his team mates.

  12. Can I just launch into song in honour of Tommy V- ‘He’s a Frankie Doodle Dandy, born on the fourteenth of July……’.
    Is Voeckler being tested for e-numbers btw? My two year okl son, also a Tom, is more predictable than M. Voeckler was on that climb. I firmly expect to see a fellow rider push him sideways one day.
    Also, is it time for a stage to end halfway down a slope? It was obvious that Nibali was going to get hauled in today.

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