The first day in the Alps on Tuesday in the last week of this Tour de France was a quiet day for the overall participants, but there is no place to hide on the spectacular Col de la Loze for stage 17 on Wednesday – the first installment in back -to-back stages that will define this race before the penultimate day attempt gets the last word.
While Thursday’s stage, with climbs from start to finish, seems to be set for one of the crazy days of running where anything could happen at any time, Wednesday has a much clearer focal point: it’s 21.5 kilometers long and rises to 2,304 meters above sea level.
Even the venerable Col de la Madeleine, which sticks just past the halfway point, does little to distract the gaze. This is due in part to the numbers and its position at the end of the scene, but it is also due to its novelty; The Col de la Loze is not only new to the Tour, but new to the world.
It is a traffic-free cycle path to a high mountain pass that was only built last year to connect Méribel and Courchevel. Previously, it was only possible to drive and drive up to the ports, which are located a few kilometers above each of the two ski resorts, but local authorities have implemented an ambitious project to pave seven kilometers of cycle paths on each side of the mountain top.
Barely four feet wide with climbs that sometimes touch 24 percent, it was always, understandably, the most anticipated point in this year’s Tour.
It is quite unlike anything found in the Alps ̵
There are hairpins and there are longer straight sections, but above all there are uncomfortable ramps that pop up almost dizzyingly. This is far beyond the more irregular rises found in the Pyrenees, and race director Christian Prudhomme has spoken of “a series of walls”. He even named the Mur de Huy – the ultra steep climb used at the end of the Flèche Wallonne.
“You walk around a hairpin and you come up to a ‘wall’, but you’re on a fake surface – it’s a continuous change of rhythm,” Prudhomme said. “It’s going to be an incredible finale because we’ve never had that kind of gradient division at that height. It does not exist – or it did not until now.”
As such, comparisons with previous visits to Méribel are somewhat superfluous – not that there are many. The only time it hosted a finish was way back in 1973, when Bernard Thévénet won a split stage at the high harbor, though the Critérium du Dauphiné took to the resort in 2016, when Thibaut Pinot got better than Romain Bardet.
However, there is a precedent for the Col de la Loze when it was first tested in the under-23 peloton in last year’s Tour de l’Avenir. Remarkably, the climb was the stage – a 23 km mass start rush from Brides-les-Bains to the top, approx. 1,691 meters across. Australia’s Alexander Evans won the day Tobias Foss finished fifth in 42 seconds and took the yellow jersey from future Deceuninck-QuickStep rider Mauri Vansevenant.
This phase was filmed in parts and the footage shows how wild some of the climbs are. Vansevenant, considered one of the brightest talents, was reduced to slalom across the road in a desperate attempt to ease the climb.
A key factor that makes the Col de la Loze even more enticing is the words ‘Souvenir Henri Desgrange’, which you can see just below it on the stage profile. This means that it is the highest point in this year’s Tour de France with a prize for the first rider to reach it – in this case the stage winner.
Unlike the 2019 trip, which was considered one of the ‘highest’ in history, the 2020 edition, despite its spread of climbing, does not actually take much height. Much of the 2,000-meter barrier is being made, and this will be the first and only time we break it.
The Col de la Madeleine is listed as 2,000 meters exactly, but is said to be a slightly less glamorous 1,993m. Still, Loze leads us at 2,304m a lot into the ‘extreme’; it is the seventh highest mountain pass in all of France.
In theory, it would provide a natural benefit to the so-called ‘height-born’. Although Egan Bernal and Nairo Quintana have dropped out, Colombians Rigoberto Urán and Miguel Angel López – born 1,800 and 2,800 meters respectively – sit third and fourth together, while the two Slovenes at the top of the table, Primož Roglič and Tadej Pogačar, were both born smaller. than 500 meters. However, the spread of altitude training in modern cycling has somewhat leveled the rules of the game.
Yet the oxygen debt effectively leaves no room to hide; the strongest will rise to the top and any weaknesses will be exposed.
Roglic vs Pogacar?
After Egan Bernal’s dramatic capitulation at the Grand Colombier on Sunday, the Tour de France 2020 looks like a two-horse race, despite five other riders still a little over two minutes down. It’s not to do a disservice to Urán, López, Adam Yates, Richie Porte and Mikel Landa – or even Enric Mas at. 3:15 – but the effervescent debutant Tadej Pogačar in 40 seconds has so far been the only rider who has been able to do any damage to the yellow jersey Primož Roglič.
Although Pogačar’s attacking instincts are hyped up, the difficulty level of the Col de la Loze means he and the others are likely to save their balls for it, rather than trying something as far out as the Col de la Madeleine. Coming 62 km from the line and followed by a long descent plus 15 km in the valley, it would take someone to put their run on the line to go from there. Most of the top 10 would not, and Pogačar does not really need it.
Instead of after a big battle for both the outburst and the intermediate sprint after 45.5 km, we can expect Jumbo-Visma to set the pace on Madeleine. The route picks up the harder of the two roads, from the south – last used in 2013 – meaning an average increase of 8.4 percent over 17.1 km. It may not be the big flash point, but it’s still one except category a climbing animal and it will not be a peloton going over the top, but more of a ‘yellow jersey group’. Then they come down the north side of Madeleine, which has often been tackled on the way to Alpe d’Huez, within 15 km of false flat in the valley.
The last climb starts in a fairly straightforward way with 15 km of fairly regular alpine climb. When we go after what we’ve seen so far, Jumbo-Visma will probably impose their rhythm here, and the rest will be happy to let them do it. However, when the bike path starts, all bets are off.
What is certain is that Jumbo-Visma will not be able to run the part like Grand Colombier, given the simple physical fact that slipstreaming counts almost nothing on climbs like it. Tom Dumoulin commanded the Grand Colombier, but this is far less his kind of terrain, and he will certainly be used further up the climb, leaving that featherweight Sepp Kuss as the last man with Roglič. In its current form, you could see him being there most of the way up.
It’s hard to see other contestants having teammates with them at the time, and it’s likely to be a case for any man for himself, as each claws his way to the line in some sort of survival of the fittest. As such, pace will be paramount, as Clément Champoussin, who attacked it like a madman in the Tour de l’Avenir, found out. When you go in red on these climbs, at that height, you can pay dearly.
In a trip that has been relatively tight so far, the Col de la Loze is expected to do a lot of damage in a very short amount of time. Pogačar flies and should thrive on this terrain, while Roglič has looked quite impeccably up to this point. It is set to be a captivating competition.
In addition to these two, Urán faces a major test of his podium evidence after an underrated but confident start that brings back memories of 2017, while López just behind him has looked sharp. Yates came here for stage wins, but is now all-in for GC, while Landa has not done much wrong except to miss that echelon on stage 7. Everyone is more or less out-and-out climbers who prefer changes in rhythm rather than stable abrasive ascents. However, a real podium competitor may emerge in Porte, which is currently sixth at. 2:13. He was the one who was able to go after Roglič and Pogačar on the steep finish at Puy Mary and split the group up to four with an acceleration at the top of the Grand Colombier.
As Prudhomme pointed out, it is still difficult to predict how it will play out, as we have never really had anything like it on the Tour. Anything could happen, and whatever happens, it’s definitely spectacular.