Tour de France 2013 ! Stage 11 , the ITT until Paris .
Stage 11 Avranches – Mont-Saint-Michel (ITT 33km) Wednesday 10 July
At 33 kilometres, this is a shorter than usual individual time trial for the Tour, and one that finishes against the spectacular backdrop of Mont-Saint-Michel, the second most visited tourist attraction in France after the Eiffel Tower.
It’s a chance of course for the stronger time trial riders among the overall contenders to get some time on their rivals, but that shorter course means there shouldn’t be the gaps that Wiggins and Froome managed to secure last year; as for the battle for the stage, an on form Tony Martin will be unbeatable.
Local knowledge: A stronghold since the Dark Ages, much of Mont-Saint-Michel’s security is owed to the tides, described by Victor Hugo as being “as fast as a galloping racehorse”; from experience, if you’re on the sands and see the tide coming in, you’d better run for the causeway – and quickly. Luckily, we survived.
Stage 12 Fougères – Tours (218km) Thursday 11 July
Even as we enter the second half of the race, the opportunities for the sprinters are starting to run out – today, tomorrow, and the final day on the Champs-Elysées – meaning any scenario other than a bunch finish as the race heads southeast towards the Loire Valley is unlikely.
The one-day classic, Paris-Tours, shows us that finishes here aren’t always contested by a group. Today, though, there should be enough teams – Omega Pharma-Quick Step, Orica-GreenEdge and Lotto-Belisol among them – looking to lead the chase that it’s hard to see a breakaway group or late attack prevailing.
Local knowledge: Central France’s largest city, Tours’ strategic position has seen it fought over for centuries, visitors including the Romans, Muslims – defeated here in 732AD, halting their northward advance – and Vikings. In World War 2, it suffered heavy bombing from the Germans in 1940 and Allies in 1944.
Stage 13 Tours – Saint-Amand-Montrond (173km) Friday 12 July
Today’s stage finish is pretty much in the dead centre of France, but while Saint-Amand Montrond has only hosted the race on one previous occasion, it did earn its place in the race’s history as the site of the time trial where in 2008 Carlos Sastre held off Cadel Evans’ challenge to effectively clinch the maillot jaune.
It’s France’s second most important stage race, Paris-Nice, that perhaps gives the best indicator of how today’s finale will go – there have been two stage finishes here since the turn of the Millennium and they’ve both been bunch sprints, with Alessandro Petacchi prevailing in 2002 and Tom Boonen four years later.
Local knowledge: It may only have 11,000 inhabitants, but stage finish town Saint-Amand-Montrond is known for two industries – jewellery, explaining the ‘Cité d’Or’ nickname, and publishing – the Prix Alain-Fournier, named after the author of Le Grand Meaulnes, is awarded at its annual literary festival.
Stage 14 Saint-Pourçain-sur-Sioule – Lyon (191km) Saturday 13 July
Seven categorised climbs, the last of those being two punchy ascents in Lyon itself, the Côte de la Croix-Rousse and the Côte de la Duchère, mean the pure sprinters will be around to contest the finale, and instead it looks like one for a puncheur – advantage Sagan, perhaps, in the points contest?
But with the Tour about to head into its final week, and some big mountain stages ahead, it could also be a day for a break to stay clear – perhaps one with riders from teams that have little return from the race to date? It’s not Bastille Day till tomorrow, but we can see some French teams having a crack today.
Local knowledge: In a year that celebrates the 100th edition of the race, here’s a stage that ends where the very first one of the Tour de France finished. The distance seems insane today; 467km from Paris to Lyons. Luckily, the next stage wasn’t for another four days. Maurice Garin took the stage and the overall.
Stage 15 Givors – Mont Ventoux (242km) Sunday 14 July
There’s always huge anticipation among both fans and riders when the Tour tackles Mont Ventoux, and the fact the stage falls on the Fête National will add to the excitement – but there’s more than 220 kilometres of riding ahead of that ascent of the Géant de Provence on the longest stage of the 2013 race.
It promises to be one of the key stages of the 100th Tour, and with a rest day tomorrow, it’s one on which some riders may feel an added incentive to go all out. But in the height of summer, the mountain can be brutal, and any GC contender who struggles with the heat could lose big time today.
Local knowledge: Mont Ventoux is forever linked with the late Tommy Simpson – until recently indisputably the greatest British road cyclist ever; many would still put him top of the list. Fans and riders alike will pay their own tributes to him today as they pass the memorial marking the site of his death.
Monday 15 July – rest day
Stage 16 Vaison-la-Romaine – Gap (168km) Tuesday 16 July
After Sunday’s ascent of the Ventoux and with big days in the Alps later in the week, this looks like a transitional stage, perhaps one for teams with slim pickings so far to try and rescue their Tour and keep sponsors happy. Possibly a big break getting away today, but there could also be some GC action at the end.
