Tag Archives: le tour

Le Tour de France 2018

 

 

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My stock ‘Grand Tour’ photo taken during the TdF 2016. I’ll try to take some more in 2018

The route of the 2018 Tour was announced today in Paris. It is pretty much as the rumours predicted – not entirely surprising as some stages are pre-empted by excited host cities or by decent investigative journalism, including by studying things like hotel booking patterns.

Starting a week later than normal due to the World Cup, the first four stages, in the Vendée department in the Pays de la Loire, had already been unveiled officially, including a team time trial (absent for two years) for stage 3. The other three stages look to be ones for the sprinters.

Then into Brittany and Normandy as the route makes its way, clockwise, to Amiens for the finish of stage 8. Stage 9 includes over 21 km (15 sections) of the famous cobbles on the way to Roubaix last visited in 2014, before a significant rest day transfer for stage 10, the first mountain stage in the alps. This is from Annecy to Le Grand Bornand and will be the Etape du Tour for 2018.

It’s a great area – the Etape I did in 2013 started and finished in Annecy but this year the tough 151km stage takes in the Col de la Croix Fry, the Col de Romme (for only the second time) and the top half of the Col de la Colombiere. I’ve ridden Colombiere a few times and really like it but I’ve only climbed Romme from the (much easier) South. They will be riding it from the North and that’s about 9.3 km at 8.8%. I’ve descended that way and it certainly feels every bit as steep as that.

It looks like my ride out to the alps next year will be targeted to get me to Les Carroz in time to watch this stage on Romme or Colombiere – can’t wait.

The next two stages stay in the alps, with stage 11 running from Albertville to La Rosière. I’ve skied in La Rosière – it was a very nice, small resort at the end of the valley road before you cross into Italy and arrive at La Thuile. In 1999 we were in La Rosière and adding a second week’s skiing in the Haute Savoie. My plan was to drive into Italy and go through the Mont Blanc tunnel back into France. The first day we skied along the road I had been planning to take into Italy, leading to a quick revision of the route. No bad thing as that was the week of the fire in the tunnel that tragically killed 35.

Stage 12 finishes in l’Alpe d’Huez. When I rode d’Huez, I found the town to be a bit of a disappointment but the whole experience was improved by carrying on above it to Lac Besson (with its decent restaurant) and then coming down via the Col de Sarenne (tantalizingly signposted as being at 1999m).

Sadly, no Mont Ventoux – I did the cinglé in 2015 and I think it’s a really special Mountain.

Stage 16 sees the tour’s arrival in the Pyrenees, before an individual time trial for the penultimate stage, down in the South West corner of the country.

Then the traditional finish takes place on Sunday 29th July in Paris.

Likely decisive stages?

Certainly the cobbles on stage 9 – especially if it’s wet and trecherous. Also cross winds can be really disruptive and cause splits in the peleton on the coastal stages.

Otherwise, as always, look out for the usual suspects – especially the mountain stages, where there will be 5 mountain finishes. Also watch out for the gravel section at the top of the Plateau des Glières on stage 10 – I rode it in 2016 (we have a very fine Routemeister for our trips to the alps) but was very pleased I wasn’t trying to race along it. The climb to the plateau itself is also pretty tough from the east side (with 5.8km at 11.5%).

The individual time trial looks to be quite hilly so might play into Chris Froome’s hands – even though he and Tom Dumoulin would, no doubt, have wanted two ITTs. In 2016 I watched Froome win the individual time trial (Sallanches to Megève) from the roadside at Combloux – that was up a hill and he was completely dominant.

Can Chris Froome win it? Certainly he can but it won’t be easy as Dumoulin, Porte, Quintana, Landa, López, Aru, Bardet, Urán and Nibali must all fancy their chances of a podium at least. It will be interesting to see what Landa can do when racing for himself and Quintana should put up a better showing assuming he doesn’t try to do the Giro as well, like he did this year.

However, what none of the other likely contenders have is the strength of Team Sky around them and that could, as in recent years, be decisive – even with the team size being reduced from 9 to 8 for 2018. Personally I hope it is as I’d love to see an English speaker joining the 5 time winners’ club (and staying there!).

Great congratulations to Chris Froome on winning the Velo d’Or – I for one hope he adds Le Tour of 2018 to it.

A ride, a seat post and Le Tour

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I got out for the club red ride on Saturday – and thoroughly enjoyed it. The weather was really (unseasonably) decent and we were on some roads we rarely visit, including a long slog out of Eastbury that got the heart pumping. I decided to ride in the front group – if I could – and ended up finishing with two particularly strong riders to make up a front three. My Garmin mis-fired but judging by the records of fellow riders I did about 74km at an average of 28.9kph.

I’m still on the Rose but am completing the upgrades on the old Giant. It now has a new seat post (with faux aero design) and my spare carbon saddle – by good fortune its all open weave carbon fibre so I think it looks pretty good. I’ve managed to buy a right hand shifter on Ebay so once that arrives it should be good to go. I may decide to ride that for the winter to give it a good shake-down before riding it out to the alps in the summer (I hope) but might revert to the Rose (with its winter wheels) for special occasions.

