21 HC Climbs the Tour should (re)visit - Volume II

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Sep 29, 2012
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Netserk said:
Where did you get the picture from?
Edited my message above. :) I've done some GIMPing on the picture, die some hue/saturation (making the green greener - maybe that explains the fact that people believed it was a Basque climb?), added some texts and effects, and tada. :)
 
Sep 29, 2012
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Here we go.

#22: Col du Sabot (Isère)
The missing link



If you know the Tour de France, you know they are going most of the time in the valleys of Oisans and Maurienne. Both valleys are linked with three iconic climbs that became classics in the Grande Boucle: at the eastern side, the first one is, obviously, the majestuous Col du Galibier. Over a hundred years of history for this sole climb, also becoming recently the highest stage finish ever in the Tour. But there are tons of books and documentaries to relive the legend on this climb, so I shouldn't even mention it: we probably know everything about it already.

The other climbs are located to the west, linked to each other like two brothers. They are also considered as the toughest climbs you can find in France, with 20 kilometers of steep roads on every side. I'm talking about, you guessed it, the Col du Glandon, and the Col de la Croix-de-Fer, culminating 143 meters higher than its lower brother. And despite being classics, they are not the kind of climbs that have been done every time. They weren't ridden by the peloton since the end of the second World War. In average, these climbs are featured every three years since their introduction. But their difficulty, and their strategic placement very close to the most famous mountain stage finish in the world, threw them into the list of the Tour classics.

But we're not here to talk about popular legends. We're here to talk about secrets. Hidden treasures. Forgotten stories. Unknown discoveries. And today, to kick off this new volume, we're going to overlook these conjoined twins. Because over the Lac de Grand Maison, lies a climb that doesn't have any popular recognition. Why? Because it has no link. It's a pass, but it has no descent. No one actually dared to say, in the time when the roads that were still dirt and gravel started to have tarmac all over them, “this climb needs a decent descent”. But I can understand why: there was already something here. The Glandon was here. And therefore, the Tour never went there: it cannot descend.

Say hello to the Col du Sabot. Well, except Krzysztof, who said hello yesterday.



Top: 2100 m
Length: 14.5 km
Ascent: 1290 m
Average gradient: 8.9 %
Climbbybike Difficulty score: 158

I had to start this season with a bang, and the col du Sabot was pretty much the perfect way to begin this new journey. Don't expect climbs as hard as this one for the later climbs, but rest assured, they are all HC-worthy. The Col du Sabot, is located in the Grandes Rousses mountains, up to the town of Vaujany. As the crow flies, it is 7.5 km south-west of the col du Glandon, 11.5 km north of l'Alpe d'Huez, and 30 km east of Grenoble.

Despite the numerous hairpin turns that definitely mimic a nearby climb, the slopes are definitely some of the steepest in the country over such a long length. Only climbs like Ventoux or Mont du Chat can stand the comparison, and Sabot brings it with a near-perfect regularity, as the climb never goes under 7 % average, if we except a little false-flat section in the hamlet of La Villette. By little, I mean shorter than a cycling track. Starting from the well-known Verney Dam, it will go through Vaujany, which is kind of a small-sized ski resort that obviously doesn't bear the comparison with its behemoth neighbor which recieves the Tour every two years.

Of course, the difficulty of the climb relies in its numerous parts with double-digit gradients, the quality of the road that degrades after La Villette, and the high altitude. It might not be as high as some giants of the Alps, but you could definitely lack some oxygen in the final parts, especially when the scenery is absolutely breathtaking, and surprisingly, looking like most Pyreneean climbs. If you go for this climb, you'd be pretty much alone on the road, so stock up on food and water and just enjoy the show, as long as your legs can keep up. In the final straight line, only wilderness, a wooden sign, and a spectacular view over the Lac de Grand Maison will welcome your efforts. Somehow reminding of the col du Granon presented last year, but with a lake.

But you also know the principle of this thread, its also to show the Tour de France (I don't even know if they are reading this thread – chances are low but we can still try!) some new possibilities. This climb, by its nature of being a dead end, makes it then a candidate for a mountain top finish: and there's no better way for a finish up here than preceding it by the hard side of Glandon (21.3 km @ 6.9 %) or the east side of Croix-de-Fer (very irregular 30 km @ 5.1 %) for a killer double-HC combo. And if you want some less difficulty but some more legend, you can precede it with a part of the l'Alpe-d'Huez climb (8.5 km @ 8.6 %) up to the village of Huez, before redescending to Villard-Reculas and to the Verney Dam. Another combo involves the col de Sarenne (12.8 km @ 7.5 %) and takes the same descent to avoid the flat section in the Oisans valley.

The main problem of this climb is it has no descent, and the room at the summit is very limited. You could say “hey, there was a stage finish at Granon in '86!”. Of course, that's the closest reference you can find. But there definitely less room at Sabot than Granon, and remember that the logistics of the Tour in '86 were less bulky than in 2014. They now need approximately 17 acres (70,000 square meters) of available parking space (on a flat stage, though) to ensure a good management. To give you an idea, you need to park around 500 cars and 50 trucks, and bring all the electricity you need to run a stage finish. There might not even be the tenth of the required space at the col du Sabot. Good luck with this!