The Col de Manse, a 9.5 kilometre climb at an average gradient of 5.2 per cent, crested 11.5 kilometres out, looks likely to make the selection that will include today’s winner – although ultimately, the subsequent descent could prove decisive.
Local knowledge: Gap is a regular gateway to the Alps, and stages that finish here tend to be characterised by explosive riding –winners here include Alexandre Vinokourov, Pierrick Fédrigo and Thor Hushovd, the latter in the rainbow jersey during the 2011 race, when he had earlier worn the maillot jaune.
Stage 17 Embrun – Chorges (ITT 32km) Wednesday 17 July
It’s an interesting course for the second individual time trial of the race; not a pure mountain time trial that heads steadily upwards from the start to the finish, but the two categorised climbs certainly make it much more of a challenge than a more gently undulating parcours would have been.
So it’s a course that will suit stronger time trial riders among the GC contenders – Froome, Contador, Evans– but which also gives an opportunity to pure climbers who might struggle to limit losses against the clock on a flatter parcours.
Local knowledge: If nothing else, it’s a pretty setting today, the early part of the course running alongside the artificial lake of Saint-Ponçon, one of Europe’s largest man-made lakes. The area is home to the Embrunman triathlon, which sees its 30th edition a month after the Tour’s visit.
Stage 18 Gap – Alpe d’Huez (168km) Thursday 18 July
Spare a thought for whoever is leading today’s stage when it crosses the finish line on top of the Alpe d’Huez for the first time; unlike previous riders to have done so ever since Fausto Coppi won the maiden stage here in 1952, he won’t have his name preserved on one of the 21 famous hairpins.
That’s because the race will tackle what is one of the great theatres of cycling twice, making this the showpiece stage of the 100th edition. What’s more, there will be around an hour and a half between the two ascents – any Alpe d’Huez stage sees the fans whipped into a frenzy, but today could be particularly messy.
Local knowledge: Nowadays, it’s disappointing when the Tour’s route doesn’t include Alpe d’Huez, but its debut in 1952 was anything but romantic; local businessmen clubbed together pay for the race’s visit and promote the resort. The Tour wouldn’t return for another 24 years.
Stage 19 Le Bourg d’Oisans – Le Grand-Bornand (204km) Friday 19 July
Whatever yesterday’s drama on the Alpe d’Huez, there are still two more big days in the Alps before Sunday’s ride into Paris. The first sees two Hors-Categorie climbs – the Col du Glandon and Col de la Madeleine – early on, the second of those a near 20-kilometre slog at an average gradient of 7.9 per cent.
Quite how these two stages will pan out may depend on how the GC looks. If there are big gaps, then the teams of the men occupying the podium positions may be content to sit back and let a break go; but if it’s tight, we could see a very select group fight it out on today’s final climb before the descent to the finish.
Local knowledge: London may have enjoyed a much-hyped Summer of Sport last year, but in 2013, the 2,200 inhabitants of Le Grand-Bornand are getting the year-long treatment – the Tour de France, the Tour de l’Avenir, Biathlon World Cup and the World Military Winter Games all feature on the calendar.
Stage 20 Annecy – Mont Semnoz (125km) Saturday 20 July
By this evening, we’ll know the identity of the men who will occupy the podium in Paris tomorrow night, but with an Hors-Categorie summit finish at the end of this stage, it’s entirely possible there will be some reshuffling of the order towards the top of the GC.
That final climb of Mont Semnoz covers 10.7 kilometres at an average gradient of 8.5 per cent, but there are long sections when it nudges double figures; long enough and sufficiently tough, in other words, for the Tour to be won or lost, depending what the time gaps were this morning.
Local knowledge: It’s surprising the Tour doesn’t visit Annecy more often – half a century elapsed between its first two visits, the latter seeing Alberto Contador seal the overall in a time trial in 2009. Cézanne’s painting of the lake the town sits on – one of his most powerful works – hangs in London’s Courtauld Gallery.
Stage 21 Versailles – Paris Champs Élysées (118km) Sunday 21 July
We’d usually talk about the “traditional” final stage into Paris, but to celebrate the end of the 100th edition of the race, some twists break with the format established in the 1970s; an evening finish, a little before 10pm local time, and going round the back of the Arc de Triomphe, lit yellow for the occasion.
Some traditions are harder to dispense with; it’s still a stage for the sprinters, and above all Mark Cavendish, who has never been beaten here and is aiming for a fifth straight win on the most famous finish line in cycling. If the points jersey is still in play, that will add extra spice.
Local knowledge: The start at Versailles means the final stage of the 100th Tour will evoke memories of the 1989 race that marked the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution, with Greg LeMond beating Laurent Fignon by just 8 seconds; rumours this year’s race would also end with a time trial proved unfounded.