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Tour de France Stage 13 Preview: A Close Look at the Col d'Aubisque

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Photo: Former Discovery star Tourbecco atop Aubisque*

Stage 13 sees the peloton face the historic slopes of the hors categorie Col d'Aubisque before a downhill finish to the pilgrimage destination town of Lourdes.  After a rough two weeks, most of the peloton will be praying that the miraculous healing waters of Lourdes actually work.

This might be the easiest of the six high mountain stages but should still be fun.  Andy Schleck predicts Europcar will be working like crazy to hold yellow.  Allez Thomas. 

After the jump, let's take a closer look at the stage, as well as a quick look at a little TdF history of the legendary Aubisque. 

Stage 13:

In the 2011 Tour de France Mountains Preview I said: " Aubisque may be the least relevant major climb of the entire Tour."  

Stage 13 is the one mountain stage this year with a big climb that is probably (possibly?)  too far from the arrival to be decisive. It's roughly 40 kilometres from the finish, with the rest of the route generally downhill.  Although there are 3 kilometres or so uphill to Col du Soulor after Aubisque.  But not too steep. 

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L'Equipe has called Col d'Aubisque and Col du Tourmalet siamese twins as they almost always feature together in the Tour de France.  But not this year.

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Tour de France History

One could write a book about the Tour de France history of this great pass.  For fun, a few quick highlights:

In 1926, on the Aubisque stage, only 47 riders reached the finish town before midnight.  Suddenly a dozen or so riders surged into town together.  At the same moment an angry man approached the Tour General Secretary "It's a scandal, the shame.  I took them in my bus and they haven't paid me."

The Tour official quietly paid him.  

  • First cycled in 1910, Aubisque is the second most climbed Col in TdF history (72nd time) after Tourmalet (77th time). 
  • Two time Tour champion, the Italian Ottavio Bottechia -- or The Butcher of Frioul  (he also liked to sing while pedaling) -- was first over the col three times but abandoned on Aubisque in '26.    
  • During his career, The Eagle of ToledoFrederico Bahamontes, crossed Aubisque in front a record four times.
  • In 1969, the great Eddie Merckx while in yellow had a 12 minute lead at the foot of Aubisque,  He suffered a rare défaillance, but still managed a seven minute victory on the way his first Tour victory. 
  • Sean Kelly wore yellow only once in the Tour.  In 1983, he wore it and lost it during the Aubisque stage.
  • The only mountain top finishes at Aubisque were won by Stephen Roche in 1985, and the Danish ballroom dancer Rasmussen, in 2007.  

In 1951, Wim Van Est (nicknamed "le miraculé de l'Aubisque) - while wearing the yellow jersey - fell 70 metres of the cliff entering the cirque du litor, while descending Aubisque.  

He had to be dragged up by a rope.  Times were different then .... a journalist was among his rescuers. 

Short Video of the cliff and Van Est memorial
Photo of the rescue

For the Tourists:

  • Early in the descent of Aubisque is the amazing cliff road along the Cirque du Litor.  The stage is worth watching for the helicopter shots here alone.
  • The small arrival town of Lourdes has more hotels than any city in France except for Paris.  And some of the cheesiest tourist stores anywhere along the street to the beautiful Sanctuary of our Lady of Lourdes.  A young french peasant "Bernadette" saw the Virgin Mary in the grotto/cave here.  It's waters are said to have healing properties - and people from all over the world still come to Lourdes in hope.  
  • For the geologists:  Litor derives form the word "lit" and means a cliff side, cut with lines from avalanches.  It's a gneiss place. 

A Final Word

On paper, this stage seems a possible dud.  But Aubisque is not easy.  And after such an exciting Tour de France so far, who knows?

The GC favourites will be nervous about the upcoming gigantic stage 14 so perhaps this is a stage for the polka dot guys to escape - and even stay away.  

Please feel free to use the comments to share your stage predictions.

Enjoy.

Full GC standings after stage 12 

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The Virgin Mary, Lourdes Healing Water and a Wire Bicycle:

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*Tourbecco has never failed a drug test

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