So either we go for it “Gallina-style” by putting the finish three kilometers before the summit (that still gives a pretty tough climb, and still HC-worthy), or it could also be a mountain ITT a la Plan de Corones with waves of riders. Or we could even completely build a descent on the other side. But there's no gravel road to start off, and even if we could go down the valley, the Grand Maison Dam would be problematic for any big roadworks. The cost of the infrastructures would be phenomenal, and let's not talk about the environmental impact on this – every single wilderness protection association would camp in the area until you get out of here. And as long as the neighbouring station continues to host a prestigious yearly race on its 21 hairpins, the little ski station of Vaujany has practically no chance of receiving the Tour. But well... We can always dream, and that's what this thread is made of.

In any way, this climb really deserves some recognition. It offers a tough challenge and can be chained with mythical and hard climbs. It could have became another classic of the Tour... If it ever had a descent.




See you tomorrow for the next episode of our journey:
The cliffhanger
 
Jun 24, 2013
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I remember skiing in Vaujany this winter and wondering which climb it was (I even made a fictional stage with it). How do you guys know the names of these climbs?

Also, starting from Vaujany is a climb up to some bunkerlike thing which has a little (but just a little) more room at the end, what is this one called?

 
Aug 13, 2009
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Love this thread.

Vanjany is excellent. Have stayed there several times for races. The climb up to the town is tough, especially as a MTF. I cracked on it, perhaps the worst I have ever cracked in a race.

While the town is quite in the summer it does have some excellent facilities

We have rented here twice. Great place.
http://www.laperle-location-vaujany.fr/

Excellent restaurant in town called la Remise. Have eaten there dozens of time and it is always good. Even if we are not staying in Vaujany we make the drive up to eat there
http://www.vaujany.com/en/catering-restaurants/la-remise

Dauphine Libere has finished in Vaujany. I am not sure if they could get all the gear up to Col du Sabot for a Tour finish but I would love to see it
 
Sep 29, 2012
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#23: Col du Solude (Isère)
The cliffhanger



We'll stick around in the area of Bourg-d'Oisans, which is probably one of the most famous villages in France thanks to the Tour and the ski station located 1100 meters above. But today, we'll head south, on the other side of the Romanche river, to climb another pass where on its roads, you can admire the mythical 21 hairpins of you-know-where, which were climbed twice last year thanks to the Col de Sarenne. A pretty good stage indeed, which saw the first (and only) french stage victory of the hundredth Tour de France when Christophe Riblon managed to overtake and attack Tejay Van Garderen, completely cooked two kilometers before the finish line.

But this stage was also subject to some huge controversies:the col de Sarenne descent was deemed truly dangerous, and life-threatening: the road was narrow, steep, and in bad condition: ASO wanted to refect it completely. But ecologists stood on the road and made everything possible to prevent this thing to happen. You know, after what happened at the Planche des Belles Filles, they didn't want a wild protected zone to be disturbed by the sound of huge refection machines. So the descent was kept as is (with a few adjustments though). It spawned the criticism of riders like Tony Martin, who considered the fact of including this descent into the route was irresponsible.

Well, he'd better not know the existence of this climb, because where we're going, the Sarenne descent would look like a four-lane highway in comparison. As the HC-worthy side of this pass is probably the most dangerous climb you'll ever see in the country. It offers a terrifying challenge when climbed, but trust me, you definitely wouldn't want to be forced to go down this way. Because if you miss a turn, you'll be the unlucky winner of a free fall to certain death.

That might remind you the col du Mont Noir, presented in the first list last year, where there was a section built on a cliff and with a nice view down the gorges du Nan. This time, we're taking it to the next level of peril: the col du Solude awaits you.



Top: 1653 m (1680 m)
Length: 10 km (12.6 km)
Ascent: 929 m (929 – 43 + 70 m)
Average gradient: 9.3 % (7.6 %)
Climbbybike Difficulty score: 121 (107)

The climb presented here is the east side from the Bourg d'Oisans: the west side, starting from La Paute and going through Ornon, is slightly easier, being 14.3 km long and averaging a respectable 6.6 % gradient, with a final part of 9.3 km @ 8.1 %. Like I said it before, it's widely preferable to descend on the west side, being much more secure. It offers some little stretches over 10 %, but they definitely don't offer a challenge as hard as the other side.

As you can see on the profile, the real col du Solude is preceded by a near-flat descent of two kilometers. So we'll base ourselves on the first and major part of the climb, which totals ten thousand meters in length, and 929 meters in ascent. That puts it in the same league as climbs like Plateau des Saix or Solaison, or Menté up to the Mourtis ski station. So that's a short, but very, very demanding climb. And it has some tricks up its sleeve that add to the difficulty.

First, being on a cliff, you'll traverse some tunnels in the first kilometers. Should I tell you these tunnels are not equipped with lights, so you'll have to bring your own? Definitely. Especially when these tunnels have a 10 % average gradient, which makes the task even harder. These tunnels are also roughly dug into the rock, so you'll have to be careful when traversing these tunnels. Second, it happens that some little rocks fall down on the road. Nothing big, but still gives a sense of risk. That's why you always should wear a helmet while riding, even if its a climb! And of course, you'd have to avoid those little rocks if you don't want to get a punctured tire.

