Stage 16: La Tour-du-Pin - Villard-de-Lans
Date: September 15, 2020
Stage start: 1:05 p.m. CEST
Stage type: Mountain
The third week begins with a rugged stage to Villard-de-Lans. This is a rare incursion for the Tour into the Vercors, a region of tough, narrow roads, deceptively difficult climbs and deep gorges rising from the east bank of the Rhône.
The triangular massif rises between Valence and Grenoble. It’s sparsely populated, and its rough terrain and thick cover made it a key Resistance stronghold during World War II. Over 4,000 fighters hid here, and won enough victories in small battles against the Germans that the Vercors resistance proclaimed the region as an independent republic in 1944, complete with its own flag.
More damage can be done in the repetitive obstacles of the middle mountains than at high altitude. In the 1987 Tour, Jeff Bernard won the Mont Ventoux time trial, building what looked like a race-winning lead of 2:34 over Stephen Roche, in second. It took a day for Roche, in tandem with Pedro Delgado, to overturn that lead, with an aggressive ride in the Vercors, combined with bad luck for Bernard.
Stage 16 provides five categorised climbs, including the finish atop Villard-de-Lans - Côte 2000, popular in the winter for skiing. The mountaintop finish is preceded by the 14.6km category 1 Montée de Sainte-Nizier-du-Moucherotte, which then provides a rolling downhill section of approximately 20km to set up the final 2.3km climb.
Riders wishing to emulate Roche will have identified today’s stage as the ideal territory on which to overturn leads. However, there’s a warning from history that there’s a fine line between success and failure - the République du Vercors lasted less than a month.
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