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A Quick Glance: 2019 Tour de France Mountain Stages

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The highest mountain pass in Europe

A few hours ago the Tour de France unveiled the 2019 route. My goal here will be to take a very quick look at the main mountain stages. I may edit this on the go in an attempt to get something up quickly.

My initial reaction to the mountain stages? Not bad. Not bad at all.

Long-time Podium Cafe members will know that we have published several articles over the years campaigning for the Tour to include several great climbs long ignored by the Tour de France (see here, here, here, and here). Our campaign has had some recent successes with the inclusions of Plateau des Glières, Mont du Chat, and Grand Colombier.

This year? From our list we will see Val Thorens (the highest Ski Resort in Europe) and Col de l’Iseran (the highest paved mountain pass in Europe). Woohoo.

TRIVIA: “Col” means “mountain pass” in French. But among the climbs appearing in the 2019 Tour, can you identify at least 3 other local synonyms for col?

Let’s quickly walk through the mountain stages:

Stage 6 - Vosges Mountains

We haven’t seen much of the Vosges mountains in recent years, but this stage visits some great climbs there. Le Grand Ballon is one of the highest roads in the region. The Ballon d’Alsace is often cited as the first mountain climb to ever appear in the Tour (1905, a fake claim as Col de la Republique was the first climb > 1000 metres in 1903). And Col des Chevrères is famously steep (PdC’er Broerie has raced over it I believe).

René Pottiier monument at Col du Ballon d’Alsace

But all the talk for this stage will be the mountain top finish at La Planche des Belles Filles. I’ve called this one of the least charming climbs in a charming cycling region. It’s a purpose-built road to a little ski station. But I am talking from a cyclo-tourist view. For racing? It is very STEEP.

It made it’s Tour debut in 2012. I made this profile below a few years back. But look closely. It says a finish altitude of 1035 metres. But the road has been recently extended (I believe solely for next year’s Tour). It will now finish at 1140 metres and apparently the extension is hyper steep +20% in places, adding onto an already hyper steep finish. It may also be unpaved.

Yikes.

According to legend, during the 30 years war (1618-1648), a group of young girls jumped to their death the avoid being raped and massacred by Swedish mercenaries. Hence the name La Planche des Belles Filles or “The Plank of the Beautiful Girls.”

Stage 12 - Pyrénées

YAWN! The least interesting of the 7 mountain stages.

Col de Peyresoourde is the classic through-col. It’s been in the Tour almost 80 times without ever having a mountain top finish. Hourquette d’Ancizan is a nice little climb that is an alternative route to the oft-used Col d’Aspin. It will be making its 4th appearance debuting in 2011.

While Col d’Aspin is known for having cows at its summit, trust me, on Hourquette d’Ancizan you will see donkeys.

An ass on Hourquette d’Ancizan

Stage 15 - Pyrénées

Col du Tourmalet is another climb that has appeared in endless Tours. But (I think) this will be only the 3rd mountain top finish here (at least post WW2). Fun.

First the route will climb the hyper-scenic, quieter north side of Col du Soulor. Turning right at its summit is nearby Col d’Aubisque. But we’ll skip it for a change this year and head east.

View of north road to Col du Soulor

The Tour will be climbing the more interesting west side of Tourmalet (no Mongie ski station). Big news(!!): And since there will be no descent, we won’t be passing St-Marie-de-Campan. So the TV announces won’t tell the Eugène Christophe Forge story!!!!! This TdF course keeps getting better and better.

Tourmalet west side below
Les Deux Géants du Tourmalet

Stage 15 - Pyrénées

An interesting mountain stage on some lesser known Pyrénées climbs. I don’t know the finish climb although it’s not too far from Plateau de Beille (feel free to post any local knowledge in the comments). This looks like a less crazy mountain stage with an uphill finish. Might it lead to some aggressive attacks?