The climb alternates single and double-digit gradients, on narrow roads, with a spectacular view on the Oisans valley nearly all the time. It's only when closing towards the village of Villard-Notre-Dame that the climb become somewhat easier, but still offer some 10-12 % moments. The second part of the climb is surely less dangerous than the first but more irregular, which can force riders to change their gear frequently. After a final kilometer averaging 9 % gradient, the torture comes to an end. Well, nearly. Because there's a twist I haven't talked about yet.

The climb towards Solude is not completely paved.

That's right, you'll have to get through a dirt and gravel part to reach the top. Of course, the false-flat in descent is definitely going to help, and this part will definitely be a breeze compared to the huge challenge you've just done. However, a 600-meter final part, including a 16 % section, will tell you that you'll have to merit this, in a final effort. So yeah, the flat part kills the overall difficulty of this climb as a whole, but honestly, the first part is largely enough to push the climb into HC territory.

The col du Solude would definitely spice up the classic (and probably overused) Galibier-Alpe d'Huez combo, as we would fit in a short stage a trilogy (tetralogy by including Télégraphe?) of climbs with a rough difficulty. It would be a nice remix of the Modane-Alpe d'Huez stage in 2011. The other side isn't that interesting in stage design as it could be preceded by the col d'Ornon, which is definitely not that hard, and even if we come from the Glandon or Croix-de-Fer, you'd just need to add 2 kilometers of flat to start off from the other side. And I've talked about it: descending on the east side is pure suicide. Probably on par with the Crostis descent which was cancelled in 2011.

However ASO would definitely need to adapt its caravane solely for the sake of tunnels, and the sound level would have to be lowered to avoid any risks of collapsing rocks. The unpaved part at the end is not that kind of a big deal as its pretty short. It would be easy and not that costly to bring up some macadam here. But the cliffhanger part of this climb is definitely why ASO never went here, despite being near some of the most famous climbs in France.




Tomorrow, we'll come in the Pyrénées. In the next episode:
The eastern homophone
 
Sep 29, 2012
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#24: Col de Mantet (Pyrénées-Orientales)
The eastern homophone



Despite going every year in the Pyrénées, the Tour have yet to explore many, many climbs. Mostly because they are kinda “stuck” in the central area of these mountains, mostly for logistics and economical reasons. And at each end of the Pyrénées, we have two different type of climbs: at the west, the Pays Basque, and its short but extremely demanding ascensions, and at the east, easier but much longer climbs that also go much higher. We're going to the eastern end this time, in a zone completely ignored by ASO.

Since the Tour went out of the second World War and resumed in 1947, there is only three major climbs in the Pyrénées-Orientales département that saw the race: Bolquère Pyrénées 2000 (also known as Font-Romeu), being the only mountain stage finish in the area in 1973 and 1976. Then, on the French-Spanish border, the col d'Ares (not the same as the col des Ares in the central Pyrénées), featured in 1968, which was not even climbed from the harder french side. Then, finally, the much more known col de Puymorens, being a categorized difficulty for the last time in 1993.

This area suffers from an economical crisis, a lack of hotel rooms, probably a lack of interest in the Tour... And also the fact that the Ariège département and Andorra are putting much more money towards hosting the Tour regularly. No money, not enough beds, no interest, and huge competition: combine all this and you have a Tour-empty zone. And that's regrettable, considering there's a lot of climbs to discover here. That would change of the usual climbs we see year after year in the Tour. In 2014, there won't be any new climb in the Pyrénées. Like in 2013.

So let's bring the hardest climb in the eastern Pyrénées. Some people regretted its absence the previous year, but now it's its time to shine on this very thread. It's also the occasion to celebrate an anniversary: this road has now been constructed 50 years ago, to link a small secluded village called Mantet, to the rest of the area. And the road coming to the pass logically took its name: the col de Mantet.



Top: 1760 m
Length: 21.3 km
Ascent: 1310 m
Average gradient: 6.2 %
Climbbybike Difficulty score: 137

The climb name shares the same pronunciation as the mythical col de Menté, which is one of the hardest 1st category climbs in France. However, its definitely not the same story concerning the climb. It is located deep beneath the Rotja valley, in the eastern Pyrénées. It starts in Villefranche-de-Conflent, and goes through the villages of Sahorre and Py (pronounced like “Pee”), before reaching the top at 1760 meters and redescending towards the very small town of Mantet. Sahorre and Py clearly help to define three sections of this climb, which I'll describe right away.

The climb has a progressive difficulty, which starts in a false flat up to Sahorre, with 7 km @ 3.4 %. A perfect way to get into condition and preparing ourselves physically and mentally to the later parts. Sahorre is also considered to be the “true” beginning of the climb, as the Climbbybike profile starts here. Up to the next village the road is slightly harder, with a 5.5 km section @ 5.9 %. The gradients go higher and higher, and when you reach Py, this is where hell starts.

You're welcomed immediately with a 12 % stretch in the village, and you'll see a LOT of double-digit gradient parts, up to 16 %, until you reach the final sign. A tight road filled of hairpin turns, for a final part measuring 8.8 km @ 8.4 % average. The difficulty reaches its peak three kilometers after going out of Py, with the harshest kilometer topping at 9.9 % average gradient. Near the end of the climb, you'll get the honor of having in sight one of the most famous peaks in the Pyrénées, the Canigou, topping at 2784 meters, offering a stunning backdrop that could give some more strength to keep going, or just slowing down to admire the beauties of mother Nature.

