The Tour de France isn’t just a bike race. It’s a three-week-long commercial break, and the product it is advertising is France itself. While the Velon company pushes on-bike cameras as part of the future of cycling broadcasting, and super slow-motion cameras capture scrawny arms vibrating at 2,000 frames per second, it’s the panoramic landscape shots from the television helicopter which are the producers’ favourite. And today will have the single defining panoramic landscape shot of the whole Tour: the climb of Lacets de Montvernier.
Lacets de Montvernier is where road engineering meets calligraphy – a perfectly-formed curving line of symmetrical switchbacks on a steep-sided valley (the direct translation of ‘lacet’ is ‘shoelace’). When the peloton, or what’s left of it, is on this climb, the television shots will be as memorable as the race itself.
It’s a hard stage. The first half is a constant barrage of second and third-category climbs, followed by the Col du Glandon. Don’t be fooled by the relatively shallow average gradient of 5.1 per cent – this includes two significant descents, one about halfway up and the other not far from the top. Strip out these two sections, and the average gradient ramps up to 7.4 per cent, for the 17 kilometres of climbing. It’s the only Alpine stage without a summit finish, and it’s likely to offer two races – one for the escape and one for the GC riders, if any are feeling aggressive.
This is an important day for riders who are ambitious to win a stage. The terrain is perfectly suited to a successful escape, along with the fact that with a summit finish the day before and another two in the offing, the GC riders will be treating this day warily.
It’s also an important day for the King of the Mountains, with those five categorised climbs packed tightly into the first 85 kilometres, although the proviso is that the really big points on this stage come over the hors-catègorie Col du Glandon. With 46 available points today, it might seem like a less key day than stages 12 and 20, which offer 75 and 85 points respectively. But the bulk of those come from the double points on offer at the summit finishes, and a good proportion of these may be sucked up by the GC riders. Baroudeurs who wish to win the polka dot jersey have to find their points earlier on those stages, but also on days like this. Of course, if one of the GC riders is going for the King of the Mountains points, all bets are off.
The GC riders will be dreading this stage. It’s too hard to sit back and tap in, and even if the action doesn’t kick off on the Col du Glandon, there’s the tempting position of the Lacets de Montvernier climb, topping out just 10 kilometres from the finish line. Even more importantly, the descent of the Glandon is very narrow, steep and technical. It’s Vincenzo Nibali territory.
Bernard Thevenet's View
"This is a very difficult and complicated stage, and the riders have been going for practically three weeks. Everybody’s knackered, and lots of the contenders will have lost team-mates, which is an important consideration.
"With two such important stages coming up, the favourites might try to save energy, but with a climb like the Glandon mid-stage, the strongest will still emerge at the front. The riders will be torn between saving energy and attacking. And even more important than the climb, the descent of the Glandon is very technical. Riders like Contador and Nibali could make more time here than on the climb. In 1997, Richard Virenque and Festina put one minute into Jan Ullrich going down here. If a good descender gains time here, they should be able to hold that lead to the finish. It’s a good day to be a good climber and a good descender."
Stats & Facts
- In terms of major climbs, first category and above, the Tour passes halfway today. Before the start, the riders have climbed seven, with seven to go.
- There are seven categorised climbs in today’s stage, which is the highest number in the 2015 Tour. Stage 11 is in second place with six.
- Two kilometres from the finish line, as the riders enter St Jean de Maurienne, the Tour clocks up 3,000 kilometres.
0km Start Gap 12:10
6.5km Cat 2 climb Col Bayard 12:36
35.5km Cat 3 climb Rampe du Motty 13:16
60.5km Cat 3 climb Côte de la Mure 13:53
70.5km Cat 3 climb Col de Malissol 14:09
85km Cat 2 climb Col de la Morte 14:32
107.5km Sprint Rioupéroux 15:00
147km HC climb Col du Glandon 16:27
176.5km Cat 2 climb Lacets de Montvernier 17:08
186.5km Finish St Jean de Maurienne 17:20
The text in this preview first appeared in the July edition of ProCycling magazine