Photo: Robert Laberge / Getty Images
Just thinking about this final stage in the Pyrénées makes me tired. Stage 14 will feature six categorized climbs including a mountain top finish up the fearsome Plateau de Beille.
Plateau de Beille has only appeared in the Tour de France four times – but every time the stage winner has gone on to win the Tour: Pantani in 1998, Armstrong in 2002 & 2004, and Contador in 2007.
The profile tells a frightening story. Six categorized climbs and plenty of very steep kilometres along the route. The Grupetto may form in the first 20 minutes of this stage. Seriously.
Source: Official Tour de France site
Col de Portet-d'Aspet
Portet d'Aspet will be the first categorized climb of the day. It's short but very steep.
During the 1995 Tour, Fabio Casartelli tragically died while descending the side that will be climbed in stage 14. Shortly after descending a 17% stretch in the woods Casartelli lost control on a sharp left turn.
Just above the crash site, the Peloton will pass the stele commemorating the Italian Olympic Gold Medalist.
Col d'Agnès - 1st Category
Agnès is the 9th hardest climb in the 2011 Tour according to our difficulty rankings - and the hardest non hors categorie climb.
This will be the 5th Tour appearance for Agnès. Robert Millar was the first to ever cross the summit in a TdF in 1988. Pantini in 1995, Astarloza in 2009 - and the only time that Agnès preceded Plateau de Beille in 2004, the Chicken Rasmussen was first over.
As the profile shows, there are plenty of steep kilometres. It's a beautiful and quiet climb with nice mountain views especially to the south:
After Agnès is a short descent to the Etang (pond) de Lers before a short 3rd category climb over Port de Lers. It's actually quite a challenging and lovely climb on each side, but the Tour route will only taste the top few kilometres.
Those left in the Peloton will face 25 kms or so downhill - passing the Grotte de Niaux famous for early-man cave drawings.
Plateau de Beille
The second hardest climb in the 2011 Tour, it's relentless. Despite only appearing four previous times in the TdF, Plateau de Beille has already achieved a reputation as a legendary Tour climb. It's a steep, hair-pin filled road up to the plateau. Long used solely as pasture land, it has more recently become a popular cross-country skiing site - with a small beer-serving restaurant.
For cyclo-tourists it's a very quiet road (as it goes no-where). Marco Pantani holds the record for the fastest ascent (1998) at 43 min 30.
This should be fun.
Photo: Above a friendly "warning" sign at the start of Plateau de Beille
A Final Word
This stage was my vote as the toughest in 2011. Podium Cafe voted it the second most difficult. It's full of long steep stretches from the very beginning to the very end of the stage. There is absolutely no-where to hide. Expect carnage.
Only the very strongest will be near the front at the finish. And chapeau to any sprinters that survive the day without hanging onto their team cars.
Feel free to use the comments to give your stage predictions (or hopes).
Permission: Creative Commons License. Author: Adam Baker