When reaching the top, you have 3 kilometers of descent to reach Mantet, which is a very, very small village, counting only 30 inhabitants. What's actually surprising, is there's no descent in the nearby valley to connect Mantet to Nyer, which is the closest city north. Without this “full” descent, the col de Mantet climb is, basically, the Pyreneean twin brother of Pierre Carrée, having similar numbers in distance, ascent, and altitude.

In a stage, the col de Mantet is a mandatory MTF considering the small size of the village: parking all the cars would be easier on the descent. To precede it, the best lead-in towards Mantet is definitely the strong 1st category climb col de Jau (13.4 km @ 6.7 %), took by the Tour in 1976, 1993 and 2001. And if the legs don't feel well, small climbs can still be tackled like the côte de Pla Nord (9 km @ 4.4 %) from the east, or the col de Fins (irregular 7 km @ 5 %) at the east that descends into Sahorre to come back on the hard part of the col de Mantet.

And that's kinda shameful to stop in this tiny village, because if this climb was a true pass, with a proper descent, it could precede the col de Creu or the col de la Llose to make a terrifying queen stage in the Pyrénées-Orientales, that could end up in Font-Romeu (16 km @ 5.2 % from Estavar) or to another place I'll talk about in this thread later. To talk back about Mantet, this is a definitive climb that every rider coming through the area must do, if he has the legs for it. Unforgiving until the last kilometer, it offers a real challenge in a département the Tour nearly always avoids. But stock up on food and water, you'll need it – you might not even find a shop in Mantet. Too bad the col doesn't have a descent, and leads to a dead end.




Or does it?
Next up tomorrow:
The protected connection
 
Very nice so far :)

Missed this thread with all the other action the last couple of days. As a minor contribution to this great thread, I thought it'd be a fine idea to add a picture of the map of the climbs.

Sabot:


Solude:


Mantet:
 
Sep 29, 2012
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I actually had this idea, Netserk ^^ I think I'm gonna exchange one image for the map. What website do you use? And can we use the Terrain view?

Anyway, here's the climb of the day. Be careful, that's something that might be surprising.

#25: Collade des Roques Blanches (Pyrénées-Orientales)
The protected connection



Before talking about this climb, I'd like to talk about the world all around us. The wilderness and the nature that surround us every day. It might be subtle or gigantic, depending on where we're living. There are places in this world where mankind have assumed control and built massive structures and huge cities to fulfill its ever-expanding needs. And there are places that will probably be forever untouched, as the nature has proven to be too harsh for the will of men to tame them. As I'm writing these lines, I'm sitting in front of a scenery that kinda mixes the two universes: the old and fairly new buildings of the city of Marseille, that suddenly get overwhelmed by the mountains all around the city. I could have got a better view, facing the sea and the beautiful areas of the third biggest metropolitan area in France, but well, sometimes you can't get what you want. That's probably the point of the presence of this climb here, also.

After people realized that men was killing more and more vegetal and animal species, they decided to take a stand, and establish protected zones free of civilization, leaving only Mother Nature do her job like she done it for over 4 billion years. However, there are some trails that traverse them, so some people can admire and explore the perfection of the world. Most of them use only their feet and legs, while some others dare to bring their bike.

So why I'm talking about all this? We're here to talk about climbs, not about WWF X Greenpeace messages. But it's because the climb I'm going to talk about is probably the most controversial of the list. I even hesitated to include it, but in the end, I let it simply because this thread is about pushing the limits, discovering hidden gems and well, even if the objective of the thread is to tell ASO there's other things that the usual Tourmalet in the Pyrénées, there are actually roads that could get a macadam treatment not only for the sake of climbing it for the race, but because they could be useful everyday.

During my Google Maps explorations in search for new climbs for my fictional Tours, I quickly noticed a road that was connecting two valleys in the eastern Pyrénées. A road where the Google Street View Car went, but not entirely. A road that connected the Tech (not like “Tech”nology but more like “Teh-sh”) valley, and the Rotja valley, with a descent towards col de Mantet, opening new possibilities. This would create a new connection, a faster and more photogenic way towards Cerdanya. And even though this road is not paved when it goes through two natural reserves, I think it would be a discovery to share here just for the sake of pushing the limits. But honestly, don't expect any other climb like this that simply goes over the “natural selection” like this. My only regret is that this road hasn't been paved much earlier, like in the 60-70s when the great passes were paved for the cars (and also for the Tour de France).

Enjoy your wild trip to the Collade des Roques Blanches.



Top: 2252 m
Length: 24.3 km
Ascent: 1517 m
Average gradient: 6.2 %
Climbbybike Difficulty score: 144

The name of this climb is a rough translation of the original catalan “Collada del Rocas Blancas” (Pass of the white rocks). Located in the département of Pyrénées-Orientales, it is 25 kilometers east of the Cerdanya region, and 50 kilometers south-west of the biggest city in the area, Perpignan. As said just before, it links the Tech and Rotja valleys. It offers quite a challenge, offeing a similar difficulty to some mythical climbs like the north side of the col de la Madeleine or the cime de la Bonette. It also tops at 2252 meters, which is one of the highest passes in the Pyrénées – even though it doesn't really count as it's not paved.

