Thursday, July 19, 6:25 a.m. – 12:20 p.m. ET
Featuring the Col de la Madeleine (2,000 meters), the Montvernier hairpins, the Croix de Fer (2,067 meters), and Alpe d’Huez (1,850 meters), stage 12 has a legendary profile. No matter how it’s raced, the “queen” stage between Bourg-Saint-Maurice and Alpe d’Huez will be a significant test. There are 72 kilometers of climbing on the menu, totaling 5,000 meters of vertical gain. Needless to say, it will be a playground for the climbers.
Although there have been stages of this type in the Pyrenees in recent editions of the race, notably the Pau to Bagnères-de-Luchon stage in 2016 that went over the Aubisque, Tourmalet, Aspin, and Peyresourde passes, you have to go back to 2013 for the last comparable one in the Alps. That year, a stage between Bourg d’Oisans and Le Grand-Bornand won by Rui Costa crossed the Croix de Fer, Madeleine, Forclaz, and Croix Fry passes. The year before that the Albertville to La Toussuire-Les Sybelles stage, won by Pierre Rolland, began with the same two opening passes before tackling the Mollard and the final ascent. In other words, this year’s 12th stage is both testing and classic, a day that can deliver the stuff of legends.
“We’re going back to cycling’s roots with this stage,” says race director Thierry Gouvenou. “It’s a very classic test. Cycling is changing and the trend is to serve up more and more short stages, but we want to retain those days that made the Tour legendary. It used to be the tradition that the riders would spend many hours on the bike!”
From the start in Bourg-Saint-Maurice, the riders will head towards Moutiers and then tackle the 25.3-kilometer climb of the Madeleine. The descent to La Chambre will lead onto the Montvernier hairpins.
“We’ve included the Montvernier hairpins both for their aesthetic qualities but also to boost the amount of climbing,” Gouvenou says. “Their inclusion will also cut the distance in the valley and the riders will feel it. It will break their rhythm, it twists and turns, and there’s no shelter at all.”
After the descent to Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne, the riders will climb the 28.8-kilometer ascent of the Croix de Fer via its toughest flank, which averages 5.1 percent. The most complicated section for the climbers will come at the bottom of the descent, on the 10 kilometers of flat road between Allemont and Bourg d’Oisans. This will really test their mental strength. The favorites will hope to use this section to their advantage before tackling the final climb to Alpe d’Huez.
“This is, of course, an important stage,” says Julien Pinot, brother of Thibaut and coach of the Groupama-FDJ team. “The riders will have to take into account the previous day’s summit finish and their need for recuperation. Ultimately, the 12th stage will be ideal for pure climbers who can repeat efforts at maximum threshold several times. A rouleur who is aiming to limit his losses in the mountains can do a 30- to 40-minute effort once, but not twice. The pure climbers can recover better during a stage like this.”
Consequently, if there is a big battle between the favorites, it won’t suit riders like Tom Dumoulin. That’s why it will be in the interest of pure climbers to race flat out.
“This is an important stage, one that can really benefit the climbers if they race hard from a long way out,” says Warren Barguil, winner of the polka dot jersey at the 2017 Tour. “It’s in our interest to take the initiative and attack because the time trial specialists who climb well can’t control the race over four climbs, even if their teams set the tempo.”
Check back after the race.