When Wednesday July 22
To Pra Loup
Impact on overall: 4/5
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Where are we?
The second and last rest day is done and dusted, and the true Alpine stages begin: four long, climb-rich days in the mountains await, and this, in the southern Alps, is the first.
Digne-les-Bains has been a semi-regular on the Tour since 1933, when it started its run as a stage start and finish in each edition of the race until 1948, after which it wasn’t used again until 1967. Since then, though, it’s made three further appearances.
Pra Loup — to the north-east of Digne, but reached via a circuitous stage route — is a popular ski resort. Today’s Tour stage should make it an equally popular summer destination, ideally without any snow or overpriced drinks or apres pretence.
What’s on the route?
To take us to the final climb of Pra Loup, the route from Digne-les-Bains takes us on a roughly U-shaped loop, which allows this stage to take in a number of climbs for a rather undulating day. The toughest of those are the Col de la Colle-Saint-Michel, halfway through, and the 2,250m Col d’Allos.
The Allos is quite a slog, at 23.6km long from the direction of Colmars — a town many will remember as the place where Australia’s Heinrich Haussler took an emotional, solo stage win in the 2009 Tour. A long descent from the top of the Allos may offer the opportunity to recover a little before the short, sharp final climb up to Pra Loup.
You can reasonably expect fireworks today — what could be a key first full day in the Alps. On the other hand, if the big names do decide to keep their powder dry for the even tougher days yet to come, then at least you can guarantee some action from the smaller teams — and in particular the wildcards, who will be keen to demonstrate to the watching world why Christian Prudhomme and his organising team were right to select them.
The more experienced riders will know how tough is the final climb up to Pra Loup, and they will not be taking big risks. Once again, we may see them playing a waiting game: watching and waiting for each other to make the first move. Who will explode into life first and mount an attack? It depends who has the itchiest trigger finger, so to speak.