Stage 20: Albertville - Val Thorens
Stage 20: Albertville-Val Thorens
Date: July 27, 2019
Distance: 130 km
Stage type: Mountain
A quarter of a century has passed since the Tour last raced up the 33.4km climb to Val Thorens, Europe's highest ski resort. In the final days of the 1994 edition, Latvia's Piotr Ugrumov suffered a memorable mugging at the hands of Nelson Rodríguez. Call it good tactics or bad form, but the Colombian sat on Ugrumov's wheel all the way to the summit and then jumped him to claim his only professional victory in Europe.
The final mountain stage begins to climb the stunning Cormet de Roselend soon after getting under way in Albertville. After dropping into Bourg-Saint-Maurice, the route veers away from the main road to cross the second-category Côte de Longefoy to reach Moûtiers and the start of the interminable ascent to the finish.
The principal difficulty of the climb to Val Thorens is its length rather than the severity of the gradient. It rises steadily in between as many as half a dozen sections where it all but flattens out, and this should suit turbo diesels such as Geraint Thomas and Primoz Roglic. However, on the Tour's fourth Saturday, fatigue will certainly be a key factor in the half dozen kilometres above the village of Les Menuires that will take the riders well above the 2,000-metre mark.
Given the amount of climbing that's been done before, the yellow jersey may well have been pulled firmly on by the race's outstanding performer by this point, but there may well be significant changes within the top 10. In 1994, Frenchman Luc Leblanc and Armand De La Cuevas both lost ground at Val Thorens, Leblanc yielding third place to Marco Pantani, while De Las Cuevas lost 20 minutes.
Remember too that when the yellow jersey made its debut in 1919, Eugène Christophe, the rider who held it going into the penultimate stage, ended up losing it. Will we see a similar hard-luck story 100 years on?
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