What's Cool In Road Cycling

TDF’08 Parcours: The Alps To Paris!

As interesting as the first two weeks of racing could make next year’s Tour, there’s no denying the ASO has saved the best for last. The final 8 days of racing feature 3 rugged days in the Alps, and the final long TT to decide the winner. Here’s what PEZ SEZ you should know…

The parcours for next summer’s Tour start with what could very possibly be the fewest bunch sprints in opening week history, shift into solid gc racing action for the three days in the Pyrenees )including that wild card route from Lannamezan-Foix), and then really pick up steam in the final week. Four of the final 7 race days will decide who wins the race – and that will be something to watch.

This year’s Queen stage throws up the Galinier, the Croix de Fer, and finsihses on Alpe d’Huez. Yeah BABY!

For our final look at the 2008 Tour parcours, we’ve again assembled our PEZ panel of experts to break down the key stages…

Tour de France 2008 Stages 15-21
15. Mtn Sunday 20 July Digne-les-Bains – Prato Nevoso 216 km
Rest Day Monday 21 July Cuneo
16. Mtn Tuesday 22 July Cuneo – Jausiers 157 km
17. Mtn Wednesday 23 July Embrun – L’Alpe-d’Huez 210 km
18. Mtn Thursday 24 July Bourg-d’Oisans – Saint-Йtienne 197 km
19. Friday 25 July RoanneMontluзon 163 km
20. TT Saturday 26 July Cйrilly – Saint-Amand-Montrond 53 km
21. Sunday 27 July Йtampes – Paris Champs-Йlysйes 143 km

Total km: 3500

Stages 15: Digne-Les-Bains – Prato Nevoso, 216km
Stage Look
The Col del Larche (in Italian Colle della Maddalena), Pratonevoso and Colle della Lombarda are located in the north west part of Italy in that region called Piemonte. The Col del Larche and Colle della Lombarda are two mountain passes connecting Italy and France; over there it was based the custom control since the opening of the borders.

The stage starts in Digne-Les-Bains – which served as the finish for a tough Dauphine stage in ’07, which saw doper Vino drag his teammate, Antonio Colom, to the line and hand the win over in a display of utter strength? Point is – even before the race gets to Italy, it’ll be lumpy and tough.

The Col the Larche is a very well known locality and the traffic there is always heavy, the Colle della Lombarda is located at the foot of the same valley but its out of the common routes deserted for most of the year. On the other side, in France is the well know ski area of Isola 2000 that the Tour visited in the 1993.

Pratonevoso is very popular in the winter vacation area, especially for residents from the city of Genoa. This ski town is just 30 years old (in Italy that is almost nothing) and grew up thanks to the cold winters of the 70’s-80’s and to its close position to the sea.

Ale Sez: Benvenuta a Italia!
The Col the Larche is a very easy climb. The average slope is about 5% and the maximum doesn’t rise over 7-8%. It’s quite long but won’t be a problem to the yellow jersey contenders. Even the sprinters will be able to “save the legs” on this climb because after the col there will be a very long descent through the whole valley to the Cuneo plain where the route will bound to the final climb of the day.

The Col the Larche is very famous in the cycling history. In 1949 Fausto Coppi won the Giro stage from Cuneo – Pinerolo after attacking on the first climb of the day, the “Maddalena” (Italian name for Col the Larche). The stage route crossed the border twice and the total climbs of the day were 5: Col the Larche, Vars, Izoard, Montgenevre and the Italian Sestriere. He dropped all challengers and won the stage alone by over 11 minutes.

Pratonevoso is a not difficult climb with an average slope of 7% and very regular for the whole route. This climb runs mostly inside the woods because the altitude is quite low and just on the last kilometres it opens on the fields. It’s 10 kilometres long and as a final climb will make a good selection, but it will be difficult to make large time gaps. Look for a small selected group with a good team-mates doing the work since the last two kilometres are where we’ll start to see some attacks for the stage win.

Pratonevoso appeared for the first time in a Grand Tour in the 1996 Giro, when the Russian Pavel Tonkov won the stage and the Maglia Rosa, and eventually the race. Then in 2000, Pratonevoso appeared again in the Giro, when Stefano Garzelli won in a small group sprint, and went on to also win the Giro.

Will the luck of the climb transfer to the 2008 Tour winner?

