Could the Tour de France be one step closer to a Puy de Dôme finish as soon as 2023?
A combination of a recent visit to the iconic volcano by Tour boss Christian Prudhomme, hotel booking patterns and a start in well-placed St Leonard Léonard de Noblat 150km away, suggests the climb could feature on stage nine of next year's race.
It's no secret that race boss Christian Prudhomme would like the race to finish atop the 1,465m dormant lava dome, which is located in the Massif Central. However, it has not been used in the Tour since 1988, chiefly due to numerous logistical issues, such as a narrow road (which became narrower after a railway track was built alongside it in 2012), lack of space at the top and a Unesco Heritage Site application.
Plans for its inclusion in the race appeared to have taken a step forward this summer when Prudhomme visited the climb on a recon mission with Laurent Wauquiez, president of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, and Lionel Chauvin, president of the department's council.
Speaking to local media outlet La Montagne, Prudhomme said: "The dream has become bigger today. There's a lot of emotion for us because it's a dream that we've had in our heads for years."
"The Puy de Dôme is a myth, our emblem in Auvergne," Wauquiez added. "I have always thought that it was a mistake to deprive ourselves of the potential of coming here."
There were predictions that the Tour might save a visit to this 'forgotten climb' for 2024 – the 60th anniversary of a famous duel on its slopes between five-time Tour winner Jacquel Anquetil and Raymond Poulidor.
But now according to Thomas Vergouwen at Velowire, hotel bookings in and around Clermont-Ferrand on 9 July next year suggest that if the Tour isn't finishing on the Puy de Dôme on stage nine, it's certainly finishing very close by.
Because of the lack of space on the climb roadside fans could be limited or even prohibited – likewise the Tour caravan.
The Puy de Dôme was first used on the race route in 1952, and has featured a total 13 times – most recently in 1988, when the stage was won by Denmark's Jonny Weltz.
We will find out for definite whether the climb will feature on next year's Tour when the full route is announced in Paris on 27 October.
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