When Friday July 24
To La Toussuire – Les Sybelles
Impact on overall: 5/5
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Where are we?
This is a stage held entirely in the Savoie département, in the heart of the French Alps. We start where we left off the day before, in the town of Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne, and visit it again later in the day when the race loops round after passing over the Col du Mollard. And it’s from Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne that the climb up to the finish at La Toussuire begins — the stage resembling a sort of inward spiral, with La Toussuire slap-bang in the middle of affairs.
It makes Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne an excellent base for anyone coming to watch the Tour ‘live’, with the opportunity to see the race three times in two days without moving a muscle from your carefully planned position at that cafe.
What’s on the route?
All the talk ahead of stage 19 will be about the finish up to La Toussuire, but the route also takes on the Col du Chaussy — that rare thing: a climb that’s not been used by the Tour before — straight out of the start in Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne.
After 60 kilometres, the long climb up to the Col de la Croix de Fer begins, via the Col du Glandon, which isn’t even acknowledged on the stage profile; the riders climb it the way the route came down it on stage 18, and then a left turn at the top takes them on up to the Croix de Fer, although this last section is a little less steep.
From there, it’s a very fast, straight and dangerous descent down to the town of Saint-Jean-d’Arves, where the Col du Mollard begins, followed by another dangerous descent — twisty this time — back down to Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne before starting on La Toussuire. The climb — 18.4km at an average grade of six per cent — eventually reaches the ski resort of Villarembert, but it’s another two kilometres to the finish line from there.
The Maurienne valley gives access to some of the sport’s most iconic climbs: the Glandon, the Croix de Fer, the Mollard and La Toussuire from Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne and, coming up on stage 20 from nearby Saint-Michel-du-Marienne, the Télégraphe and the Galibier. It’s an area of rich pickings for cyclists, and well worth a visit.
With the tough climb of the Col du Chaussy coming right at the beginning of the stage, keep an eye out for any static-trainer warm-ups from riders who have got their eye on an early move.
Following the descent to La Chambre, the major players’ teams will try to keep things in check through the valley and onto the climb up to the Col de la Croix de Fer, followed by the Col du Mollard. But it should turn into a free-for-all once we get onto La Toussuire — a climb only tackled by the Tour for the first time in 2006, having been tried and tested just the month before at the then Dauphiné Libéré.
Since its introduction, La Toussuire has always caused riders problems — a tough climb that, thanks to essentially being a dead-end, with just one route up its flanks, comes at the end of a stage — and, in this case, a relatively short one at 138km. Short stages like this are becoming de rigueur in the mountains at the Tour and the Giro, promoting aggressive, attacking riding, which serves to shake things up considerably more than everyone just waiting for the final few kms.