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Sommet du Tour, Sommet du Siecle


Schlek and Contador Cross the Line Together
Photo © Roberto Bettini

"So today is the day, the cannons are loaded, the anger in the young gun Schleck is primed, and the Gods appear to be on his side, for the heavens opened overnight and as I sit in the shadow of the Pyrenees I look south, coffee and croissant in hand looking at a grey, cold wet day. Surely this will give Alberto the shivers and suit the youngster from the north better? Who knows."

Who is the better climber we ask? Ten seconds for Schleck at Avoriaz, ten for Contador at Mende. Contador - in my irrelevant opinion - committed an act as ungentlemanly as can be. Even in the uncouth world of soccer both teams stop for an injured player and the ball is thrown back to the opposition, so whilst Contador gained 39 seconds to wear yellow, surely he lost all popular support, and now that support will sit on the edge of its seat to will the 25 year old up the most mythical of Pyrenean mountains, to vanquish the Spaniard with two years on him.

Tourmalet 1949

Today its all about history: 100th anniversary of the Pyrennees, the spirits of Frederico Bahamontes, Richard Virenque, Jean Robic, Lucian van Impe, Julio Jimenez, Ottavio Botteccia, and let's not forget our very own Robert Millar who crested 9 Pyrenean Cols ahead of the rest will resound in the swirling mist today. There will be talk of Merckx of course for on 15th July 1969 on the Tourmalet he invented "Merckxisme", and started an era of crushing all opposition. But I prefer to think of a man of the Tour. To me the French grimpeur, Jean-Pierre Danguillaume, is to the Tourmalet as Eros Poli is to Mt. Ventoux. For he in 1974 won two Etapes that went over the Tourmalet that year and indeed he is the only person - before today - to have won on the summit of the Tourmalet (from the Bareges side).

So as you all sit transfixed to your TVs later I pen this as a little aide memoire for you all. Enjoy....

From Argeles-Agozt to Luz-Saint Sauveur the road will look flat on your TV. Let me assure you that it is not, but here the riders will fly up to 710m at the 155.4km mark, they will eat, take on liquid and think of nothing else but the next 18 kms.

At Luz-Saint Sauveur, the cafes will empty and crowds 5 deep will shout at the leaders as they whiz through the town. The road is straight and out of Luz is a mere 4%.

18.6 kms (750m) - 7%
17.6 kms (800m) - 6%
16.6 kms (880m) - 9%
15.6 kms (940m) - 7% Here the riders will experience a sharp right and left hairpin
14.6 kms (1009m) - 8% - another haipin
13.6 kms (1070m) - 9%
Fast approaching Bareges, this is a nasty climb into and through the town. It is a good place to attack, the crowds will be especially thick here
12.6 kms (1150m) - 9%
We are now on a hairpin coming into the center of Bareges, A pharmacy will appear on the right, the doctors office where I got stitched up is opposite, the road will be straight up out of Bareges
11.6 kms (1250m) - 7%
10.6 kms (1310m) - 5%
9.6 kms (1390m) - 8%


Here the road takes a right hand turn, leaving Super Bareges behind them the riders will head towards the Passage sur le Pont de La Gaubie. At 1450m (8.6kms) the gradiant remains constant at 7.5% and over their left shoulder the riders will see the road arcing up the hill above them. At the Passage they will make a 180 degree left hand turn and at 1560m (7.6kms) the road will ramp up to 8.5%. Before making a sharp right at 1630m (6.6kms).

The next 2 kms are straight and at 8.5%. They will be at 1800m. Here the road will turn left and then right, and here the road will flatten out where the tempation will be to rest the legs but there will be no rest, a lower gear will be sought and at 3.6kms to go the road ramps back again to 8%. A left hand turn before a sharp 180 degree right hairpin with 1.6kms to go. It's a steep 9%, all hell will be breaking loose and as Jean-Piere Danguillaume said "Je comptais metre par metre". The last 600 meters are truly cruel, a sharp left hand turn into an 11% ramp up to the summit. Crowds behind the barriers will scream, and all they will see is the road, the excretia of the sheep on grey tarmac and feel the pain of searing lungs. The line will be at 2115m. Hell for most, heaven for one."

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