The penultimate stage, a summit finish at the iconic Alpe d’Huez, one last chance to make a bid for yellow (and polka dot) glory – you really could not wish for a better climax to Le Tour than this.
Saturday 25th July: Stage 20 – Modane Valfréjus to Alpe d’Huez, high mountains, 110.5km
If I had to summarise the stage in three words I’d go with short, sharp and explosive. It’s only 110.5km in length, and only includes two climbs, but holy moly they’re both hors catégorie and they will be raced at speed.
Key points of interest today will focus on the podium positions and the final fate of the king of the mountains classification.
With Nairo Quintana 2:38 in arrears of Chris Froome, he will have to hope to isolate the race leader in the same way he was yesterday and then break rather than merely distance him. More realistically, perhaps, does Vincenzo Nibali have anything left in the tank after his victory yesterday? Including bonuses, he took 2:36 out of Alejandro Valverde yesterday – another 1:20 today will see him displace the Spaniard on the bottom step of the podium, a possibility which looked about as unlikely at the start of the week as Astana boss Alexander Vinokourov inviting the Shark of Messina to his dacha for a warming cup of egg-nog on Christmas Eve this year. With the rest of the top ten all neatly spaced at intervals of a minute (or more), expect others to be riding defensively rather than aggressively on Alpe d’Huez.
Romain Bardet leads the polka dot standings with 90 points, three ahead of Froome, but he will be more concerned about Joaquim Rodriguez (78 points), with 25 and 50 points available at the top of today’s two climbs.
So what’s in store? The peloton start with a 25km descent from Modane Valfréjus. Everyone will want to be in the break – you can be sure Bardet and Rodriguez will be there – and the action is sure to be frantic, The next 29km sees them take on the Col de la Croix de Fer for the second time, this time from east to west. The average gradient of 5.2% is misleading as most of the climb is at 7-10%.
From there it’s a long descent and a short ride through the valley to the intermediate sprint point at Bourg D’Oisans. You have to doff your cap at the humour of a sprint point right at the foot of the Alpe d’Huez, although given Peter Sagan‘s dominance of the standings this will be little more than a formality.
Every rider who faces the Alpe knows what’s in store for them – 13.8km of lung busting, leg breaking pain as they make their way round the 21 hairpin bends to the finish at the ski station. It’s a brute of climb averaging 8.1%, but ramping up to in excess of 10% at the start and again towards the finish, with the ramps in some of the corners steeper still. These are the places the attacks will be laid down, the increases in pace and sustained efforts as they fight and claw for every second they can get, and pray they can hang on as the gradient lessens at the top.
However, bare statistics can never fully portray this famous climb. Yes there are 21 hairpins, but each one is numbered and bears the name of a rider who has taken a victory on this climb in the Tour. The whole 13.8km will be thronged with camper vans, flags and fans in all manner of costumes. Please let them not get too close this year, and for our eyes’ sake no mankinis! It’s sheer madness. It’s Alpe d’Huez. It’s Le Tour. #Allez
You can take a trip through the 21 bends with the GCN guys – you’ll just have to imagine the orange haze of Dutch Corner.
Link: Official race website
Header image: Tour de France 2013, Alpe d’Huez hairpin – © ASO