The opening three days of the 2020 Tour de France have already offered up some hectic and thrilling racing.
From the nightmare weather conditions on stage one, which saw most of the peloton involved in crashes at some point, to Julian Alaphilippe’s classic escape on the hills around Nice on stage two, we’ve already been treated to some stand-out moments.
But stage four marks another key moment in the 2020 Tour de France route - the first mountain finish and an opportunity for the yellow jersey contenders to stretch their legs.
The 160km stage from Sisteron to Orcières-Merlette features four categorised climbs, the last of which is the first major climb of the race.
At 7.1-long with an average gradient of 6.7 per cent and finish altitude of 1,800 metres, the climb is not the most punishing on the race on paper, but that will all depend on how it’s raced.
The French ski resort is located in the Hautes-Alpes department, tucked in the Alps mountain rage, around 200km north east of Nice and not far from the town of Gap.
Starting with more manageable gradients of between three per cent and six per cent in the opening kilometre, the climb then gets tougher from kilometre two, where the ramps bounce between four per cent and nine per cent.
The ascent then continues with a steeper middle section with gradients up to 9.5 per cent, and then levels out between the fifth and sixth kilometres.
Into the final kilometres the road holds at around six per cent, before completely levelling out in the last 200m before the line.
Orcières-Merlette hasn’t featured in the Tour since 1989, when Stephen Rooks won the individual time trial to the summit and Greg Lemond moved into the yellow jersey.
But the most famous race on this iconic climb came during the 1971 Tour, when Luis Ocaña put Eddy Merckx to the sword with a 177km-long attack which saw him finish more than eight minutes up on the Belgian cycling legend and take the yellow jersey.
In more recent times, the climb has not featured in major races, while the fastest times on Strava date back to at least 2014.
The current fastest rider on Strava is AG2R La Mondiale’s Clément Chevrier, who hit the climb during a training ride in July 2013.
Chevrier rode the 7.4km-long segment in a time of 19-56, with an average speed of 22.3km/h.
Unfortunately Chevrier hasn’t shared his power data from the effort, but the second fastest rider Jeremy Defaye did.
The Frenchman pushed 328w for 20-33 in July 2014 to come second on the segment, with an average speed of 21.6km/h.
Since then, there have been no efforts close to toppling Chevrier from the top spot, so we can expect the KoM to fall once the Tour de France peloton reaches the top.
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Alex Ballinger is editor of BikeBiz magazine, the leading publication for the UK cycle industry, and is the former digital news editor for CyclingWeekly.com. After gaining experience in local newsrooms, national newspapers and in digital journalism, Alex found his calling in cycling, first as a reporter, then as news editor responsible for Cycling Weekly's online news output, and now as the editor of BikeBiz. Since pro cycling first captured his heart during the 2010 Tour de France (specifically the Contador-Schleck battle) Alex covered three Tours de France, multiple editions of the Tour of Britain, and the World Championships, while both writing and video presenting for Cycling Weekly. He also specialises in fitness writing, often throwing himself into the deep end to help readers improve their own power numbers. Away from the desk, Alex can be found racing time trials, riding BMX and mountain bikes, or exploring off-road on his gravel bike. He’s also an avid gamer, and can usually be found buried in an eclectic selection of books.
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