Stage 16: Cuneo – Jausiers, 157km
Stage Look
Today we hit the really high Alps, going over 2300 meters and then even higher to 2800 meters – the air is thin up there. The profile favours an early break, but you’ll have to be tough to stay away, although it’s not impossible as the final decent is only 15km long – but getting there first will be a challenge.

Ale Sez: The Colle della Lombarda is a very difficult climb – rated at 21km at avg. grade of 7% . It’s one of the hardest in the western Alps, and the average slope doesn’t really explain the difficulties because the climb is not regular. Very difficult in the first part and full of turns, once out of narrow valley there are 3 easier kilometres but to the top there will be still 10 kilometres and the most difficult one; the road is very narrow and the view over there will be fantastic.

Colle della Lombarda has been never crossed by a Grand Tour. During the Tour 1993 a mountain stage starting in Briancon arrived in Isola 2000 which is located on the French side of the Colle della Lombarda. That stage crossed the Izoard, Vars and Col de la Bonette before the last climb to Isola 2000. Tony Rominger attacked with the strong pace of his team on the Col de la Bonette and was first in Isola 2000; second was Miguel Indurain. The Col de la Bonette is one of the highest in Europe. Almost 30 kilometres of climbing that lift you in a scenery that really looks like the moon.

Abandoned military outposts offer a silent reminder of the battles on stage 16.

Peter Easton of Velo Classic Tours leads well run tours to major European races each year, and knows these roads.
• I did the Col de la Bonette this past May before our Provence Alps tour, and it’s a very long and demanding climb. The mountain was originally a military outpost and use was restricted until 1960. There’s an abandoned military village on one side, and an abandoned fortress on the other- adds a sense of desolation to a very remote part of the Alps. It’s one of the highest paved roads in Europe, and hits 2802 meters with the Col de la Bonette, which really isn’t a pass just a scenic route that does a turn around on the Cime de la Bonette at 2860 meters. The first 7 kilometers from St. Etienne de Tinee to St. Dalmas are moderate, but the remaining 16 km averages over 7%, with long stretches higher up at 10-12% or more. The road surface is also very poor, the switchbacks are stiff and narrow, and there is a constant wind swirling as you make your way up the final kilometers, which seem to drag on endlessly. The final 2 km aren’t too bad, but it’s made more difficult by the fact that you can see the top to your left, but the road continues moving away from it. The descent down to Jausiers should be fast, with good road surface and not too many technical turns or switchbacks.

Things get sligtly remote at the Col de la Bonette.

Stage 17: Embrun – Alpe d’Huez, 210km
Stage Look
Embrun to L’Alpe-D’Huez by way of the Galibier and the Croix-de-Fer is, at 210 kilometres, not an overly-long stage by Tour standards, but with three of the toughest climbs in European cycling included, it’s a killer. Rabobank supremo Erik Breukink is already on record as saying that it will be the decisive stage of the 2008 Tour; with four Tour stage wins and two Giro podiums to his credit, he’s a man who knows.

Pete Sez: The best part of climbing Col de la Croix de Fer from St. Jean du Maurienne is between kilometers 4-7 and 12-16, where there is a reprieve that breaks up an otherwise ungodly long 30 kilometers. The first 4 kilometers is a real punch in the face, so a bit of downhill is welcomed after struggling up the opener. After this, it’s quite stiff for the next 5 km, with some nastiness at 12-13%. The next downhill section is welcomed again, but not being able to find a good climbing rhythm is what makes this side so difficult. But the next 6-7 km is fairly easy, with only a bit of 7% mixed in to an otherwise continuous grade of around 5%. From here though, it gets really ugly. The final 7 km is consistently over 8% and the top few switchbacks really hurt, hitting 10+ % for what feels like a kilometer or more. Throw in some good cold wind, and an eerie iron cross in the distance, and you’ve got a genuine beast on your hands.

Three utterly classic climbs make this a stage to behold: Croix de Fer, Galibier, and the Alpe.

Ed Hood Sez: It’s All About The Finale
What will be at stake on the L’Alpe-D’Huez, isn’t just the GC and a stage win, it’s ‘the’ stage win and an opportunity to become part of a legend. The likes of Soler and Contador will already be thinking about how they can make that left turn in to the finish straight on 23 July in ‘solitary splendour’.