The Giant weighs in at about 8.3kg compared to the Rose (in fighting mode) at about a kilo less (until the winter wheels are added) – looks like I’ll have to keep some control over my weight to make life as easy as possible. The exercise needs to step up a bit!

With thoughts turning to the summer, the unveiling of the route of the 2018 Tour de France is tomorrow. Next year the fun starts a week later because of the World Cup. Rather long odds on an English double, I fear.

The first few stages, as always, are already revealed but my favourite rumour site is:

http://www.velowire.com/article/1027/en/tour-de-france-2018–the-rumours-about-the-race-route-and-the-stage-cities-.html

– it’s usually pretty accurate. After the start in the Vendée department in the Pays de la Loire, it points to Brittany for the end of the opening week, but the expectation is that it then heads east (a clockwise year) to the cobbles of Roubaix before the Alps (possibly including Alpe d’Huez), and then the Pyrenees.

For me, the 10th stage looks to be the most interesting as it comes closest to the apartment in Les Carroz. We’ve cycled the 40km to Le Grand Bornand (the 10th stage finish) on previous visits to the area but it’s hard to guess exactly where the route might go as the shortest distance between the stage start and finish is only about 30km – but the stage is rumoured to be 151km.

The rumour is that it goes up to the Plateau des Glières. It’s the site of an important battle between the French Resistance and the German army, in the second world war and it also has a fine national monument to the Resistance, constructed in 1973. We cycled it two years ago from the East side and it’s a bit of a beast that way with, I believe, 7km averaging 12%.

It might be too much to hope that it could take in the Col de la Colombière and the Col de Romme which are even closer. I’ve climbed Colombière several times but have only ridden Romme the easy way – from Le Reposoir (half way up Colombière). Riding it from  Cluses is a lot tougher (9.6km at 8.4% average – or 9.3km at 8.8% depending where you read it) and I’m surprised it’s only been used once in the tour, in 2009.

Although we don’t organise our annual trip only by reference to Le Tour, we do try to take in a stage or two if it comes close and the dates fit people’s availability, so the third week of July is pencilled in – can’t wait.

 

Chapeau Chris, adiós Bertie

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Chris Froome on the way  to winning the 2016 Tour de France – taken from the roadside, watching stage 19

This afternoon saw the largely processional end to La Vuelta 2017 and the crowning of Chris Froome as winner. I thoroughly enjoyed the race which – as usual – involved more up and coming riders than the TdF and so threw up new names in both teams and riders.

Froome took the leader’s red jersey after stage 3 and never relinquished it. A dominant performance and one that means he becomes only the third man to win the Tour de France and La Vuelta in the same year (and the other two did it when the Vuelta was a two week race, with much smaller fields and was run in April/May, before the TdF). It’s a truly great achievement but one for which I fear he will get inadequate credit.

Why? A number of reasons. Partly because Team Sky handled the Therapeutic Use Exemptions matter badly; partly because Sky win too much for many people’s liking; partly because many don’t like Sky’s ‘marginal gains’ philosophy; and partly because people often view Chris himself as bland and boring.

Of course, some of these are justified – it’s a win that is not likely to stir the blood but this is pro cycling, not a bullfight. What others see as a boring champion, I see as a very modern, professional cyclist who is respectful, modest and generous to his teammates and rivals.

Perhaps a major part of the problem is that Sky have the single aim of winning the GC rather than entertaining – but I certainly won’t blame them for that.

It will be interesting to see if he ever attempts to win the Giro to complete the Grand Tour ‘set’. I believe that he has only competed in it twice – he was 36th in 2009 and disqualified in 2010 (when he held on to a police motorcycle to get a tow to the next feed station in order to retire with a knee injury). Presumably the TdF will continue to dominate his thoughts for some time to come as he heads towards 5 wins to put himself level with Hinault, Anquetil and Merckx – or a 6th to move beyond those greats?

Chapeau Chris – a man who should certainly be Sports Personality of the Year (recognising that the two wins by Andy Murray puts the emphasis on achievement rather than personality).

In contrast, we saw the final appearance of Alberto Contador. Another divisive character in many ways – not least because of his associations with individuals and teams with mixed reputations and a ban for doping after his 2010 Tour victory. The ban for a finding of Clenbuterol in his system came as a real shock at the time and he has always strenuously denied the allegation of doping, claiming that it was accidentally ingested from contaminated meat.

The amounts in his system were minute and the drug would not be one that would be likely to be used during a Grand Tour but the fact is that he was banned and stripped of a number of wins, including the 2010 Tour itself.

In contrast to Froome, Contador could rarely – if ever – be said to be boring. While Froome plays the percentages and often grinds out wins thanks to his time trailing ability, and (in part) the strength of the team around him, Contador has been something of a maverick and a showman – always looking for the opportunity to attack and win with style.

His stage victory on Saturday was almost the perfect way for him to finish – out in front on his own, on one of the most fearsome climbs in Grand Tour racing, on the last competitive stage in his career. It would be hard to write it any better.

Goodness knows what Contador would have won if he’d had a team like Sky around him – assuming he could have accepted the Sky philosophies!

Love him or hate him, Alberto Contador has been one of the greatest cyclists of his generation and I for one think that the sport will be all the poorer for his retirement.