Why the Col de Manse could be decisive on today's Tour stage

The famous climb and descent of the Col de Manse have played their part in previous editions of the Tour de France

Photo: Graham Watson

Thanks to the popularity of Gap as a Tour de France stage host, the descent off the Col de Manse has featured a number of times through the years.

This col first appeared in 1971 and since then some of the racing up and down this climb has stood out, at times proving to be a talking point from that year's race as a whole.

Lance Armstrong goes cross country after Beloki crashes


The climb's most infamous outing in the Tour de France came in 2003 starring, you guessed it, Lance Armstrong. When descending from the Cote de La Rochette, the riders passed the Col de Manse when Joseba Beloki lost control on the melting road surface and crashed heavily in front of Armstrong.

At the time, Beloki was sitting second to Armstrong on GC, but suffered a broken femur, broken wrist and broken elbow in a crash that effectively ended his career.

Armstrong swerved his falling rival, crossed a field, dismounted, jumped a ditch and rejoined the race. Regardless of what we all know about the Texan now, that's still some good bike handling.

Schleck loses time, blames descent

Schleck stage sixteen Tour de France 2011

Crossing the line over a minute down on his rivals. Photo: Graham Watson

When the race climbed the Col de Manse before descending it into Gap on stage 16 of the 2011 race, Alberto Contador twice attacked to try and gap his GC rivals. Eventual overall winner Cadel Evans and Samuel Sanchez were equal to the move, but Andy Schleck was not.

After the searing heat that melted the road and caused Beloki's crash in 2003, the visit in 2011 was notable for its rainy conditions. Descending into Gap far more cautiously than their rivals, Andy and brother Franck both lost time and Andy later bemoaned the inclusion of a technical descent so near the end of a stage.

Contador and Froome have a tangle

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The race once again visited the Col de Manse on stage 18 in 2013. At this point, Chris Froome was over four minutes ahead of his nearest rivals, and further still ahead of those who would actually threaten his yellow jersey. Even so, he looked to keep losses to a minimum and chased the downhill attack of Contador.

Contador misjudged a corner and nearly took Froome down with him, to the race leader's social media expressed annoyance.

The Col de Manse is perfect for a breakaway

Thor Hushovd took the stage win from a breakaway on stage 16 in 2011. Photo: Graham Watson

Thor Hushovd took the stage win from a breakaway on stage 16 in 2011. Photo: Graham Watson

Coming late in the race when the GC leaders are watching each other and many teams are still trying to scrape something from their Tour, the climb of the Col de Manse followed by the descent into Gap is perfect territory for a breakaway.

After Bradley Wiggins crashed out of the 2011 race on stage seven, Edvald Boasson Hagen went looking for stage wins to salvage Team Sky's Tour. He was successful on both stages six and seventeen, but was denied on the run in to Gap by compatriot Thor Hushovd.

This outcome is what we might expect from stage sixteen of the 2015 Tour de France, where by a small break goes over the Col de Manse with a lead and employs some rapid descending to stay clear and contest the stage victory in Gap.

Unless of course the GC contenders have other ideas…

QUINTANA Nairo Alexander957p

Quintana attacking Froome. Photo: Yuzuru Sunada
(Image credit: Yuzuru SUNADA)

If Team Sky are unable to control the peloton as it rides up the Col de Manse, or if his rivals sniff any weakness in Froome, then the breakaway's day might be ruined when the GC contenders hit out on the rapid descent into Gap.

As was the case in 2013, Froome may be equal to the moves or may even consider a slight time loss for a safe descent a worthwhile pay-off, but if those in touch with the podium decide to have a go then this stage could take on a whole new dimension.

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Jack Elton-Walters hails from the Isle of Wight, and would be quick to tell anyone that it's his favourite place to ride. He has covered a varied range of topics for Cycling Weekly, producing articles focusing on tech, professional racing and cycling culture. He moved on to work for Cyclist Magazine in 2017 where he stayed for four years until going freelance. He now returns to Cycling Weekly from time-to-time to cover racing, review cycling gear and write longer features for print and online.