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More Worthy Climbs Ignored by the Tour de France

Col de la Pierre Carrée
Col de la Pierre Carrée

Yesterday the 2017 Tour de France route was revealed.  We at Podium Cafe were heartened to see the inclusion of the long ignored Mont du Chat in a gigantic Jura stage including the Tour debut of hors-categorie Col de la Biche as well as recent Tour debutante, now Tour darling, Grand Colombier.  This, along with the Col d'Izoard mountain top finish, must be the most anticipated stage for 2017. Excellent.

How is this for a stat? This will be only the second Tour since World War 2 to not include at least one of Alpe d'Huez, Col du Tourmalet, or Col d'Aubisque.

We are making progress my friends.

But there is still much work to be done. France is full of interesting climbs.  And while Col du Galibier will make something like its 60th appearance in 2017, there are still many wonderful roads that Monsieur Prudhomme and his minions have completely ignored.

This is the fourth in a series of articles over the last five years identifying great climbs ignored by the Tour de France. Before we propose 5 more let's briefly review where we stand with respect to out previous suggestions from 2011 (here), 2014 (here), and 2015 (here).

We've had some success, recommending both Grand Colombier and Mont du Chat in 2011.  And the 2016 Tour included the Signal de Bisanne (ok, only most of Signal de Bisanne).  In 2016, the magnificent Lac Cap de Long / Routes des Lacs appeared in the Haute-Route Pyrénées to universal acclaim, so we are hopeful a Tour appearance may be in its future.

But my friends, many of our suggestions have been ignored.  Ignored!  The aforementioned Lac Cap de Long - the best climb in the Pyrénées (zero TdF appearances), two more Pyrénées gems:  Port de Boucharo and Cirque de Troumouse (zero), Col de l'Iseran - the highest paved pass in Europe (five appearances), Col des Glières - site of the National Monument de la Resistance (zero ).  Col du Granon - one of the steepest climbs in France (one), and some lesser known gigantic climbs loved by cyclo-tourists in the know: Mont Colombis (0), Col du Joly (0), Col de la Moutière - 5th highest paved road in France (0), and Plan du Lac (Daniel Friebe once called it one of the greatest unknown climbs in the Alps).

Plan du Lac:

But it is with optimism that we present 5 more roads.  As I've written previously, broadly, there are three reasons why great roads get ignored.

  1. Money. Host towns pay. If a climb - especially if not a through-road - is not in a major ski station, then it likely doesn't have the resources to afford a stage.
  2. Protected Regions. Many of the best neglected roads are part of French National Parks. Locals often worry that a million crazy fans camping, parking, partying, and urinating on their mountains is bad for the fragile ecosystem
  3. Tradition. People like familiarity. Alpe d'Huez isn't the most famous climb in the world because it's that great.  It's famous because it's a zoo on race day, a familiar zoo.
What shitty reasons!  (I joke).  All of the below climbs will of course have tradition against them - they have been ignored.  Money?  Two are major ski stations so there is hope there. Protected?  Perhaps these will be strikes against suggestions #3 and #4.

Before we start I want to assure you that below will not be a list of tiny obscure roads, incapable of hosting a Tour stage.  I'd love to suggest the 29 hairpins up to La Croix de Toulouse, but it could never manage a Tour stage.  These are all big.  And all have plenty of room at the summit should a mountain top finish be envisioned. (admittedly, option #4 might be an exception). Enough said.  Here are five more worthy climbs ignored by the Tour de France.

1.  Val Thorens

Val Thorens is the highest ski resort in Europe (2340 metres), part of the Trois Vallées ski area (Courchevel, Méribel, etc.).   It's not the steepest climb but it's 38 kilometres (!) to the summit from the town of Moûtiers far below.  It has only made one Tour appearance, 1994, in a stage won by the Colombian Nelson Rodriguez.  This is a large and posh resort that should be able to easily afford a stage.  And we could all stay at Oleg Tinkov's luxury La Datcha chalet.

Blog post with more details here.

2.  Col de la Pierre Carrée

Col de Pierre Carrée (1844 metres) is the highest paved road open 12 months a year in Haute-Savoie (north Alps). While its lower more famous neighbours Col de la Colombière and Col de Joux Plane are closed for several months during winter, Pierre Carrée is kept open as it is the gateway to Flaine ski station a few kilometres down the far side of the col.

It has never appeared in the Tour de France.  But this fairly large ski station, part of the Grand-Massif ski domaine, might be able to afford a stage.  Blog post here.

3.  Sanctuaire Notre Dame de la Salette

In 2014, the Giro d'Italia had a summit finish at the UNESCO World Heritage Santuario di Oropa, the largest Santuario in the Alps.  In 2016, the Giro also climbed the superb Colle della Lombarda finishing at nearby Santuario di Sant'Anna, the highest Santuario in the Alps.  Why couldn't the Tour de France also have a summit finish at a beautiful and renowned Sanctuary?

After Lourdes, the Sanctuaire Notre Dame de la Salette is probably the most important pilgrimage site in France. Located in the Hautes-Alpes, it's a stunning setting with a basilica perched high in the mountains.  Blog post here.

4.  Gorges du Verdon / Col de Vaumale

"If this phenomenon of geological splendour was in the UK it would be the wonder of the British Isles."   CYCLIST MAGAZINE – MAY 2016

The 2016, stage 13 of the Tour rode through part of the beautiful Gorges de l'Ardèche, one of the more spectacular routes in France.  But there is a better gorge.  As best I can tell - I may be wrong - the Tour has never been through the magnificent Gorges du Verdon (certainly not via Col de Vaumale).  This true world-wonder-of-a-gorge is impressive as much for its beauty as its scale.  I've cycled some wonderful roads, but the 110 kilometre loop through Les Gorges du Verdon is probably the most perfect ride I've ever pedalled.   The Tour could climb above the gorge on a superb cliff road which includes Col de Vaumale at 1201 metres.  Or ride the opposite side on a bigger road. Or both. Paradise.  Blog post here.

5.  Mont Salève

" I thought of pursuing the devil; but it would have been in vain, for another flash discovered him to me hanging among the rocks of the nearly perpendicular ascent of Mont Saleve " - Marry Shelly's Frankenstein

Fuck it.  I am recommending my home mountain.  If the Frankenstein monster can climb Mont Salève then why the hell can't the Tour de France?

In Haute Savoie, France over-looking Geneva, Switzerland, this wonderful mountain has 5 routes up making it perfect for an appearance early in a Tour stage as the peloton enters or exits the Alps. Or a summit finish up the steepest side with a 4 kilometre stretch averaging almost 12% (2008 Dauphiné) . Ferocious.  The cool part of this mountain: the road runs several kilometres along the top, with views of Mont Blanc and the Alps in one direction and Lac Léman (Lake Geneva) and the Juras in the other.  Mont Salève did appear in the 1992 Tour.

While nowhere near as organised as the Ventoux or Grand Colombier clubs, I am a member of a Strava group with the goal of climbing four sides of Mont Salève in one day.  We have had fun debates over beers of the best, worst, and funnest way to map an attempt - and passionately debated acceptable start and summit points (multiple).  Expect at least 3500 metres of ascent.  Blog post of all 5 routes here.

Steep hairpins everywhere:

A Final Thought

S'il vous plait Monsieur Prudhomme.

(oh, and feel free to propose any climbs that you believe to be ignored and Tour worthy)