18 kilometres long, the Col de La Toussuire is the Dauphine?s only summit finish of 2008. So why didn?t they choose a more inspiring climb?
Rated first category, the Toussuire starts off very steeply at the bottom, which is promising. It actualy goes up the same road as the opening part of the climb that precedes it in stage six of this year?s Dauphine, the Col de la Croix de Fer.
But then after five kilometres of straight, steep climbing up the side of the Arvans valley, when the road veers left for the Croix de Fer, the road to the Toussuire ploughs straight on. We hate to say it, but it?s not the most inspiring of climbs.
Alternating gradients of perhaps eight percent at most with sections of false flat, one of the biggest challenges when Cycling Weekly went up it on Saturday morning was the road surface. Just after the village of Villambert, half-way up, for a good couple of kilometres the tarmac is ripped up and buckling at the edges of the road – should be good for a few punctures…
Then after going through the lower fringes of La Toussuire (which is basically a lot of high-rise flats plonked down high on an Alpine mountain – very attractive), there?s even a couple of downhill sections, before the road rises up gently and then loops back on itself to the finish. And that?s it.
If it weren?t for the steep opening section, it?s hard to see how this climb could be classified first category – or be so decisive in the race. What should make a big difference, of course, is that the riders will tackle the Toussuire with 200 kilometres and the Hors Categorie Croix de Fer (now there?s a climb to be reckoned with) in their legs.
Will it do a lot of damage? Hard to say. If you?re having a really bad day (as Floyd Landis did on the Toussuire in the 2006 Tour, where he lost the yellow jersey for the first time to Oscar Pereiro), there are loads of breaks in the climbing, with downhill sections to recover.
There?s certainly no risk of dehydration because of the heat. The weather on Saturday is chilly (10 degrees Celsuis at the top) with a breeze, and lots of clouds cover.
Big favourite on the day has to be Alejandro Valverde, and not just because he?s leading overall, but also because two years ago in the Dauphine Libere, the Caisse D?Epargne rider finished second on this stage. Leipheimer , who won the 2006 Dauphine, took fourth.
Breaking news Mid-stage, Britain?s one rider in this year?s race, Charly Wegelius, is in the early break of 20 riders. Half way through this very long stage their lead was around the 2-30 mark. Wegelius is currently lying 26th overall.