Stage 17: Bagnères de Luchon-Peyragudes

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After an overnight stop, the race continues from Luchon to the ski resort of Peyragudes – a first-time Tour venue and the 11th and last Pyrenean climb of this 2012 edition.

More mountains. And a finish which is only about 20 kilometres from the start.

“Can we take the direct route, please, Tour organisers?” the riders will ask, and Christian Prudhomme will sadly shake his head at them, and say, “You have to go the long, and hard, way round. Now get cycling, before I reintroduce 300-kilometre mountain stages.”

It’s a mix of the old and new of the Tour today. It was on the descent of the Col de Menté during the 1971 Tour de France that Luis Ocana famously crashed out while wearing the yellow jersey, effectively handing Eddy Merckx a third Tour de France victory.

The Port de Balès, meanwhile, only appeared on the Tour route for the first time in 2007, and then again in 2010. It’s where Andy Schleck dropped his chain, just before Alberto Contador attacked him.

Having gone up it from the other side just the day before, the 2012 Tour heads back up the Col de Peyresourde. But instead of carrying on over the summit, as the race has always done until now, it turns left down a short descent, and then ascends up to Peyragudes on a climb never used by the Tour before. In 2010, the Route du Sud – a favourite race of Tour director Christian Prudhomme – used the climb for a mountain time trial, won by David Moncoutié, who also won the race overall.

Before taking cycling’s top job (sorry, Pat!), Prudhomme had covered the Route du Sud as a commentator for French television, and loved it, so it’s no coincidence that stage 15’s start town (and foie gras centre), Samatan, also featured on the parcours of the 2011 Route du Sud – a race that’s become used to being somewhat of a testing ground for climbs and stage towns that later appear at the Tour.

More carnage. Possibly even more than the day before, given that this is the climbers’ last chance to gain time before the flat-track bullies get their own back at Chartres.

The Peyresourde/Peyragudes combination is going to be too late to attack and gain significant time. The Menté is too early, although it’s a very steep mountain. The break should be established by here.

Which leaves the Port de Balès, the start of which comes around 50 kilometres from the end. Prudhomme might as well put a big sign up, reading “Climbers: if you want to win the Tour, you really need to attack here.”

More stunning Pyrenean fare: wooded valleys, dramatic peaks.

Garbure – a thick, hearty vegetable soup that also includes either ham or duck. Whatever happens to be wandering by, really.

You’ll need to watch the whole of the final 50 kilometres, so best throw a sickie.


Matthieu Ladagnous, FDJ, Born in Pau
“It’s a hard stage – lots of climbs, and even the valley roads are hard work. The general classification is going to be played out on this day.

“We raced the Port de Balès in the 2010 Tour, and it’s a hard climb. At the bottom it’s not too steep, but it gets narrower and steeper at the top. It’s on one of the steeper sections that Schleck had a problem with his chain and Contador rode away from him. The Peyresourde is well known by the Tour de France. It’s not too hard – it’s more of a steady gradient up to the top. I’ve ridden up the road to Peyragudes twice – it’s a nice road, and another steady gradient.

“If you come to this region, apart from the cycling, make sure to eat some foie gras. For a professional cyclist, it’s not a big part of the diet, but it’s OK to eat it every now and again.”

– Peyragudes hosts the Tour for the first time, although the race has crossed the Peyresourde on 61 occasions.
– The descent of the Balès spits the riders out onto the Peyresourde a few kilometres above Luchon, so the riders won’t do the entire climb.
– The Balès was first used in 2007, then again in 2010.
– The Menté makes its 18th Tour appearance.
– The Port de Balès is the final HC climb of the Tour. There have been six HC climbs this year, three fewer than last year. In 2010 there were also six. 2009: four. 2008: eight.

Col de Menté
Category 1
Start St Beat
Length 9.3km
Height 1,349m
Altitude gain 849m
Average gradient 9.1%

Col des Ares
Category 2
Start Cazaunous
Length 6km
Height 797m
Altitude gain 310m
Average gradient 5.3%

Port de Balès
Category HC
Start Ferrère
Length 11.7km
Height 1,755m
Altitude gain 903m
Average gradient 7.7%

Category 1
Start St Aventin
Length 15.4km
Height 1,603m
Altitude gain 790
Average gradient 5.1%

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Maps courtesy of Amaury Sports Organisation