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Critérium du Dauphiné: Here Come the Mountains

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Here come the mountains. The Dauphiné General Classification is wide open and the stages are about go up. Stage five will visit the Jura mountains as the redoutable Grand Colombier auditions before its first ever Tour de France appearance this July. Then the Alps arrive for a gigantic Queen stage 6, and finally an intriguing mid-mountain stage 7.

After the jump let's:

  1. Rank the biggest climbs in terms of difficulty.
  2. Look at how the biggest climbs might impact each stage

I'll make a few fearless predictions and then expect you to make your own predictions in the comments.

RANKING METHODOLOGY -

As usual, to rank the climbs I will be using a difficulty index from www.climbbybike.com that we have used previously.

Note: If you are interested in calculation methodology, see this link for more on the difficulty index. But in brief, the formula results in an arbitrary difficulty number - by taking into account length, ascent, and altitude - that can then be used to contrast and compare with other climbs. It's not perfect, but works well as a basis for debate. I have added Alpe d’Huez to the chart for perspective as many will have a better feel for its difficulty than for some of the Giro climbs.

I've only ranked the climbs rated category two or harder:

Grand Colombier is the hardest climb in this 2012 Dauphiné. For perspective, it and Col de Joux Plane are both of similar difficulty to Alpe d'Huez:

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How Will These Climbs Impact Each Stage?


Stage 5

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Grand Colombier

Views from lower slopes of Col du Grand Colombier

Grand Colombier has been the feature and final climb of the Tour de l'Ain for several years. It will make it's Tour de France debut this year climbing the same side as the Dauphine. The Tour route will also then climb Col de Richemond, but happily the finish will be much closer to the climbs.

There are four ways up Grand Colombier, this is the third hardest side but the most scenic with views of the Rhone river, Lac du Bourget (largest in France), and the nearby Alps. For the stronger cyclostourists, if you can cycle all four sides in a day, you become a Master of the Confrérie des Fêlés du Grand Colombier (Brotherhood of the Loons of Grand Colombier). I am a lowly member: 2 sides in a day).

Impact on Stage: The finish is probably too far away from the summit of Grand Colombier to make it decisive. I expect the GC guys to be be too busy taking Tour de France notes to attack.

My Fearless Prediction: David Moncoutié clinched the 2011 Tour de l'Ain with a strong performance here --- he wins stage 5 on a solo breakaway.

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Stage 6

The Queen Stage. The moment the gun sounds, this route goes up. Six categorized climbs with an HC at the end. It's a familiar finish: Col de la Colombière to Col de Joux Plane to Morzine -- ask Floyd Landis. This may be a downhill finish, but it's a screaming downhill finish.

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Col de la Colombiére

Snowy Hairpins - Col de la Colombière

Col de la Colombiére has become a Tour de France fixture in the last decade. The Dauphiné will be climbing the easier side from Le Grand Bornand.

Probably not hard enough to expect any GC attacks, but the riders will feel this climb in their legs when they reach Joux Plane. This is a very fast descent.

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Col de Joux Plane

Col de Joux Plane summit

Lance Armstrong famously faltered here in 2000 and has called it one of the hardest climbs he's ridden. It's not just the steepness, it's the ever changing grade. It's a very difficult climb to find a rhythm. The steepest ramps are at the very beginning and half way up. Note, after the summit the road does a flat/down/up as it passes Col du Ranfolly, then begins the crazy descent through the Morzine ski slopes.

Impact on stage: This could be the decisive climb of the Dauphiné. The descent to the finish in Morzine is only going to take a handful of minutes. This is a great climb to make one's adversaries hurt.

My fearless prediction: First GC guy over the Joux Plane wins the Dauphiné. I'll stick with Jerôme Coppel. Growing up nearby, he must have cycled this a thousand times.

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Stage 7

Make no mistake, this is a very hilly stage.

The descent from the short but tough Corbier climb is short and fast, it's then a long false flat drag to the finish with a last 1.5 kms at a mouthwatering 8.7%. I think this is a fun stage. Whether it's hard enough to cause time splits in the GC is another question.

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Col du Corbier hairpins

This will be the last chance for a contender that needs to make up significant time.

Impact on stage: Col du Corbier may be tough enough for someone to get dropped. More likely the decisive attack will be on the final ramp of the stage. If the GC is still close ....... this ...... will ...... be ..... fun.

My Fearless Prediction: Cadel takes the stage. Coppel the GC.

NB: The Dauphiné takes a slightly different start than the profile below, but it's correct for the last 5.5 kms.

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OK, let's hear your fearless predictions.

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all photos by Will

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