Ask any of the mountain or GC contenders if they are planning to win on ‘the Alpe’ and they’ll evade the question; but there’s not a serious climber in the race who won’t be dreaming about having a hairpin named after him. The only thing about having ‘your’ bend is that now the authorities are having to double-up – with 21 ‘virages’ and 25 stages, there was no other way now.

A stage like this once again draws the parallel between professional bicycle racing and the great operas – it’s all about the finale. The Galibier and Croix-de-Fer are monsters in their own right, reaching majestically into the clear Alpine air, but on this day they are the ‘bit-players’, to quote my ex-pro fellow-Scot, Billy Bilsland; ‘the race is the last hour, but you have to reach that hour!’

Or, in this case somewhere just under 40 minutes, although much-debated, the official and generally agreed record for the climb is the 37-35 recorded by flawed, but sadly-missed diamond, Marco Pantani in 1997.

Armstrong made Basso look pedestrian as he caught him and stormed right on by.

In 2004, when Lance won the mountain time trial from Bourg D’Oisans, the bonnie village which lies at the foot of the mountain, to the summit, his time was 39-41, but the timing for record purposes is taken a little-way into the ascent and he is credited with 37-36 that day, just one second off Pantani’s record. In 2006 Frank Schleck clocked 40-46 on his way to victory, but that was with 170 kilometres, including the Izoard and Lautaret in his legs.

There’s no messing on the Alpe, the riders make the turn on to the bottom of the climb from Bourg D’Oisans and the front wheel practically bumps upwards, the gradient is unrelenting for almost ten miles with no ‘easy bits.’

The crowd has to be seen to be believed, the first time I visited the ‘Dutch Mountain’, so called because riders from the Netherlands won eight times between 1976 and 1989, was in 1992; Andy Hampsten’s year. We arrived the night before to claim the last hotel room on the mountain.

The 21 hairpins were a ‘party zone’ from bottom to top, as we whizzed-up in our convertible the tens of thousands of fans took a few seconds away from their barbecues, picnic tables, ghetto blasters and guitars to smile, wave and shout to us – the vibe of kinship and sheer joy of being there was palpable.

The race was extraordinary; crowds lined the mountain from early morning despite a blazing southern European sun with no shade to be found. At the sound of the race helicopters, the scene verged on mass hysteria.

This was Hampsten’s finest hour and he was lauded like a conquering general returning to Rome; the motorcycle cops and official cars tried frantically to clear the road, but it was a forlorn hope as a tide of humanity flowed onto the tarmac, only stepping back at the last moment to let this fragile blond God from the New World sweep past. I remember looking at Indurain in awe, it was as if there was a power source inside that yellow jersey, it was so vivid.

To be roadside on Alpe D’Huez is to sample the sport of bicycle racing at its very best, and in 2008 there is the distinct possibility that the man who wins here will also take the final yellow jersey – book those flights NOW!

It’s not Le Tour without sunflowers in full bloom. Look for more miles of these on stages 18 and 19.

Stages 18 – 21: To PARIS!
Stage Look As the race pulls out of Bourg d’Oisans at the foot of Alpe D’Huez for the umpteenth time, riders will be happy to be done with all the big climbing… but not too happy as stage 18 to St. Etienne spits back almost 20km of rated climbs taken in two doses – the final La Croix de Montvieux runs 13,7 km with an avg. grade of 5.5%.

Saint-Etienne hosted the finish of a tough stage in this year’s Dauphine, which saw the win go to none other than Christophe Moreau…out of a break…count on a break in ’08.

By now the gc boys should be settled down and the rest will be licking their wounds, leaving the door open for another escape by what’s his name on the second tier French team. If the peloton truly is cleaning itself up, we should also see a slower pace as everyone joins in the collective recovery.

Stage 19 looks like a standard flat day for the sprinters, and the rest will be saving their jam for Saturday’s long TT from Cerilly to Saint-Armand-Montrand. At 53km, it could be a pedal-powered game of musical chairs for the final podium.

The Tour is no stranger in Montrand, and TT’s no less! Lance took the time trial here in 2001 en route to win numero tres.

As always, Sunday’s run to Paris will be emotional for the riders and fans alike – over 3500km, 3 very hard weeks, it’s the ultimate slow-motion blur and it’s why we love the Tour so much.

At first glance I wasn’t so keen on the parcours but as I’ve edited together our PEZ-take, the route really has grown on me, and I’m ready to rumble with the rest of you next summer – !

And rest assured- we’ll bring you the latest updates as the happen.

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