What's Cool In Road Cycling

PEZ Previews Stage 16: To La Toussuire!

Stage 15’s finish atop Alpe d’Huez was nothing but the stuff of classic bike racing, but tomorrow promises at least as vivid of a display of fireworks – and possibly more. PEZ-Man Randall Butler is on the scene and had a look at Wednesday’s stage to La Toussuire. There’s a LOT of climbing, but first we had to learn how to say it…

Stage 16 gets underway in Bourg d’Oisans, one of the most famous villages in the Tour de France, located at the base of alpe d’Huez. The race will retrace its steps up the west side of the col de Lautaret, a nondescript climb of 2000m that will forever remain in the shadow of the col de Galibier towering at 2650m above.

Bourg d’Oisans will play host to tomorrow’s start.

They’re Going Up The EASY Side
Turning left off the Lautaret the riders will continue up the easier south face of the Galibier, the glycogen reserves already being sucked from their legs as they ride compatto on the 12% grades near the Galibier’s summit.

Stage 16: 182km, four big passes, and a finish on a summit only a Frrenchman can pronounce. Say it like this: ‘too-sweer’.

A very long ascent to the top of the Galibier will provide an action-packed descent.

Descending down the long sweeping ramps of the Galibier, the peloton will likely reach speeds around 100kph before easing off to negotiate the tighter bends as it continues its descent of the col de Telegraph.

The Glandon makes gravity very apparent on the unfortunate ascender.

We’re Going Up There…
Reaching the valley below the peloton will proceed north towards the small village of la Chambre which marks the base of the col du Glandon. From la Chambre you can see the peak of the Glandon off in the distance. The road climbs gradually through the village surrounded by flowers and small gardens, a gross deception of what is to come.

The forest is lovely, but the climb…not so much.

Leaving la Chambre the road becomes unpleasant, winding abruptly through a damp forest, a mountain stream rushing by below. When the road emerges above the tree line the grade becomes a bit more forgiving, a last chance to find a rhythm before reaching the rude slopes that comprise the final few kms of the horrible Glandon.

The upper reaches of the Glandon are gorgeous.

On A Clear Day You Can See Mt Blanc – Or Paris
The road is barely more than one lane wide as it pitches its way towards the summit of the Glandon, now in full view. It is not uncommon to see amateurs walking their bikes up the last few kms of the unforgiving Glandon, having over-estimated their ability to survive its dreadful slopes with their 39X27 gearing.

Way off in the distance, Mt. Blanc.

Normally used as a transition climb enroute to alpe d’Huez, the Glandon has seldom been pivotal in the Tour. For the fans lining the route, a clear day will offer up views of the Mont Blanc massif off in the distance. But the grimpeurs will be seeing yellow as they attack the climb, knowing that there is no flat road between here and the finish line in La Toussuire.

The Col de la Croix de Fer, aptly named for the cross which adorns its summit.

Reaching the peak of the Glandon the riders will turn left and continue for 2kms to the top of the col de la Croix de Fer, so named for the iron cross that marks its peak. Any time gaps opened here will be hard to close. From the Croix de Fer the riders will begin a long, high speed descent to the village of St. Jean de Maurienne, located in the valley floor 37 km below. The descent begins with a few tricky switchbacks and soon opens into a series of long sweeping descents where speeds will reach the fear factor. The pavement is poor and it will take total concentration to avoid disaster as the chase gets underway.

Everything That Goes Down…
The course will take a small detour to climb the col de Mollard, a 6km climb that retraces back up the face of the massif before turning into a nasty descent. Finally reaching the town of St Jean de Maurienne, the course turns back up the mountain, as if to demoralize all but the strongest on the day. Turning off the main road the riders will begin the day’s final assault on the ski station of La Toussuire.

La Toussuire will provide a long, if not terribly steep, finish to a day that will see around 5000 meters of climbing.

La To What?
They call it ‘la Too Sweer’. A new climb in the Tour, la Toussuire was put to the test in this year’s Dauphine Libere. Not a particularly hard climb with an average grade of 6% over its 18km, it will nonetheless be decisive in sorting out the GC. Riders will negotiate the twisting uneven gradients of La Toussuire for the better part of an hour and by the time they step off their bikes at the finish line they will have logged about 5000m of elevation gain over 182kms.


But as much as this is a huge climbing day, it is also a day for the descenders. The col de la Croix de Fer has always been a great descent with its sharp technical bends off the peak turning into long high speed stretches as the road falls to the valley below. And the col du Mollard is a descenders dream, its short sharp switchbacks lacking any kind of symmetry that would normally allow a rider to establish a rhythm.

Randall’s Take On Tomorrow
I expect the riders to reach the base of the Glandon together. But as the road winds up through the forest, look for the attacks to begin. The time gaps will only grow as the grimpeurs scurry up the final rude slopes, leaving gravity to wreak havoc on the roleurs struggling to find their way over the climb.

Alliances will be formed on the descent of the Croix de Fer where a few committed riders can work in concert on the long sweeping ramps into the valley. And when the road turns back toward La Toussuire, look for a drag race, the leaders riding power tempo up the relatively gradual slopes, seeking to gain every second of advantage while thinking of a podium in Paris.

The time gaps will be large today, many riders cracking beneath the strain of relentless climbing in the high alpes. For some, it will have been a day of opportunity – for others one of damage control. For the non-climbers who had been seeking to limit their losses – they will head to the team hotel that night knowing that a worse fate awaits them the next morning – Stage 17 and the road to Morzine.

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