It starts quite easily in the village of Prats-de-Mollo-la-Preste, with slopes that doesn't go above 7 % in the first quarter of the climb. You then reach the thermal station of La-Preste-les-Bains, which is the last building you'll see until you descend on the other side, and this is where the climb starts to be tough. Offering a 4-kilometer section at over 8.5 % average, this bumps up the difficulty quite a bit, requiring more effort. The road then tightens and gets in a less optimal condition up to the col des Besses, with 6 more kilometers averaging 5.5 %. And then, that's the place you'll probably need to change your bike.

As the final 6 kilometers are, as I said it, unpaved, with sections that probably wouldn't let pass a road bike. Honestly, that's kinda why I didn't want to include this particular climb into the list, but it offers wonderful sceneries through the way, which could be a definitive heaven for the people who would like to change their habits for a time. Nature and you for a few kilometers. And of course, some exercise for your legs with a final part averaging 7.5 with 11-12 % short stretches. On dirt and rocks, of course, which add to the difficulty. And don't forget the altitude, over 2000 meters, there's less oxygen in the air that will go towards the blood and muscles, so the effort needed will be higher.

To descend, there are actually two ways: one way west towards the Col de Mantet, and one way north towards the col de Jou (not to be confused with col de Jau). They both feature over 14 kilometers of unpaved road. So in order for the climb to be truly usable, over 20 kilometers of macadam would have to recover the road. Which is basically near impossible due to the natural reserves. It's a roadwork similar to the Port de Balès, paved in 2007. So we can always hope for this to happen, but well.

To precede this climb, two choices: either you come from France and you can go, starting from Arles-sur-Tech, to Montferrer (8.1 km @ 6.2 %) and descend on the other side, or you come from Spain and your only option is to climb the Col d'Ares (6.9 km @ 5.2 %). “Tiny” second category climbs to heat the legs up for the real deal. But honestly, we don't think a peloton will ever ride this, unless a road gets done properly. Man vs. Wild. So this was kind of an exception for the list, and it's now time to come back on macadam.




We'll keep exploring the Pyrénées, but this time, we'll go west. On a fully paved climb with a descent!
Tomorrow, in 21 HC climbs Volume II:
The other big basque station
 
I like that you mention the road between Jou and CdRB as a possible descent :D Including Jou, that'd be one of the hardest ascents in France (17km at 9.4% says hello :p).

edit: I made the three routes with bikeroutetoaster, but that doesn't enable the google terrain option. For this climb I've done three slightly different versions with tracks4bikers:





 
Sep 29, 2012
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Netserk said:
I like that you mention the road between Jou and CdRB as a possible descent :D Including Jou, that'd be one of the hardest ascents in France (17km at 9.4% says hello :p).
That's what I get for not documenting myself enough. :p But anyway, 14 km are unpaved on 17, compared to the 6 km on 24 of the south side, making it more realistic.

I think I'll probably use Openrunner for the maps after some thinking ^^ Thanks for bringing the idea on the table anyway.
 
Linkinito said:
That's what I get for not documenting myself enough. :p But anyway, 14 km are unpaved on 17, compared to the 6 km on 24 of the south side, making it more realistic.

I think I'll probably use Openrunner for the maps after some thinking ^^ Thanks for bringing the idea on the table anyway.
The 6.3km of Jou are fully paved (and on streetview), so it's 'only' 10.7km that aren't ;) (it tops some km before CdRB and then it's rolling the rest of the way, which should be visible on the terrain maps)
 
Sep 29, 2012
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Netserk said:
The 6.3km of Jou are fully paved (and on streetview), so it's 'only' 10.7km that aren't ;) (it tops some km before CdRB and then it's rolling the rest of the way, which should be visible on the terrain maps)
I think I need sleep. xD
 
Sep 29, 2012
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Sorry for being late this time. Had tons of things to do, I'll try to get more climbs done during the week-end - so the next few climbs might be released later than the usual 7 PM (CEST) time.

#26: Station d'Issarbe – Col de la Hourcère (Pyrénées-Atlantiques)
The other big basque station



Ahhh, the good old Pays Basque. Tough climbs, steep roads, magnificent sceneries. Pretty much everything you need to make a beautiful stage in the Tour. But ASO says there's more excitement, more legends, more challenge in the usual climbs it does in the Pyrénées every year. What they definitely don't want to say, is that there is tons of money that await them in the central Pyrénées. We won't go farther west than Pau this year, and even if the final showdown stages look promising with no less than 4 HC climbs in three stages, not counting the other 2nd and 1st category climbs, there's definitely nothing new. And to prove my point, just look at the 2008 version of the Pau-Hautacam stage. Looks familiar? Because it's nearly the exact same thing as this year's edition. Ctrl+C / Ctrl+V. Thanks, ASO.

However, even if we say that ASO uses the same Pyreneean climbs over and over, that's not entirely true: since 1993, 20 "main climbs" (categorized 2 or higher) in the Pyrénées made their first appearance in the Tour. And even if some were one-offs like Col de Portel or Piau Engaly, other became classics like Val-Louron Azet, Plateau de Beille, Port de Pailhères or Port de Balès, the latest one being only paved in 2007 - and used four times in seven years. That pretty much shows something: there's a lot more to discover, and ASO will not hesitate to use them again and again, showing that despite all these new potential climbs, the possibilities in the Pyrénées are still limited.

