Stage 20: Modane Valfréjus - Alpe d'Huez, 110.5km
The shortest mass-start stage of the Tour, so this should be no biggie...
About Alpe d'Huez
Would this place exist without the Tour? The village would be -- it dates back to the 14th century. The ski station? Probably, because skiing is everywhere in this area and the 1968 bobsled events were here. But I'm not sure any of that comes close to the importance of the road to the world of cycling, where it is known simply as "The Alpe," and has its own books written about it. This is the Tour's 29th visit, and almost all of them were in-race legends. The atmosphere sets it apart from any other (for better or worse). It's as close as the Tour will come to a cycling stadium, where they stage events fit for the Roman Colosseum. Thumbs up.
AmyBC's food and drink pairings:
Wine: 2013 Les Grangeons de l'Albarine Roussette du Bugey "en Paradis" From FranklyWines
From the producer with some help from google translate:
It is the vintage "jewel" in the field of Grangeons. From a beautiful plot of Highness or dogfish, typically native variety, located on the steep hillside of Argis, beautiful ripe and healthy grapes were harvested by hand in late September. Pressed whole, smooth, they gave a nice juice that began quietly fermentation tank, after a light settling. Then the must joined the Burgundian barrels of five wines to continue the fermentation of sugars, completed before the winter cold. The "malo" or fermenting malic acid, was made late (July) for racking and bottling, with a slight filtration plates, beginning in September 2012 after 11 months of aging on lees (without batonnage) .The slightly filtered wine expresses the nose, the aromatic character of its grape variety: pineapple, mango, litchi, but also white flowers, with finesse and delicacy. The palate is smooth, palatable, but with the roundness of livestock in the wood. The finish is fine, mineral, almost saline. A delicate wine that should properly support the bottle to still be benefit in some months- years? So watch once in your cellar!
I say: Lemonade yellow in color. Lovely high acid, but with a full body and some honeyed notes. Sweeter on the nose than in the mouth.
Food: Time to make a blueberry tart. After all, it is a LeTour listed specialty. We used our go-to Dorie Greenspan tart crust (find the recipe here) and then followed this recipe. I liked it straight of the oven, but it was even better for breakfast the next day.
The saucy bits:
As previously discussed, the Croix de Fer replaces the Galibier due to a landslide that cut off the return to Bourg d'Oisins. Today's Croix de Fer approach is in the opposite direction from Stage 19, and is rated as the easier of the two, covering the same 1500ish meters in 29km instead of 22, for an average gradient of 5.8%. Frankly, if you look at the profile above, you can see how misleading this is. It's simply a matter of 4km of total flat or downhill in the middle, another few km of easy stuff, and an early 2km respite... sandwiched between a horror first 4km, a nightmare from km 7-12, and a shitshow from km 23 to 29. Is it easier? Sure, respites are nice to the legs, but it's not easy. Oh, and the nastier other side is now the descent.
Alpe d'Huez is what it is. From Will's preview:
Alpe d'Huez will be a zoo with hundreds of thousands of fans on the mountain enjoying its position as the final meaningful climb of the Tour. Each of its 21 hairpins are signed and includes the name of a former stage winner. There is a certain symmetry to the 2015 Tour de France: starting in the Netherlands and finishing (excluding the champagne stage 21) at Alpe d'Huez - sometimes called "the highest point in Holland" as 8 of the first 14 stages here were won by Dutch cyclists.
You can find 20 of the hairpin signs here. Strangely hairpin sign #2, near the top, was missing that day - does anyone have a photo? This will be the 29th stage with a summit finish at the Alpe, so some of the hairpins signs have 2 names. The first hairpin has the first ever stage winner at the Alpe, Fausto Coppi 1952, sharing the sign with a certain American.
What the Alpe lacks in tourist attractiveness (or more specifically in its ability to attract too many tourists), and in distance (13.8km), it makes up for in gradient, a cool 8.1% average. It's rated as the fourth hardest of the Tour, but the average gradient is #1, and its place on day 20, when nearly everyone is completely shattered, sets it up to potentially decide the race.
The day we've all been waiting for (some more patiently than others). At stake is nothing less than the legacy of two riders, one -- current leader Chris Froome -- who could claim a dynastic presence atop his generation, another who's trying to knock him off... or risk getting labeled the next Pou-pou. Not terribly fair, as Nairo Quintana is more likely to wind up as his own generational figure than some sort of eternal second, and it's terribly impressive that, in two Tours, he has only ever lost to one person. In any event, we're never far from history at this point in cycling's evolution, and what better place to write some more than the Alpe?
Done and dusted. Peter Sagan leads by more than 100 points.
King of the Mountains
Speaking of historic events, can you remember a better KOM competition in a while? Romain Bardet of AG2R (90 points) just barely leads Froome, who seems interested in winning, by three points, and another 9 over Joaquim Rodriguez, who is definitely interested but fading fast. In play is Jakob Fuglsang, who chased it on stage 18, and with 50 points to the stage winner you can't rule it out for Quintana, sitting at 64 points... though it is pretty unlikely that Froome won't be there to collect a share of the spoils as well.
Done and dusted. Nairo leads by a million hours.
Froome and Quintana, mano-a-mano, as it should be. Quintana looks better now, though probably not better enough to win the Tour. It's all left to be done, with one day to do it. I'll take Quintana for the stage.