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TDF ’11: Pensec Picks the Key Stages

Even after 8 years of covering the world’s biggest bike race, we continue to learn more about the subtleties of the French roads and regions. So we asked a guy with 24 years experience at le Tour – as a rider and former maillot jaune, tv producer, and also leader of touring groups, here’s Ronan Pensec’s take on the 2011 parcours.

Monsieur Pensec, or “Elvis” as Lance Armstrong used to call him – was a pro from 1985 – 1994, and rode it like a real man – ‘Cross in the winter, the Classics, the Grand Tours. It was a time before ‘specialization’, and Ronan scored a share of glory that included leading the 1990 Tour de France for 2 days, plus gc placings of 6th in 1986 and 7th in 1988. His impressive palmares (listed below) are testament that he was a rider always in the hunt.

Along with his travel business, Ronan works for France Television to produce their TDF coverage.

Ronan now works behind the scenes on the TDF coverage at France Television advising the producers which parts of the race to film. These images are fed to all the other media covering the event. He works live and decisions have to be made instantaneously so it’s a high pressure job. His knowledge of the race and race tactics are critical to presenting compelling images that best show the action.

In recent years Ronan also started his own cycling tour company (RonanPensecTravel.coml), making good use of his intimate knowledge of cycling and France to share the best of his country with guests who are interested in a cycling vacation that only a former top pro could offer. Let’s face it – for most of us from North America, (and likely anyone who not from France) – France is just not like any place else on the planet – so a guy like Ronan showing you around is an asset worth having.

I asked Ronan for his take on the key stages of the 2011 Tour.

Stage 1: Passage du Gois La Barre-de-Monts – Mont des Alouettes Les Herbiers 191km The opening stage ends with a short climb – enough to make a difference?

Ronan: The Mont des Alouettes has been a part of races such as the Chrono des Nations. For GC contenders it is a fairly typical early stage, meaning they will have to be vigilant about protecting their position in the peloton, but a day like this will be fairly easy for the top teams, it is teams going for stage wins that will be working hard. The climb itself is not a determining factor although it could eliminate pure sprinters.

Stage 4: Lorient – Mur de Bretagne, 178 km The finish here features a climb of the Mыr-de-Bretagne – did you ever race up it and how will it affect the stage?

Ronan: I have been up the Mur de Bretagne quite a few times, in regional races and also during my Tour career. It is a short climb, but has a steep grade much like the climbs found on the Fleche Wallone and others. It is not a finish that will make a huge difference for the race although a GC contender may try to use the Mur to win the stage. It is more likely that someone who is a puncher like Philippe Gilbert and others will use the Mur to their advantage.

Stage 6 – Dinan Lisieux 226km The climb of Basilica of Lisieux – what can you tell us about it and it’s impact on the stage?

Ronan: This is the longest stage of the Tour so the climb of the Basilica, only 1.5 km from the finish, will have an impact. Again the climb is much like the climbs found on the Spring classics, short and steep. On this climb, more than on the Mur de Bretagne, the strategy for the GC contenders will be to stay near the front to avoid losing time due to accidents. This stage will be fairly strategic. The wind normally found on the coast could play a factor if the peloton breaks into echelons. Team managers could be very nervous and riders will have to be very careful about losing time if the wind causes big breaks.

Stage 8 – Aigurande Super-Besse Sancy 190km The first real summit finish rears up with the climb to Super Besse – featured in the 1996 and 2008 Tours.

Ronan: This is the second time the Tour has arrived at Super Besse. The last time was in 2008. I have never raced on this climb, but it’s the first summit finish and it comes after a week of relative flat stages. It is a tough enough stage with increasing elevation that it will test some riders, but it will not have an impact on GC and is more as an appetizer for the following day.

Stage 9 – Issoire Saint-Flour- Pas de Peyrol (Puy Mary) 208km and for the first time the Col du Perthus – what about these climbs and how tough is this day?

Ronan: This whole day is very tough. The roads are small, narrow and sinuous with terrain that is non-stop changes in elevation. The stage also contains three categorized climbs, none of which is close enough to the finish to make a difference, but the cumulative effect will make it very hard on the riders. If it is a hot day, the riders will suffer, it will be a fast stage, and my prediction is that the peloton will work very hard to stay together and this will mean tired riders and the potential for accidents. GC riders will again have to stay near the front to avoid time gaps.

Stage 12 – Cugnaux Luz-Ardiden 209km The first of three climbing days in the Pyrenees takes riders over the Hourquette d’Ancizan, the Tourmalet, and the summit finish at Luz-Ardiden.

Ronan: I have no unique memories of Luz Ardiden or Tourmalet. They are both tough climbs when the pace is high. This will be especially so this year with the mountain top finish at Luz Ardiden. GC riders and teams will certainly be pushing the pace and a rider going for GC will want to make a statement here.

Stage 13 – Pau Lourdes 156km The main obstacle here is the 1790 m Col d’Aubisque, some 49km before the finish.

Ronan: It is not a very interesting stage for the overall. The Col d’Aubisque is too far away from the finish line. Some riders will be going for king of the mountain points. GC riders will be preserving themselves for the next day which offers 5 climbs and a mountain top finish.

Stage 14 – Saint-Gaudens – Plateau de Beille 168km – throws down 6 summits enroute to the finale atop Plateau de Baille.

Ronan: This is a huge day. It has five categorized climbs and the finish on Plateau de Beille. With 168 km total it is a relatively short stage so attacks will come all day long especially as the following day is a relatively flat stage and then a rest day.

The cols on this stage are very hard, there are no breaks, no flats between climbs. This stage will cause some damage, and surprisingly, even if it is early in the Tour, at the end of the stage we may have a good idea of who will be on the podium in Paris. We may not know the order, but we’ll know who has the legs to make it this year. This will be one of two or three defining stages.