Last year, the Col de la Pierre-Saint-Martin was part of the list, for three main reasons: first, the Pierre-Saint-Martin station was heavily rumored in recent years to be part of the Tour de France route. Second, it has never been fully climbed by the Tour on its french side (despite actually being a longer version of the Col du Soudet – which is already HC). And third, because I didn't want to include the basque monsters due to logistic issues. That pretty much says that you can expect a little bit more Iparralde into the list – time will tell.

Today, I present you another basque climb that gives a pretty challenge, and it also has a great advantage of being capable of being an MTF and a pass. Stage finish or a difficulty, the choice is yours. And despite being quite low compared the average 1900 meters of altitude for HC climbs, it offers a true HC experience. And after all, low climbs like Lusette and Grand Ballon made the list last year despite their low altitude.

After Pierre-Saint-Martin last year, here comes another basque station into the HC selection: Issarbe, and its col a bit higher, la Hourcère.


Top: 1450 m
Length: 11.5 km
Ascent: 987 m
Average gradient: 8.6 %
Climbbybike difficulty rating: 118

To sum it up quickly: short and hard. Neighbouring the col du Soudet (moo) and being linked to it thanks to the lower col de Suscousse, it offers three different ways to be climbed. However, I'll only show the northern side, being the true "new" climb – as the west and east sides are basically 90 % Soudet. Issarbe is located 45 kilometers south-west of Pau, which already proves that the Tour can go there quite easily considering it goes to Pau nearly every year the Tourmalet is featured. It's actually surprising that this climb was unnoticed by ASO – or simply avoided by choice, but honestly, that would be stupid.

It all starts from Barlanès, with a false flat section up to the Pont de Blancou which is the true beginning of this climb. And unlike some other climbs that give you a little bit of time to get into shape and prepare yourself for the worst, here, you have to be ready directly at the foot with a 12 % section right at the beginning. And you'll go over the double-digit barrier several times in the first five kilometers of the climb that average 9 %. You'll face tons of hairpin turns followed by very steep straight sections, with 14 % peaks. This difficulty can probably remind you the cols de Marie-Blanque, Menté or Portet-d'Aspet by their hardest sides. The challenge is harsh right from the beginning.

But that also means that the second part of the climb is slightly easier, with more rolling sections (don't get me wrong though, it's still tough with an average of 7 %). Hairpins continue to be part of the road until the eighth kilometer, where the road gets less twisty and more regular, but also less covered by the forest – if you do this climb with some hot weather, don't forget some solar protection and some water, it's very important. But you also get the chance to see the beautiful scenery along the road, and so up until the top. So that might help you to take it easy and climb at your rhythm. The final part offers two long sections at 10 % gradient, before having an easy final kilometer to the col de la Hourcère – which is skipped if you stop at Issarbe.

This climb, like we said, is a perfect place for an MTF – if the chaining possibilities are limited as it would involve undoubtedly a long flat part, it's still a good place for a Unipublic uniclimb Vuelta stage. However, you could chain it with Soudet in a spiral-like shape, or with the eastern col de Labays (10.4 km @ 6.8 %), before redescending into the Barétous valley and climbing Issarbe. As a pass, it can be Peyragudes-style with a finish at La Pierre-Saint Martin, or you can start by climbing Hourcère, and chain up with Larrau (15.3 km @ 7.9 %) or Bagargui (8.8 km @ 9.2 %), with hard climbs at the west. At the east, the easy side of Labays and mostly Marie-Blanque (9.3 km @ 7.7 %) will be the main difficulties that are very close to Hourcère.

Having a perfect road condition and some possibilities to be linked with other climbs, the col de la Hourcère could quickly become another classic in the Tour de France. Why it has not been used is still a mystery, considering that the neighbouring col de Soudet isn't used much either, having not seen a peloton since 2006. Let's hope that it will get some attention in the following years, and that Thierry Gouvenou, the new route designer for the Tour, notice this monster that needs to be awaken.




Tomorrow, we are back in full force in the Alps for:
The charming finish

Also, feel free to comment, don't be shy! I like interactivity, discussions and heat debates about this. ^^ Feeling a little bit alone. However the number of views is quite impressive already!
 
Jun 2, 2013
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This thread is awesome. I love designing fantasy routes, so I already knew some of these climbs, but I'll definitely use some of the ones I discovered here.
I thought about doing something like this for Italy, but I didn't because most Italian fans are more or less aware of 90% of the climbs I could have included. Since most users here are from other countries, I may resurrect that, even if the Giro does a great job of fulfilling all of those fantasies, sooner or later.

If you were to pick the most plausible climbs for the TdF, which ones would you choose? I mean, the ones who could be climbed tomorrow, perhaps with very few minor adjustments.
 
Matt92 said:
This thread is awesome. I love designing fantasy routes, so I already knew some of these climbs, but I'll definitely use some of the ones I discovered here.
I thought about doing something like this for Italy, but I didn't because most Italian fans are more or less aware of 90% of the climbs I could have included. Since most users here are from other countries, I may resurrect that, even if the Giro does a great job of fulfilling all of those fantasies, sooner or later.

If you were to pick the most plausible climbs for the TdF, which ones would you choose? I mean, the ones who could be climbed tomorrow, perhaps with very few minor adjustments.
From this round only Issarbe would qualify. From the original list most could qualify, but those that only can be used as MTF would need a host with money. Immediately doable passes so far are: Issarbe, Coq, Lusette, Chat, Bisanne (not all the way if as a pass), Pierre-Saint-Martin (other sides), Couillole, Cayolle, Turini, Ventoux (other side), Grand Colombier (other sides) and Mont Noir (I think). Imho.
 
