Ah, the Tour has outdone itself. In its quest for glory, ASO has not only added one of the highest mountain passes in Europe, but is also requiring the peloton to take a lap around the Cime (chimney?) de la Bonette, the road around the peak tacked on so whoever can claim to be on the highest paved road in Europe (2802 meters/9192 ft). In my experience, we Cyclists like to claim scalps this way... but I somehow doubt the people who have to ride tomorrow's stage will feel the same. Is it a single loop? Will the first guys risk running into the stragglers on the way down? We shall see.
Climbbybike.com has a detailed profile of the climb, with all the pertinent info. On the way up, the grade stays mostly in the 6-7% range, with five nasty KM in the middle (all over 8%) and a particularly nasty ramp (15%) on the Cime. The peloton will be under some pretty serious pressure. In its three Tour appearances, stages have been the exclusive property of mega-climbers: Federico Bahamontes (the Eagle of Toledo) twice, and the mysterious Robert Millar once. Pretty descriptive.
And then there's the descent... on the flip.
Not exactly a work of art, but that 24km descent from the Cime looks pretty technical. I counted 39 turns, including 22 that you could call hairpins, before hitting Jausiers. This description applies all the way to the line, save for the last KM or so, not just coming off the upper portion. I know we've been mentioning Sammy Sanchez all along, but with his appearance at the head of the race yesterday, he looks almost certain to be a factor. It won't be easy dragging his butt up the Cime, but if he can hang in there, his magical descending will make for a really, really entertaining day.