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Tour Stage 17 Preview: Bourg Saint Maurice - Le Grand Bornand

Stage 17 :: Wednesday July 22, 2009
169.5km :: Bourg Saint Maurice - Le Grand Bornand

You want mountains? Well, welcome to a true Alpine stage. Bust out the crampons and ice axes boys because it's gonna be wicked tomorrow. Four, count 'em up, FOUR Cat.1 climbs en route tomorrow and a Cat.2 climb for which I am surprised that actual climbing gear won't be required; it goes vertically up a cliff face. These are the stages we dream about. Somewhere David Bowie is rewriting the song as "Sufferfest City"

On a quick side note, I wasn't able to watch the majority of the stage today, but I understand that Jens! Voigt suffered a concussion that may be re-classified as significant head trauma. I think I speak for everyone here in wishing him the absolute best and extend hopes for a full recovery. Personally, I believe that upon his recovery, he will come back to the spot of his crash, pull up the pavement with his bare fingers, and eat it.

It's an uphill start and I'm sure that Gav's got some deets on it...

If there is a flat spot in this stage, it is well hidden. This second stage in the French Alps is all up and down and is the hardest mountain stage of this year’s Tour de France. The climbing starts immediately after the depart in Bourg-Saint-Maurice, and the riders face five categorized climbs. The stage descends to a flat finish in Le Grand-Bornand, but it’s just 15 kilometers to the finish from the summit of the final climb, the Col de la Colombière. Only a small group will survive to contest the stage win, and this stage should alter the overall standings.

For these two stages in the Alps, the race organizers have kept the distances short to encourage the attacking riders. Both stages descend from the final climb to the finish, which will make it difficult, though not impossible, for the climbers to gain an advantage in the overall standings. The winner will have strong legs on the climbs and fearless skills on the descents. In short, he will be a complete rider.

Le Grand-Bornand sits surrounded by mountains in a glacier cut valley in the French Alps. A river runs through the town which serves as a ski destination during the winter. The most recent stage finish in Le Grand-Bornand came in 2007. Linus Gerdemann attacked on the Col de la Colombière and rode solo for the ten kilometers to finish. Gerdemann took over the race lead that day, and wore the Yellow Jersey for one day. Two weeks later, Alberto Contador celebrated the overall victory in Paris.

Courtesy of Gavia's Stage 17 Preview at

I really, really dig the way this stage is laid out around the Côte d'Araches, but we've got a ways to go before we get there tomorrow.  You can see from the way the red crayon is busted out at the start that the elevator ride to the lobby in the hotel is the only downhill the riders will see for a while.  Straight out of Bourg Saint Maurice, 930m, it bolts right up to the Cat.1 Cormet de Roseland at 1968m.  938m elevation gain over 18km for an average gradient of 5.7%.  I'm betting that was just on the verge of being designated hors catégorie.

There's a little flat shelf on the descent by the alpine lake "Barrage de Roseland", that leads to the Col de Méraillet, from which the road drops off a knifes edge into a ballsy canyon descent to Beaufort.  From Beaufort (788m) though, that descent ends right quick and they will begin to climb 862m in elevation up the opposing side of the profile trough to the Cat.1 Col des Saises, 1650m.  The length is listed at 15.1km over an average 6% gradient.

Finally a little bit of a flat area will be encountered through the intermediate sprint at Praz-sur-Arly (can someone explain to me why the town names in France have all these dashes?) and on to the Coq-au-vin in Oex. It doesn't last long though, because it's time for my favorite climb of the day: the Cat.2 Côte d'Arâches. ASO could have just driven the peloton by this and headed straight from Magland to Cluses, but no, there's a devious little plateau up there that can be ridden on, why not send them on up there. From Magland (540m) to the Côte d'Arâches (964m) is a short little 6.3m but it's 7%, and from the looks of it, a consistent 7%.

The peloton (breakaway + peloton + autobus + Kenny) will descend through Saint Sigismond (say that one outloud, it's fun!) into the area of Cluses for the second intermediate sprint, then turn south and continue with the climbing from Scionzier (call it 500m) to the Cat.1 Col de Romme, 1297m over a length of 8.8km. Only 8km but it's 8.9%. As the great modern poet of our times, Lil Jon, might say "That's naaasty".

There's sort of a false descent off of the Col de Romme to Reposoir, and then it's time for the final climb of the day up to the Cat.1 Col de la Colombière over a last, tilty 7.5km and 8.5% gradient. Over the Colombière (1618m) it's only 15km to the finish line in Grand Bornand (948m). By my math, that's a descent gradient of 4.5%, which seems to me that if they were going the other direction, it'd be classified Cat.1 too. That's a no BS descent. Be careful guys.