So … just a short stage today for our cyclist heroes: a mere 168km to Alpe d’Huez finishing with 30km of ascent in two bits, totalling 2500 vertical metres of uphill at an average gradient of about 8% with 42 hairpins and a maximum pitch of 14%. Nourriture de poulet.
According to the official Tour website – http://www.letour.com/le-tour/2013/us/stage-18/news/enj/the-answerz-42.html – “Anyone who knows anything about the Tour de France recognises that this climb is one that ignites the passions of the fans perhaps more than any other. It is the site of the first mountain top finish of the race and it is destined to have a significant impact on the race.”
This one, who knows almost nothing about the Tour de France, is chastened to learn that the Mont Ventoux does not count as a mountain – the merest pimple, a bagatelle. What a macho world they inhabit, these Grands Boucleurs.
“Contador will attack and maybe Froome will fold,” predicts whoever has the job of hyping up the race each day.
For a more sober assessment see http://inrng.com/2013/07/tour-de-france-stage-18-preview/ which suggests (a) the downhill bit of the stage will be more likely to produce an upset, (b) tomorrow’s stage is actually more demanding, and (c) the climb to Alpe d’Huez is not in fact 21 hairpins, but 23. Is nothing sacred?
Further details of the famous climb from Bourg d’Oisans, including a bend by bend description of la montée mythique, are to be found on the Alpe d’Huez website http://www.alpedhuez.com/fr/ete/velo-montagne/cyclisme-sur-route.html which tells us that 400 cyclotouristes do it every day, many of them officially timed using the www.timtoo.com system. Every year 2000 of them hobble away with a certificate commemorating their achievement and their time. For the record, the record is 37 minutes 35 seconds, by Pantani in 1997. Does the cool foggy/stormy weather predicted for today’s stage finish make a new record more or less likely?
For those who like the spur of a competitive peloton, the tourist office organises a group ascent from Bourg d’Oisans every Wednesday until September 4th. About 70 cyclists usually turn up for this jolly outing.
La montée mythique is indeed well and truly outdone by the annual Marmotte cyclosportive race which sees 7000 brave cyclists tackle a 174km course from Bourg-d’Oisans to Alpe-d’Huez via the Glandon (1 818 m), Télégraphe (1 570 m), Galibier (2 642 m) and Lautaret (2 057 m). Total climbing: 5000 vertical metres. What a shame, we are just too late to enter this year’s Marmotte.
Alpe d’Huez considers itself the most fashionable of southern French ski resorts, and likes us to refer to it in the same breath as Courchevel and Megève. Perhaps some of us do. It certainly counts as one of the more colourful après-ski resorts. My best evening there was spent mostly in a bar inelegantly named the WYC (for Whisky Yacht Club) which may win a podium place in the competition for French abbreviations that are longer than the words they abbreviate, the winner being www.
The resort sprawls across a vast high alp and is a natural sun trap, surrounded by an immensity of nursery slope with some terrific steep skiing at higher altitude. This topography explains the World’s Longest Black Run claim for the 16km Sarenne piste: about the first kilometre is steep, the rest pretty flat – for a downhill skier, if not for an uphill cyclist. According to the Tour de France the average gradient of the 3km climb to the Col de Sarenne is 7.8%, which suggests green might be a more appropriate grading than black, for this bit of piste.
Alpe d’Huez’s not very catchy slogan is ‘l’ile au soleil’ which sounds too much like ‘Lille in the Sunshine’ for my liking. Apparently 700,000 cyclospectateurs will be there this afternoon. I hope they stay dry.