Spain's last winner on the Alpe d'Huez, Carlos Sastre, says he feels that the Tour's last mountainous stage ending on the mythical summit finish "will guarantee a spectacular finale to the race, even though it may not be decisive."
Sastre forged his winning move in the 2008 Tour de France when he took off on the lower slopes of the emblematic climb, won the stage, then held off Cadel Evans in the final time trial. But he warns other mountain specialists that "this may not be a decisive moment in the Tour. It all depends on how long the time trials are and where they are located."
"I think it's great, though, it'll keep the tension high right up until the end, and that's something that matters for the Tour. A scenario like the Alpe d'Huez, at the very least, keeps people talking and interested until the last moment possible."
"The second last Tour I did" - in 2009 - "we went up the Ventoux on the second last stage and it worked out very well. There was still a battle going on for the podium, if I remember rightly, between Lance Armstrong and the Schleck brothers [and Bradley Wiggins - Ed.], so the interest was there."
"Keeping the race open is what keeps the fans on the edge of their suits, and it means it remains more newsworthy that it would be if it was all decided with a week to go."
"However, if I was racing, I wouldn't be so sure this was the point where the Tour is decided. The Tour's had very well-balanced routes in the last few years, so it's not so simple as that. But in terms of the race overall, it's like a stage through the Ardennes of Liege or over the cobbles last year: it's always going to matter."
For Sastre, Alpe d'Huez being back on the Tour route and in such a prominent position "is obviously hugely important to me, because that's the climb where I took the yellow jersey for the first time in my career, and I held onto it right the way through to Paris."
In fact, Sastre has - deliberately - not tackled the Alpe d'Huez on a bike even once since he rode up it to victory in 2008. "I did the lower slopes in a cyclo-sportif, but then climbed off at the first curve [of the 21] because I didn't want anything to ruin the memory of how I won there. Going up there by car, which I did do," he says with a smile, "isn't exactly the same!"
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Alasdair Fotheringham has been reporting on cycling since 1991. He has covered every Tour de France since 1992 as well as numerous other bike races of all shapes and sizes, ranging from the Olympic Games in 2008 to the now sadly defunct Subida a Urkiola hill climb in Spain. Apart from working for Cyclingnews.com, he is also the cycling correspondent for The Independent and The Independent on Sunday.
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