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Tour de France 2013 stage 18

Thursday, July 18

From Gap

To
Alpe d’Huez

Distance 172.5km

Stage type High mountains

IMPACT ON THE RACE

Yellow jersey 5/5

Green jersey 1/5

Polka-dot jersey 5/5

WHERE ARE WE?

We’re off to the climb which, more than any other place apart from perhaps the Champs Elysées, is the spiritual home of the Tour de France. A Tour without the Alpe never seems as whole as one which features the famous climb.

The unspoken secret about Alpe d’Huez is, it’s not actually that nice a place. The views across the valley are, of course, spectacular, with the Massif des Ecrins and Meije visible to the south-east. But the road up to the Alpe is somewhat brutal and over-engineered, while the town itself is built purely to process large numbers of people through the ski season – if you’re looking for an old town and pleasant little bistro to sup in, you’re in the wrong place. It’s all brash nightclubs, Eurotrash, fondue for dinner and functional hotels that look a little bit like prisons.

WHAT’S ON THE ROUTE?

On the face of it, today’s stage is pretty revolutionary. The race climbs Alpe d’Huez, as it has done in 26 previous Tours. But today the race enters new territory – the riders will carry on through Alpe d’Huez to the Col de Sarenne, the sinuous back road which descends back to the Romanche valley, then head back to the base of Alpe d’Huez, and climbs it again.

From Gap, the stage climbs straight out of town up the Col de Manse, which last featured in the 2011 Tour and was more significant for the descent than the climb itself. Andy Schleck lost time to his rivals after losing his nerve. The climb also formed part of a mountain time trial to Orcieres-Merlette in the 1989 Tour.

The race crosses the Col d’Ornon en route to the Alpe. After the first climb, the drag to the Sarenne is much more gradual than what lies below, but the descent is extremely narrow, steep and technical, although the valley road back to Bourg d’Oisans, at the bottom, is more open and exposed to the wind, which funnels up the valley. Then, finally, comes the decisive ascent of the Alpe.

WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN?

The improvisation of climbing the Alpe twice in one day doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re going to see fireworks early on, or that the stage will be any more decisive. The problem could be that the wind in the valley road after the descent from the Sarenne might put off attackers.

In 2011, on the Alpe d’Huez stage, the riders went ballistic on the Col du Galibier, but into a headwind down the Lautaret descent it all came back together, and a group of 30 hit the Alpe together. The same could happen today, with riders saving energy for the final climb (which would make the first ascent a bit of an anti-climax).

A lot has also been written about how hard the stage is, with two climbs of the Alpe. But again, in 2011, the Alpe stage crossed the Telegraphe and Galibier before the Alpe – these two climbs are harder than the Ornon/Alpe combination which precedes the final climb today.

But it will still be an important stage, kicking off three intense days of climbing. The result will likely magnify what’s already happened on the Ventoux, and confirm who the final contenders will be.

Col de Manse

Category: 2

Start: Gap

Length: 6.6km

Height: 1,268m

Altitude gain: 451m

Average gradient: 6.2%

Col d’Ornon

Category: 2

Start:

Length: 5.1km

Height: 1,371m

Altitude gain: 341m

Average gradient: 6.7%

Alpe d’Huez

Category: HC

Start: Bourg d’Oisans

Length: 13.8km

Height: 1,850m

Altitude gain: 1,112m

Average gradient: 8.1%

Related links

Tour de France 2013: Coverage index

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  • Gaetan

    Should be a great stage. Wouldn’t agree that ADH is all brash nightclubs and Eurotrash though. You’re obviously not going to the right places!

  • Rick

    The 14 odd KMS from Alpe d’Huez to the Col de Sarenne, then back to the Romanche valley is going to be very interesting to watch. Rode it the other day with a friend. It is a treacherous piece of road. Poorly paved, rough and lots of loose gravel. I would predict there are going to be a few nasty spills. Good luck to the riders!