Five Things to Watch When the Tour Hits the Alps

Road Bike

, by Max Leonard

Tadej Pogačar and Jonas Vingegaard at Tour de France 2022. Photo: A.S.O. / Charly Lopez

In a whirlwind first week of the Tour de France we’ve been through the mountains of the Pyrenees and the Massif Central, and they’ve had a massive impact. But on Friday the race hits the Alps, and stays there for almost a week. Here are five potential flashpoints to watch out for, which may provoke further fireworks in this fast and furious Tour!

Grand Colombier (Stage 13 / Friday 14 July)

Strictly speaking, the Grand Colombier is in the Jura, a lesser range nestling against the Alps’s north-western flank – but in Stage 13 this is the gateway to the high mountains, and it is a truly beast of a climb. More than 17km at an average gradient of 7.1% mean the riders ascend over 1,200 vertical metres – more than Alpe d’Huez and comparable to the biggest Alpine ascents. The climb starts low, so it tops out at a relatively modest 1,501m, but don’t be fooled into thinking it’s benign: unlike the relatively regular Alpine giants, the gradients here change remorselessly, with several kilometres at more than 10%, so it’s impossible to settle into a rhythm. The Grand Colombier has only featured in the Tour twice before: in 2012, when Thomas Voeckler was first over the top, and in 2020 when – you guessed it – UAE Team Emirates’ Tadej Pogačar won on the summit finish. With so many mountain days ahead, it would be brave of the General Classification favourites to attack here, but Friday 14 July is Bastille Day, a French national holiday – so might we see Thibaut Pinot attack in this, his final, Tour?

Col de Joux Plane (Stage 14 / Saturday 15 July)

Like the Grand Colombier, the Col de Joux Plane doesn’t have the sheer height of other Alpine climbs, but with 971m of ascent in 11.5km – an average gradient of 8.5% – it certainly packs a punch. It was famously where Lance Armstrong lost over two minutes to Richard in what was, according to the man himself, his worst ever day he’d ever had on a bike. Traditionally, the Joux Plane comes at the end of a stage, so riders have to save energy for its steep slopes or risk hitting the wall – and also keep their wits about them for the rollercoaster descent into Morzine. As the final major challenge in a day full of ups and downs, the Joux Plane offers an exciting and selective stage finish. Jack Haig, riding this Tour with Team Bahrain Victorious, holds the KOM.

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Forclaz - Croix Fry - Saint Gervais (Stage 15 / Sunday 16 July)

Stage 15 presents a triple whammy of first-category climbs, the Cols de la Forclaz de Montmin, Croix Fry and Saint-Gervais Le Bettex, where Romain Bardet won a summit finish in 2016. Much has been said about Tadej Pogačar’s truncated Tour de France preparation this year, after he broke a bone in his wrist in Liège-Bastogne-Liège in April. And though he has shown that – as usual – he can excel in the high mountains, rivals will be hoping that his lack of endurance training might be telling on daunting stages like this, with so many climbs already in the legs.

The 2023 Tour de France will be won - and lost - in the Alps. Photography by: A.S.O./Charly Lopez

Time Trial (Stage 16 / Tuesday 18 July)

This time trial is notable because it’s the only one in this year’s Tour de France. At 22km, it’s also short, and, while not an actual mountain TT like the thrilling battle between Geraint Thomas and Primož Roglič we saw at the sharp end of this year’s Giro d’Italia, it is definitely lumpy. It finishes on the Côte de Domancy, which the official Tour stats peg as 2.5km at a 9.4% gradient – no joke! In normal times, Tadej Pogačar would be confident his time trial is stronger than that of his big rival, Jumbo Visma’s Jonas Vingegaard. But the third week of a grand tour is not normal times. Will Pogačar still be within touching distance to make his superior TT skills count? Can Vingegaard hold him off as he fights for his second Tour de France win? Or will this merely set the seal on a third Pogačar Tour victory?

Cole de la Loze (Stage 17 / Wednesday 19 July)

Another gruelling day of climbing greets the weary riders on Stage 17. Mid stage is the old Tour favourite the Cormet de Roselend – long and steady, almost 20 kilometres at a 6% average gradient – and there’s the tricky, technical descent of the Côte de Longefoy at around 60km to go. But the Col de la Loze is a real sting in the tail, and will make everything that comes before seem like an hors d’oeuvre. At 2,304m, it’s the highest point the Tour reaches this year, making Stage 17 the Queen Stage, and the peloton will already have climbed almost 20km to Méribel, where the really tricky gradients start. The Loze’s final kilometres, which were only paved for its début appearance in the 2020 Tour, have ramps up to 24%, before the race dives down the hill for a finish at Courchevel.

After Stage 17, riders will be relieved to ride a couple of flatter stages before one final mountain day in the Vosges. From the heights of the Col de la Loze, the finish line in Paris will almost be in sight!

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