Mountain passes & hills
Km 64.0 - Côte de Capvern: 7.7 kilometre-long climb at 3.1% - category 4
Km 111.5 - Col des Ares (797 m): 7.4 kilometre-long climb at 4.6% - category 2
Km 139.5 - Col de Menté (1 349 m): 6.9 kilometre-long climb at 8.1% - category 1
Km 184.0 - Port de Balès (1 755 m): 11.7 kilometre-long climb at 7.7% - category H
Km 209.5 - Col de Peyresourde (1 569 m): 9.7 kilometre-long climb at 7.8% - category 1
Km 214.5 - Peyragudes (1 580 m): 2.4 kilometre-long climb at 8.4% - category 2
Some 30 kilometres north of Bagnères-de-Luchon, where Chris Froome took the maillot jaune after winning the eighth stage last year, the Col des Ares will be approached west from Fronsac. It will cause little problem for the peloton other than to provide a launchpad for a long breakaway - that’s if one hasn’t already formed on the Côte de Capvern, which, although rated in the roadbook as only a Cat. 4, is more a climb than a côte.
Thirty kilometres after summiting the Ares, riders will reach Pont de l'Oule at the foot of the Col de Portet d'Aspet, and begin climbing the east face of the Col de Menté. The easier side of this central Pyrenean climb that has an average gradient of 8.1%, it nonetheless gets harder as it goes on, the final 7km from Ger-de-Boutx considered the climb proper and containing sections of 10.5%.
First used in 2007, out of the six featured today the Port de Balès is the second most recent addition at Le Tour. The fifteenth stage a decade ago, it will no doubt be well remembered by thousands of recreational riders, as it was also the L'Étape du Tour. Less fondly, it was the stage Alexandre Vinokourov originally won but was later stripped of. (The day following, when others were enjoying a well-earned rest, Vino was imbibing his own blood via a drip - as you do...) Kim Kirchen of Luxembourg was the belated victor.
At the behest of Tour organisers looking for new mountains to traverse, the Port de Balès was virtually impassable till it was resurfaced during the summer of 2006, and was also the scene of the infamous ‘chaingate’ scandal at the 2010 race. Another Luxembourger, Andy Schleck, was leading the race and looked set to attack his nemesis Alberto Contador, only for his chain to fall foul of forward motion. Claiming not to know, el Pistolero launched his own offensive and arrived 39 seconds ahead at the finish in Bagnères-de-Luchon. Coincidentally, it was the exact same margin Schleck would lose the race by - only for the result to be overturned by the Court of Arbitration for Sport in February 2012 when Contador was handed a backdated two-year doping suspension.
The 2.4km kicker of a finale to Peyragudes, where the victor will be crowned at its altiport, is, technically speaking, the newest entrant of the climbs on le parcours du jour. However given it is essentially an extension of the western side of the Col de Peyresourde, first used in 1910 and to be tackled for the 47th occasion today, the aforementioned statement is only partially true.
The Tour of 2012 remains the first and only time it has been used, when, in the year Bradley Wiggins won overall, evergreen Spaniard Alejandro Valverde won the seventeenth stage that, coincidentally, included the four main climbs featured today (only the first two were in reverse order). Waiting for his leader several times (if you hadn’t known who was the best climber, you did now), Froome and Wiggins finished together in second and third, though friendship-wise were poles apart. Despite the bickering and uneasy silence between the pair on the Death Star (otherwise known as the Team Sky bus), as far as GC was concerned the Team Sky duo were so far in front it didn’t really matter.
So we’re therefore left with little indication of what will transpire. “I think it will be very similar to the other mountain stages,” Orica-Scott’s Simon Yates, best young rider and seventh on GC, 2’02 off the pace of Froome, predicted after Wednesday’s stage to Pau. “There’s going to be a lot of guys who are looking for the breakaway at the beginning so I’m sure it’ll be a very hard start.
“Then I think there will be guys wanting to take some time out of Chris in the final, so I’m predicting another really hard day. At the beginning, I will follow the big guys who are up there in the GC, but I hope I have good legs, and if I do and I see a good opportunity in the final there, maybe I can try something.”
There’s also the anomalous three-climb, 101 kilometre stage tomorrow to Foix, which may temper any thought of complete purgatory in the Pyrénées.
Christian Prudhomme, Tour de France race director, says:
“The longest stage of the Pyrenean stay will be made of an extremely difficult sequence of climbs. As the kilometres are covered, it'll only get harder with the climb up to the Col de Menté, even more selective with the Port de Balès, and will become a real agony for the legs on the new final climb to Peyragudes. In the final kilometre, on the runway of the only airport of the Pyrenees, will be a passage at 16 per cent over a distance of 200 metres.”
Finish line: Altiport of Peyresourde-Balestas, at the end of a 400m finishing straight (100m by line of sight) and after a climb of 2.4km at 8.4%. Width: 6.50 m
Weather: 18°C and partly cloudy at start, 0% precipitation, 87% humidity, wind 6km/h NW; 18°C and mostly cloudy at finish, 13% precipitation, 81% humidity, wind 8km/h N.