Jun 2, 2013
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Netserk said:
From this round only Issarbe would qualify. From the original list most could qualify, but those that only can be used as MTF would need a host with money. Immediately doable passes so far are: Issarbe, Coq, Lusette, Chat, Bisanne (not all the way if as a pass), Pierre-Saint-Martin (other sides), Couillole, Cayolle, Turini, Ventoux (other side), Grand Colombier (other sides) and Mont Noir (I think). Imho.
Thanks a lot :)
 
I also like this thread very much :) All climbs pointed by Netserk should be visited by TdF. I would also add two epic climbs which are in Italy but quite close to french boarder. One of them could form a super combo with Iseran and Mont Cenis. And the other could create an epic stage with Bonette and Lombarde for example. You know what climbs I think about ;)
 
Aug 4, 2010
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Matt92 said:
This thread is awesome. I love designing fantasy routes, so I already knew some of these climbs, but I'll definitely use some of the ones I discovered here.
I thought about doing something like this for Italy, but I didn't because most Italian fans are more or less aware of 90% of the climbs I could have included. Since most users here are from other countries, I may resurrect that, even if the Giro does a great job of fulfilling all of those fantasies, sooner or later.

If you were to pick the most plausible climbs for the TdF, which ones would you choose? I mean, the ones who could be climbed tomorrow, perhaps with very few minor adjustments.
cmon,go ahead!:)



btw reaaally wonderful thread,thanks;)
 
Sep 29, 2012
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#27: Chalets de Charmant Som (Isère)
The charming finish



The Chartreuse mountains offer some of the most impressive sceneries in the country. With its rough peaks and its large open wild fields, it is a true delight to visit, by foot, bike or even some flying machines. That is definitely a place to be when you're visiting the Alps and the region of Grenoble, which is considered as the “capital of the Alps”. Grenoble is associated with the Tour since its first steps, appearing on the route for the first time in 1905, and the Grande Boucle still comes back regularly – proof being made this year as the city's winter station, Chamrousse, will host a stage finish, and Grenoble being the start of the following stage the next day.

And despite all the mountains that surround the city, here's an amusing fact: Grenoble is the flattest city in France. Not even kidding. The reason is when the terrain starts to go up, you're already in another city: Saint-Martin-le-Vinoux, La Tronche, Gières... The only climb you will find in the boundaries of Grenoble is the one that leads to La Bastille. This would probably be the shortest 2nd category climb you could ever find in the country: being only 1.8 kilometers in length, it has a 14.7% average gradient. No typo. This is the steepest piece of road in France. However, if the Dauphiné already hosted stage finishes up there (but no longer unfortunately), the Tour never went to La Bastille: the road is definitely too narrow and probably too steep to bring all the logistics. Sigh.

But Grenoble always has some tricks under its sleeve, and it has witnessed the birth of new champions with the mythical col de Porte, included in 1907. It is a long climb, over 15 kilometers in length and nearly 1100 meters in ascent. It is, undoubtedly, one of the hardest first-category climbs featured in the Tour. It probably needed a bit more altitude to be ranked as HC – it only tops at 1326 meters. In the 2014 Tour, we'll not go to the col de Porte, but a bit lower, to the col de Palaquit as a way to go down towards Grenoble. Some expert eyes will notice that this climb is much harder than the numbers make it look.

But if I talk you about these climbs today, it's simply because they will be our base towards a longer climb, which is definitely HC-worthy. A hard MTF towards a beautiful alpine pasture called the Chalets de Charmant Som.


Top: 1680 m
Length: 20.2 km
Ascent: 1446 m
Average gradient: 7.2 %
Climbbybike difficulty score: 145

Located at the heart of the Chartreuse mountains, the Chalets de Charmant Som offers quite a lot of room for a stage finish. To reach them, you have to climb the col de Porte first. The last time it has been fully seen in the Tour was in 1998, in a stage towards Albertville and going through the well-known Chartreuse trilogy (Porte – Cucheron – Granier). This year, the Tour will take the road in descent with the col de Palaquit. So it might be not that long since this climb has been used, but that's “already” 16 years: 99 % of the professional peloton today probably never rode this climb in a race. And we are lengthening it up to an HC level.

We're skipping the first two kilometers in the profile as they are basically flat until we reach La Tronche, and we already have some steep parts averaging 8 % until the col de Vence (a pass has the same name near Nice). The climb steepness is quite steady up to this point with very few stretchs over 10 % gradient, even if a 2-kilometer section averages 9 %. Then, up to the col de Palaquit, the climb is much more irregular alternating between rolling and steep sections. After getting past Palaquit, a final 2200-meter portion, very regular this time, will bring you up to the col de Porte: a challenge harder than Peyresourde by itself, which is already one of the hardest 1st category climbs on the Tour.

And this is where we're going into unknown territory. After 800 flat meters, the road will progressively sore into the skies with a rolling section to start, and finish with a bang with a 13 % final section, after 20 long and harsh kilometers. So yeah, it might be only five “new” kilometers but they have a great effect and they can offer a new MTF in the Grenoble region. You can also climb this from every southern variant of the col de Porte, which are roughly equal in difficulty, but the climb from this profile is the hardest side and has no descent unlike other variants. From the north, the climb to Charmant Som is 12.5 km @ 6.2 % average, which only makes it a 1st category climb due to a higher starting point.

