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Tour Stage 7 Preview: Barcelona - Andorra-Arcalís

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Stage 7 :: Friday July 10, 2009
224km :: Barcelona - Andorra-Arcalís

God what a massive stage! 139 miles long, with multiple no BS mountains along the way and ending in yet another city state. Cool! To make matters even more interesting, it's a summit finish at 2200m (7,217'), after having departed from, essentially, sea level. How'd you like to do that in a day... let a lone race it.

This is the first true mountainous stage and it should shake things up in the GC placements, particularly as there are a lot of premium riders out there who are far down on the clock and might want to take a nice hard early flier to get back up into the top 10, if they have the form.  Too early for Sastre, surely, but Menchov, perhaps?

Particular particulars? Gavia, Gavia!

The Tour continues its Spanish excursion with this first mountain-top finish. The stage departs from the city of Barcelona and heads into the Pyrénées. Leaving Spain, the Tour heads into the independent principality of Andorre. The stage finishes at the ski resort in Arcalis. There are five categorized climbs on the route, though three of the five are not especially difficult. The final climb at Arcalis, rated hors catégorie, should provide an early indication of who has brought his climbing legs to this Tour de France.

The Tour last visited Arcalis in 1997 where it served as the finish for stage 10. That year, 23 year old Jan Ullrich of Deutsche Telekom attacked with 10 kilometers to go, and took the stage win ahead of Marco Pantani of Mercatone Uno and Richard Virenque of Festina. The two climbers finished together 1:08 behind the German. Ullrich’s team leader Bjarne Riis, who won the 2006 [ed. note: we all know Gavia meant to say 1996 :) ] Tour and now manages team Saxo Bank, finished more than 3 minutes behind. Ullrich took the leader’s jersey Arcalis, and went on to win his first - and last - Tour de France.

Courtesy of Gavia's Stage 7 Preview at Steephill.tv

Wow... Ullrich, Pantani and Virenque.  What a quality podium :|

Anyway, let's get on with the show!  This stage is big, crossing somewhere between a 1/3rd and a full half of the way way across the Spanish peninsula.  I just used today's finish line as the starting location, since the maps and time plan that ASO publishes are markedly inferior to those published by RCS (not that Christiane Prudhomme gives a flying fornication as to what I think of their materials).  Wikipedia states that Barcelona's average elevation is 12 meters.  So there's a long way to go from here!

Once we're out of the city, there's a peachy little climb, but it's unrated and unnamed by ASO.  I liked it though, so I snapped screen shots of it.

A lot of rolling terrain will pass under the rider's wheels as they move towards the first rated climb of the day, the Cat.4 Côte de Montserrat of 4.1km in length and 3% or so gradient.

Once through Manresa, it's only a matter of 40 kilometers before the first red line climb, the Cat.3 Port de Solsona.  Don't mind the funky little lines around Clariana de Cardener; Google Earth has no idea how to handle Spanish streets.

Once over the 708m Port de Solsona, there isn't much rest before attacking the first real mountain pass of the Tour, the 1160m pass of Col de Serra-Seca.  The peloton will have an intermediate sprint in Solsona, followed by a wheel-entangling Musette-a-thon and then the climb will start.  The Col de Serra-Seca is a typical Pyrénées gut punch of 7.7 km over an average 7.1% gradient.

The descent though, doesn't look too steep, so not much chance for the wicked descenders in the pack to do much of anything and as soon as you hit the trough, such as it is, it's right back up again over the Cat.3 Port del Comte.

Again, the descent looks fairly miniscule as the general tilt of the day seems "up" as they head to Alinya then wend their way northwest towards the final destination in Andorra.

The final climb to the Arcalís ski station is listed as 10.6km in length, but I can guarantee you that it's all false flat from Organya on.  Expect the Princesa of Organya to make an appearance on the road side as the riders pass through.

You know, Princesa Leia Organya?

The final two intermediate sprints lie just inside the boundries of Andorra (I think) at Andorra la Vella and La Cortinada.

Then, finally, at El Serrat, the road tilts up for well and truly, ascending the final climb to Arcalís.  As previously mentioned, the summit finish is at 2240 meters, and has an official length of 10.6km.  The average gradient is 7.1% over that length.  The crappy final climb profile provided by ASO on the Tour website seems to indicate that the worst gradient occurs in the first 4km of the climb out of El Serrat, which makes me think that that first left hand hairpin must really, really, suck.