Tour de France 2013: Stage 15 preview

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Tour de France 2013 stage 15
Sunday, July 14
From Givors
Mont Ventoux
Distance 242.5km
Stage type High mountains

Yellow jersey 5/5
Green jersey 2/5
Polka-dot jersey 3/5

If the landscape seems familiar, it’s because just nine days ago, the Tour was racing through Provence, and we’re right back in the region. The riders would even have caught a glimpse of the main feature of today’s stage – Mont Ventoux, the Giant of Provence, as they headed west.

The stage starts in Givors, just south of Lyon, and heads south down the Rhône valley. The final 20 kilometres are likely to be among the least pleasant of the entire Tour de France. Remember the changement de rythme from the Ax-3-Domaines stage? Well, it’s the same today, except the climb is bigger and harder, the stage is much longer, and the riders have a week’s more accumulated fatigue to deal with.

Mont Ventoux should be on every rider’s to-do list for its difficulty and for the unique landscape at the summit. The view from the top is spectacular, and the oxygen deprivation caused by riding up only adds to that.

We should also note that it’s Bastille Day, France’s national holiday. If a French rider can win today, he’ll never have to buy another pastis in his life. And the crowds will be absolutely nutty.

Today’s the longest stage of the entire Tour, and it features the longest climb. There are 242 kilometres to cover today – it’s the longest stage of the Tour since stage 14 of the 2000 Tour, which was 249 kilometres long (and in the Alps).

Most of the day will be rolling, with small undulations, and one or two shorter climbs. But the crux is the climb to Mont Ventoux.

The Ventoux is one of cycling’s hardest climbs. It starts easily enough, out of the village of Bédoin – the first five kilometres drag upwards at five per cent or so. While this section isn’t too hard, it saps energy and willpower before the climb proper starts. As the road heads out of the fields and into the forest on the mountain’s slopes, it ramps sharply upwards, rarely dropping below nine per cent, for 11 entire kilometres, up to Chalet Reynard. The gradient is relentless, with no hairpins to ease the steepness, and the atmosphere in the forest is airless and claustrophobic.

At Chalet Reynard, there’s the briefest of respites before the final section of the climb, up the barren scree slopes of the summit. It’s steep again up here, with an open view all the way to the weather station at the top.

The Tour may well be decided here. The Ventoux is the hardest single climb of a climber’s Tour, and any weakness will be ruthlessly exploited by the strong. The lack of respite on the climb magnifies strength and weakness, and for the first time the gaps between the contenders will start to be counted in minutes, rather than seconds.

On the first two thirds of the climb, sporting logic should prevail – stronger climbers will have the 15 kilometres up to Chalet Reynard to get rid of their rivals. At the top, for the final six kilometres, things get more complicated.

The wind often blows so strongly here that there is more safety in numbers, and it’s much more difficult to get away. Isolated riders suffer in this situation, but unlike most Tour climbs, the headwind can be strong enough for a weaker rider to still survive at the top, if he can sit in the wheels.

Category: HC
Start: Bédoin
Length: 20.8km
Height: 1,912m
Altitude gain: 1,598m
Average gradient: 7.5 per cent 

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