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Tour Stage 16 Preview: Martigny - Bourg Saint Maurice

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Stage 16 :: Tuesday July 21, 2009
159km :: Martigny - Bourg Saint Maurice

Well, the inevitable has occurred, The Accountant (run Contador through an online Spanish - English translation engine, I dare you), has taken over the lead on a spear thrust attack up the climb to Verbier and everyone appears to be left to pick up the shattered pieces. However, this race isn't over. If you had stopped watching the Giro when Menchov went into pink, you would have missed attack after attack after attack by Di Luca throwing the kitchen sink at Denis trying to crack him. It didn't work out in the end for Danilo (although CadutaDanilo's Ed. League VDS team did have a brief moment of glory) but who knows what might happen for Andy Schleck, Sastre, or, dare I say it, Lance Armstrong?

Stage 16 has beautiful climb in it, the Col du Grand St. Bernard, Hors Category, and from what I've heard, they've suspended a tanker truck full of brandy on a massive leather leash around the summit.  To cap it off, this stage has a very twisty descent off the Cat.1 Col du Petit St. Bernard (the only suspended a Belgian, drunk on brandy, from the summit) that looks, at on paper to me, somewhat like the descent off the Poggio in Milano-San Remo.

Once again, the lovely Gavia with the introduzione dello etappa (god I love making that stuff up).  Now, I don't know about you... but I think Gav was sampling a little bit too much of the Swiss schnapps... she goes kind of off the deep end.  First her preview starts off all normal...

This mountainous stage sets off from Martigny in Switzerland, passes through Italy, and returns to France to finish in Bourg-Saint-Maurice. The stage climbs two cols, the beyond category Col du Grand-Saint-Bernard and the category 1 Col du Petit-Saint-Bernard. At 2469 meters, the Col du Grand-Saint-Bernard is the highest peak in this year’s Tour de France. The majority of this stage is climbing, and it’s a fast 30 kilometer descent to the finish. The Tour organizers warn that “this superb Franco-Italo-Swiss stage will not tolerate any weakness.” Though a breakaway may survive to contest the stage win, the general classification favorites will need to bring their best legs for this stage.

The it gets... well... kooky...

During the time of Julius Caesar, the area including Martigny became part of the Roman Empire. Indeed, Caesar crossed into Switzerland by way of Col du Grand-Saint-Bernard. Many Roman artifacts remain in Martigny, including an amphitheater. Restored in 1978, the amphitheater plays host to cow fights in the fall. A traditional swiss event, cow fights match up two cows of the local Herens breed. With their horns blunted, the cows bump against one another until one cow decides that he has had enough and concedes the day. The fights can last up to 40 minutes, and the Martigny hosts the regional championship, in which the best cows from all over Valais convene to do battle.

Courtesy of Gavia's Stage 16 Preview at Steephill.tv (I swear to God, I'm not making this up).

Switzerland.  You can't make this stuff up.  I wonder where Will keeps his battle cow.

It is my pleasure to reintroduce (since this was my first weekend at home during the Tour), the video preview of the stage!


 

The stage runs uphill all the way from the starting line to the summit of the first climb: false flat becoming incline becoming the beast of the Cat.HC Col du Grand Saint Bernard at 2,473m.  The stage start is back in Sunday's last intermediate sprint location, the town of Martigny, laying at 547m.  From there, it's only 16km to Orsières which lies at 972m.  That works out, by my math, to an average gradient of 2.7%, just from the start of the stage!  Then, from Orsières to the summit is the official climb at 24.4km in length averaging 6.2% gradient.  That's a spicy meatball!

 

Once through the sprint at the spa city of Pré Saint Didier (notice the snazzy new green "S", eh?), it's uphill again to the second climb, the Cat.1 Col du Petit Saint Bernard at 2,188m. It's a descent all the way from the first summit to the first sprint in Sarre, where the road does the same consistent increase in pain up to this, the second summit. Sarre = 631m :: Pré Saint Didier = 1,052m over 27.5km = 1.5% gradient. Not much, but it never stops. Then Pré Saint Didier is the official start of the climb smacking the peleton in the face with an increasing gradient that averages 5.1% over 22.6km, rising a vertical distance of 1,136m. That's a zesty meatball!

From the summit, it's 31km to the finish. But if you look at that corkscrew descent, the final hairpin is only ~4km from Bourg Saint Maurice (I wasn't really able to determine the exact finish line). If you get to the summit with a gap, you can channel Savoldelli, you might make something interesting happen.

And just in case you weren't sure if we were really in the alps, look at that beautiful hub around which this stage turns.

UPDATED:  Now, I was told by the author of the following photos, not to give attribution, but, from the looks of them, I'm betting you can all guess who they are from.  This mysterious rider, whom I'll only refer to as "le combattant mystérieux de vache ", had this to say about tomorrow's climb up the Grand St. Bernard...

This is a huge climb. Although the official site lists the climb as 24.4 kms, don’t believe it. It is uphill from the very start - and although not that steep to begin, it is over 40 kms long and almost 2000 metres of ascent.

The first 30 kms or so climbs gently through a scenic valley. It’s actually not the best route for cyclotourists as the traffic is light but fast and there is a very long covered stretch (that’s pretty awful. About 7 kms before the summit, the main road enters a several mile long tunnel until Italy. But the Tour will turn-off here and take the ancient road over the mountain.

Here it gets fun. It is beautiful, steep, and lots of hairpins. Four of the last five kms average 9.5 %. It’s the steepest stretch of the day.

The pass itself is charming. There is a little lake, the hospice, sharply dressed Italian customs officers, several restaurants, and a huge statue of St Bernard himself.  It was hard work climbing up the statue with bike cleats. :)

The descent is over 30kms down to Aoste. When I rode this side in the summer, the surface was truly awful, with construction was everywhere. It seems they were getting ready for the Tour.

Courtesy of le combattant mystérieux de vache.