Stage 17 – Gap – Pinerolo 179km I’ve called this stage as all about the final 20km and the 10km climb over Pramartino, where small gaps could be opened. What do you think?

Ronan: There will be no changes on GC after this stage, there won’t be any huge breaks and there will be no chance for a GC contender to put time on rivals, unless one is having a particularly bad day. Most riders will be trying to preserve their force for the next three days.

Stage 18 – Pinerolo – Galibier Serre-Chevalier 189km The classic big Alpine day – 3 high passes – all above 2300m, a summit finish – a day for GC.

Ronan: This is a huge stage, very difficult. This and the next are determinant for the final podium. The Col d’Izoard and the Col du Galibier are well known. Less well known is Col d’Agnel which is also very hard. It is a long and the last 7 km are at 10%. The Izoard is next, followed by Galibier. For each one of these the GC contenders will be trying to put time on rivals and test each other. Other riders will also be trying to put their name in the history books even if they don’t have a chance for GC.

Actual PEZ-Pic of Ronan climbing Alpe d’Huez at the 1990 Tour.

Stage 19 – Modane Alpe-d’Huez 109km – I saw Ronan pass by on the Alpe in the 1990 Tour – wearing yellow. This stage is much shorter and really about two big climbs.

Ronan: This stage is not typical as it is very short, the shortest of all the stages with the exception of the time trials. It will be brutally fast as it has the three big climbs with technical descents in between, and with the exception of the entry to Bourg d’Oisans before Alpe d’Huez, there are no flats on which to recover before the next climb. There are only 15 km before the first climb, almost no time to warm up and the attacks will be immediate. This is a stage where teams will have almost no role to play and it will literally be every man for himself. It will be a nonstop battle. If there is a chance to win or lose a position on the podium, it will be here as the time gaps could be decisive. If you don’t have the legs today, it will be over.

Stage 20 – Grenoble Grenoble TT 41km – The penultimate stage – a semi-long time trial with some twists…

Ronan: With 2 climbs, Stage 20 is suited for strong climbers. Along with Stage 19, it is the only other stage in which a podium position could change. This TT is not made for a typical TT rider. Without a doubt the winner will be the strongest rider of this year’s tour. This TT favors a climber who is a strong time trialist.

Special thanks to Ronan for his time and insights – !

• See the website: www.ronanpensectravel.com

• More info: English speaking readers please contact:
Marc de Rochefort
Ronan Pensec Travel
Pont Henvez
29170 Fouesnant
+33 2 98 51 15 96
[email protected]

Ronan Pensec Palmares
Etoile des Espoirs 1985
2nd Circuit de la Sarthe + 1 stage win
Champion of Bretagne 1985 Cyclocross
2nd Criterium du Dauphinйe Libйrй, 1986, 1994, 3rd in 1987, 7th in 1992
2 Tour du Limousin
6th Tour de France in 1986, 7th in 1988, 20th in 1990, yellow jersey for 2 days in 1990
3 Championship de France in Cyclocross in 1986
Etoile de Bessanges 1987, 3rd in 1989 and 1992
2nd Tour du Haut-Var 1987, 3rd in 1994
3rd Tour de Romandie 1987
GP de la Ville de Rennes 1988, 3rd in 1994
Route du Sud 1988
2nd Paris Nice 1988, 4th in 1994, 7th in 1987
6th World Championship 1988
4th Milan San Remo 1989
6 Fleche Wallone 1989
2nd Tour des Valйes Miniиres 1991
2nd Tour Mediterranean 1992, 1 Etape in 1990
GP de Plouay 1992
7th Tour de Pays basque 1992
7th GP du Midi Liberй 1993
Coupe de France de Cyclisme 1994
3rd Classique des Alpes 1994
3rd A Travers le Morbihan 1994

2011 TDF Stages: 3,471km Total
Stage Type Date Start and Finish Distance Details
1. Saturday 2 July Passage du Gois La Barre-de-Monts > Mont des Alouettes Les Herbiers 191 km
2. TTT Sunday 3 July Les Essarts > Les Essarts 23 km
3. Monday 4 July Olonne-sur-Mer > Redon 198 km
4. Tuesday 5 July Lorient > Mыr-de-Bretagne 172 km
5. Wednesday 6 July Carhaix > Cap Frйhel 158 km
6. Thursday 7 July Dinan > Lisieux 226 km
7. Friday 8 July Le Mans > Chвteauroux 215 km
8. Medium mountains Saturday 9 July Aigurande > Super-Besse Sancy 190 km
9. Medium mountains Sunday 10 July Issoire > Saint-Flour 208 km
R. Rest Day Monday 11 July Le Lioran Cantal
10. Tuesday 12 July Aurillac > Carmaux 161 km
11. Wednesday 13 July Blaye-les-Mines > Lavaur 168 km
12. High Mountains Thursday 14 July Cugnaux > Luz-Ardiden 209 km
13. High Mountains Friday 15 July Pau > Lourdes 156 km
14. High Mountains Saturday 16 July Saint-Gaudens > Plateau de Beille 168 km
15. Sunday 17 July Limoux > Montpellier 187 km
R. Rest Day Monday 18 July Dйpartement de la Drфme
16. Medium mountains Tuesday 19 July Saint-Paul-Trois-Chвteaux > Gap 163 km
17. High Mountains Wednesday 20 July Gap > Pinerolo 179 km
18. High Mountains Thursday 21 July Pinerolo > Galibier Serre-Chevalier 189 km
19. High Mountains Friday 22 July Modane > Alpe-d’Huez 109 km
20. ITT Saturday 23 July Grenoble > Grenoble 41 km
21. Sunday 24 July Crйteil > Paris Champs-Йlysйes 160 km

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