Tour de France 2013: Back to the 1998 nightmare

Stage 20 of the 2013 Tour de France features the ascent to the Semnoz above Annecy, the magnificent lake that hosted the epic time trial won by Alberto Contador in the 2009 Tour de France. The 10.7km long climb – with an average gradient of 8.5% – is described as unprecedented by race organizers ASO. But the bunch has ridden over it once before.

On July 30, 1998, the riders went on strike during stage 18 to protest against police searches in the wake of the Festina and TVM doping affairs. Laurent Jalabert and his ONCE team stopped after 32 kilometres, and they were soon followed by the other Spanish teams. The peloton en masse was about to put its feet on the ground as it started to climb the Semnoz. As a former winner, Bjarne Riis came out as a spokesman to talk to the then director Jean-Marie Leblanc, who instructed his driver to go slowly but not stop the car. The two came to a verbal agreement that the Tour wouldn’t stop there. The peloton continued but was blocked by a hostile crowd at the top. No king of the mountains prize was allocated atop the Semnoz – famed as “the lungs of Annecy” – and the stage to Aix-les-Bains was neutralized.

Over the past fourteen years, most of the venues damaged by the incidents of the 1998 Tour de France have been compensated by another visit. It was not only fair to return to the Semnoz as well, but it was also a great opportunity to invent a new kind of stage. Fans will be able to attend the start in Annecy and the final climb while the riders will do a loop via the Mont Revard and the Gorges du Chéran before coming back to Annecy for the final climb.

As a short stage of only 125 kilometres in length, it is believed that team tactics will play a major role on the day. The Semnoz is a truly hard climb with no place in which to take it easy. In a Tour de France marked by amazing landscape, the very end of the penultimate stage will offer a spectacular view over Lake Annecy and Mont Blanc, which is Europe’s highest peak.


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