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The short, sharp final mountain stage has become common in the Tour de France in the last few years. The organisers have correctly reasoned that the best way of guaranteeing excitement towards the end of the Tour, when all the riders are at the limits of fatigue, is to shorten the distance covered, while not compromising on the mountains. This experiment was first conducted in 2011, on the same route as this stage, and it was so successful, it has become a regular feature.
The route, on paper, is a classic one, but suffered a late change due to a closed tunnel alongside th Chabron lake and risk of a major landslide. ASO has confirmed that the stage will cover the same distance but climb the col de la Crox-de-Fer instead of the Galibier.
The Alpe is by far the most-visited finishing climb at the Tour, and it attracts huge crowds. Its 21 hairpin bends, each bearing a plaque with the name of a previous Alpe stage winner, are as integral a part of the Tour as the Champs Elysées, the yellow jersey and sun-drenched fields of sunflowers.
The 2011 stage on this route was hugely exciting, helped by the compression of the action into just a few hours, rather than over five or six. After a 25km shallow descent down the Maurienne valley, the route starts climbing the Col de la Croix-de-Fer. It is a grinding 29km long, with the steepest parts near the bottom before a easier middle section and a gradual kick up to the summit. The descent is testing before hitting the Bourg valley in Allemont, which leads to Bourg d'Oisans at the base of Alpe d’Huez. The Alpe is, along with Plateau de Beille, one of the two hardest summit finishes in this year’s Tour.
In 2011, the GC riders were split up by pressure from Alberto Contador, forcing a spectacular series of pursuits and fragmented groups up the Galibier. It was hugely exciting. But the only problem with this particular route was revealed on the descent of the Lautaret, where a headwind blew – the groups got organised and slowly pulled back Contador and the small handful of rivals who’d followed. The race detonated again on the Alpe, but the actual result was less exciting than the racing which produced it. Depending on which way the wind blows this time, the 2015 Tour could yet be decided on this final day in the mountains.
Stats & Facts
- Alpe d’Huez has hosted 28 previous stage finishes, more than any other summit climb.
- The man in yellow after the Alpe d’Huez stage often goes on to win the Tour. It’s happened 22 times, against six against. That number will rise to 23 this year.
- However, the Alpe stage winner has only ever gone on to win the Tour two times, against 24 who have not. (Lance Armstrong did do it twice before being stripped of his yellow jerseys.
0km Start Modane 13:10
26km HC climb Col de la Croix-de-Fer 14:05
95.5km Sprint Bourg d’Oisans 15:50
110.5km HC climb/Finish Alpe d’Huez 16:32
The text in this preview first appeared in the July edition of ProCycling magazine.