This climb has a difficulty nearly equivalent to the Mont Ventoux, and could suffice to itself. From the south, you could chain it with climbs like the short one that leads to Montaud (6.1 km @ 8 %) or a longer one towards Saint-Nizier-du-Moucherotte (14.6 km @ 6.5 %), but you'd have to traverse the flat city of Grenoble. The northern side offers more interesting possibilities however: the Granier-Cucheron combo is a no-brainer (9.7 km @ 8.6 % then 8.5 km @ 5.9 %), but you could also bring the col du Coq, which was the very first climb featured in the previous thread, before tackling Charmant Som on its easier northern side.

This is pretty much another climb that the Tour could use as long as the area can bring the money on the table – however when you're only at 50 kilometers from the most famous skiing station in France, that could be hard to make a stand. Also, there's a little parking at the summit and all around is a natural interest zone. Not exactly a protected spot but there are surely restrictions that could put away ASO from organizing a stage finish here. But rest assured, there are other spots they can visit.

In red: the main road presented here
In green: the south variants
In blue: the north variant



Really, don't miss the next episode tomorrow. You might learn something... Big. In:
The fields of glory
 
Sep 29, 2012
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#28: Col des Champs (Alpes-Maritimes)
The fields of glory



We're going back in the Mercantour this time. Last year, I've talked about some climbs that were forgotten by the Tour during four decades, like Couillole, Cayolle and Turini. And there are still some roads that offer some great challenges between Nice and Barcelonnette that the Grande Boucle should definitely visit again – but however, the lack of hotels to host all the people making the Tour brings some technical difficulties to see a stage in these mountains. But we can always hope, like in the three years between 1973 and 1975, to see some great stages in the Southern Alps. Let's get back in history, 39 years ago.

A legendary stage, the 15th one to be precise. Nice – Pra Loup, a 217-kilometer long journey through the Mercantour, and a very, very, very long day for Eddy Merckx. Because two days prior, he received an ill-fated punch at the end of the climb towards the summit of the Puy-de-Dôme. He'll fight admirably against his rival, Bernard Thévenet, even attacking him in the col des Champs – which made its first appearance in the Tour. However, he'll have a terrible breakdown in the final short climb towards Pra Loup. This was the very last day in yellow for the “cannibal”.

But after this year, the Grande Boucle will nearly never go into the Mercantour again, being more attracted by climbs and finishes in the northern Alpine territories. In 1993, 2000 and 2008, we saw some famous climbs like Allos, Vars and Bonette and the introduction of Lombarde, by stopping in Isola 2000 first in 1993 and tackling the italian side 15 years later towards Jausiers. But it's already proven that this section of the Alps can offer big challenges and epic stages. ASO only needs some opportunities and interests.

So today, we'll explore a bit more this forgotten region, by going into detail on the climb I've mentioned earlier – the one-off col des Champs.



Top: 2087 m
Length: 16.3 km
Ascent: 1052 m
Average gradient: 6.5 %
Climbbybike difficulty score: 108

This is the eastern side of this climb, taken in 1975 during the Pra Loup stage. It is a climb that has two distinct parts, separated by a 1.4 kilometer flat part that brings down the average gradient. The first part of the climb, starting in Saint-Martin-d'Entraunes (which also represents the start of the col de la Cayolle), is very regular, and brings some double-digit gradient parts after the Chapelle Saint-Jean. The climb, up to the flat part, is 7.5 kilometers long averaging 7.4 %. So that's something big, but we're definitely not done yet. The high section is coming and we're going above the mythical “2000” altitude.

The second part is 6.6 kilometers long, and if we except a small flat section at the middle, the climb is quite regular too. We're going close to the 10 % mark in some turns and hairpins, and the very final kilometer nearly averages 11 % - which can be leg-burning considering the length of the climb, and the lack of oxygen. Then the roads finally flattens after a final 8 % ramp, a false flat leading to the col and its roadsign, culminating at 2087 meters of altitude.

The western part is shorter and might not merit the HC classification, being only 11.5 kilometers long, and averaging 7.4 %. However, the climb is brutally regular, offering very few opportunities to rest in its long winding roads in the second part. Also, the road condition is much worse than the eastern side, and could make the climb harder as the road would give back less effort given on the pedals. So that's also a challenge in itself.

The col des Champs has an ideal place: already used in conjunction with Allos in 1975 towards Pra-Loup, the best combination is definitely Allos, then Champs, and finishing by Cayolle to make a 100 km loop which combines 2 HC climbs and a hard 1st category climb. One of the toughest trilogies you can every find in the french Alps. Its only flaw – being too far south for the Tour which nearly never goes there. But I promised you something big for this climb. Something exclusive – of course, already discovered by some expert eyes and curious minds, but I thought it would be the best way to share it to everyone.

The Tour de France is actually doing some reconnaissance on the yet-to-be-revealed Tour de France 2015 route.Thierry Gouvenou shared a picture on his Twitter account.
Here's a Google Street View from the western side of the col des Champs.

See you on October 22.

EDIT: Damn you Gouvenou.




In the next episode tomorrow:
The endless hairpins

(I'll do the links later tomorrow, I have things to do tonight.)
 

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