The biggest climb of the stage, Port de Lers, has been used 5 times by the Tour, 3 times on the way to a mountain top finish at Plateau de Beille. The cyclists are very cheerful here:

EDIT: Here’s a tweet response to this article with a nice photo of the final climb Prat d’Albis:

Stage 18 - The Alps

Three old friends as the Peloton heads north. Col de Vars is the Peyresourde of the Alps: They’re always just passing through. Then they will climb the more famous south side of Col d’Izoard through the beautiful Casse Deserte - always fun.

La Casse Deserte - that’s not Richie, it’s our boy Jens
Gravel riding above La Casse Deserte

After Izoard the route climbs the grand-daddy of French cols: Col du Galibier from the south starting from Briançon via Col du Lautaret. From Lautaret, the final 8.5 kilometres to the summit are stunning.

South side of Galibier viewed from summit

A kilometre from the summit, the Tour will pass the Henri Desgranges monument. IMPORTANT NOTE: there is a Galibier brand beer.

Desgranges monument, a Canadian, and a beer.

Sadly, the stage finish is approximately 17 kilometres below the summit. For the Alps, it’s a relatively wide, quality road, never in the trees. It should take them about 10 minutes to descend (fast!).

Stage 19 - The Highest Alps

Col de l’Iseran is the highest paved pass in all Europe. It’s 2764 metres not 2770 as listed. Details matter when you’re the highest. Here’s what I wrote in the “ignored climbs article:”

Col de l’Iseran has in fact appeared a handful of times in the Tour, but barely at all when compared to its little brother Galibier far down the Maurienne valley. Iseran is one of the most beautiful climbs in France. I taste a little vomit every time it is excluded. I am supposed to get excited about Alpe d’Huez - almost a vertical kilometre lower?

Iseran - high and heading higher

The route climbs the less developed, prettier south side then descends a magnificent 17+ kilometres to Val d’Isère ski resort. After passing through some raw, wet, nasty tunnels they will turn left for a short uphill climb to the connected ski station of Tignes. EDIT: In fact, they’ll descend below the dam/lac du Chevril and start the climb on a smaller road beside the main road. See this helpful tweet:

This (and the next) stage are the ones I will watch solely for the helicopter shots.

Tignes is located beside a big mountain lake.

Stage 20 - The Alps

This is my favourite mountain stage of the 2019 Tour. The organisers seem to agree as it will be the stage used for L’Etape du Tour, the amateur cyclo-sportive that rides one Tour stage every year.

They will climb the north side of the truly beautiful Cormet de Roselend. Unlike last year, they won’t ride over the dam but instead will take the direct route via Col du Meraillet - but they still ride along side the lake a few kilometres below the summit. Stunning.

La Chapelle de Roselend, lac de Roselend, and a slanty tripod (Dam far right at back).

After a fairly crazy descent of the south side of Roselend the route rides through the Tarentaise Valley towards Moûtiers. There is an awful, very, very busy and long tunnel that actually has bike lanes. But the Tour smartly takes the only route to avoid this tunnel by climbing to Notre-Dame-du-Pré.

Then from Moûtiers the peloton faces one of the longest climbs in France, 38+ kilometres up to Val Thorens, the highest ski station in Europe. I believe it’s the 10th highest paved road in France and yet has only ever once appeared in the Tour (1994, Nelson Rodriguez). This is a good addition. For those that are richer than me, you can stay at the La Datcha (Oleg) Tinkoff in Val Thorens and enjoy the stage finish.

The finish is likely just beyond the little tunnel upper left.

Final Thoughts:

Seven mountain stages with five uphill finishes along mostly interesting roads. Lots of old friends (Galbier, Tourmalet, Izoard, Roselend, Peyresourde, etc) but some unfamiliar roads too like a MTF finish at Prat d’Albis in the Pyrénées.

And personally I am excited to see two of the the ten highest roads in France making rare but welcome appearances; Col de l’Iseran and Val Thorens.

Don’t forget to leave a comment if you found the 3 synonyms for “col.”