So the mountains, they are fun so far, right? I mean, the Sky train could maybe loosen up and let the other kids have a chance to play. Really, it's not fair the way they've been hogging the front of the field all the time over the past two days.
In truth, Bradley Wiggins looks uncrackable, thanks in large part to the strength of his team. Cadel Evans, Jurgen Van Den Broeck, and Vincenzo Nibali all tried on Thursday, and barely made a dent in the Wiggins edifice. Chris Froome seemed to get a little further, but he's not really supposed to be playing that game. Still, weird things happen at the Tour de France sometimes, and there's a long way to go to Paris.
On Friday, the Tour lingers for one last day in the Alps. It's been so fun, you see, so why not have another. This stage 12 runs from Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne to Annonay Davézieux. It's a long one at more than 200 kilometers. There are three categorized climbs on the menu, and the most difficult mountains come at the beginning of the stage. No foreplay, just straight to the climbing.
The stage starts with around 20 kilometers of descending then it's straight on to the category 1 Col du Grand Cucheron. The Col du Grand Cucheron looks like a ski slope. The higher you go, the steeper it gets. It's 12.5 kilometers from bottom to top, and maximum gradient comes in the final kilometer at 10%. From the summit of the Col du Grand Cucheron, it's around 30 kilometers of descending to the valley floor. A couple bumps interrupt the descending goodness along the way, but mostly it's downhill until the race passes through Pontcharra at klometer 60.
An uncategorized climb announces the arrival of the Col du Granier, the second climb of the day. The Granier is relatively short at under 10 kilometers, but it makes up for the shortness with some spicy steep bits. The average gradient is 8.6%, and much of the climb comes in around 10%. The summit comes after 80 kilometers of racing.
The Col du Granier is the last of the difficult categorized climbs on this stage, but there are complicated roads. The stage profile runs gradually downhill, but it's anything but a straight line. There are short, uncategorized speed bumps strewn about the place with reckless abandon. The race runs downslope through the foothills of the massive Alpine mountain range and toward the middle mountains of the Ardèche.
Inside the final 25 kilometers comes one last climb, the Côte d'Ardoix. By now you've probably noticed that if it's called a Côte, it probably won't last very long. And this Côte d'Ardoix is under six kilometers of climbing at an average gradient of 3.5%. I'm going to guess that average is highly misleading. Once the riders reach the top of the Ardoix, they follow a bumpy road along the plateau.
Just inside 5 kilometers to race, the road dips down in a short descent. Then, there's a quick uphill hop to the finish in Annonay Davézieux.
This stage follows the classic pattern of a transition stage at the Tour. These are long, difficult stages that link the Alps to the next phase of the race. Saturday's stage continues southwest along the Meditérranéan. These stages lead only one place — the Pyrénées. Friday's stage is almost certainly to be decided by a breakawy that survives to the finish. If Sylvain Chavanel did not circle this stage in his road book, it will be a very big surprise indeed.
It's unlikely that any of the yellow jersey contenders will be caught out by this one. But these are tricky roads and we're heading into the hot southern regions of France. It will be a long, hot day in the saddle, and not a day to take it easy by any means. The top favorites will have to pay attention and bad legs on one of these early climbs could make for a disastrous day at the races. Here is the current general classification.
Important! On the time table front, this stage finishes EARLY! The fastest time schedule puts the finish at 16:32 France time. If you are on the west coast U.S.? The finish is at 7:32 am. On the east coast? The finish is at 10:32.