Tour de France
VALLOIRE, FRANCE - JULY 25: Dylan van Baarle of...

New giant of the Alps could play kingmaker in 2020 Tour

The high point of next year's race at 2300m could prove decisive in the highly unconventional route

In a Tour de France full of surprises and unconventionality, one stage stands out for 2020.

With a Tour route that sees race organizers largely tearing up the script of what cycling’s most important stage race looks like, there is one profile that everyone is already talking about — stage 17 ending atop the Col de la Loze.

“I’ve never seen a climb so difficult in the Tour,” said two-time Tour winner Bernard Thévenet. “Not only for its steepness, but for its change of rhythm. It’s a stage for a pure climber.”

Stage 17 could be the king-maker in next year’s Tour. The climbing stage takes on one of the legends of the Alps — the Col de la Madeleine — but what has everyone’s tongues wagging is the Col de la Loze.

The finish-line summit is a new climb for the Tour, straddling the mountain ridge between Meribel and Courchevel high in France’s Trois Vallées ski area. The pass tops out at 2300m, and on a clear day, Mont Blanc hogs the horizon line. During the Tour, everyone agrees it could prove decisive.

“It’s prototypical of a climb of the 21st century,” said Tour director Christian Prudhomme. “It’s a series of uneven steps that are brutally steep.”

Coming off a highly successful 2019 Tour, Prudhomme and technical director Thierry Gouvenou needed to up the stakes. They’ve delivered with several new innovations, but in a route full of surprises, the Loze climb stands above.

The 21.5km climb boasts an average grade of 7.5 percent — challenging enough, but at least on paper, not overwhelming. What brings that number down are two relatively flatter sections midway up the col as the climb stair-steps up the side of the searing ridgeline. The climb gets steeper as it gains altitude, meaning it will be a race of attrition so late in the Tour, and an opportunity for anyone with legs to hit the accelerator, especially at above 2000 vertical meters.

Defending champion Egan Bernal (Ineos) was clearly licking his chops after seeing the stage profile. The Colombian was raised on the high altiplano of the Andes, and relishes the high-altitude climbs of the Alps.

“It’s a route that’s going to be very emotional,” said the defending yellow jersey. “With so many hard summits, it invites riders to attack. It’s a route that I really like.”

Few WorldTour pros will know it. The climb follows a service road linking the two ski areas — with part of it used as a ski run during the winter — and the route has recently been paved and open to cyclo-tourists during the summer.

The climb made its debut in during stage 8 at the 2019 Tour de l’Avenir, with Australia’s Alexander Evans winning the stage. American Matteo Jorgenson was fourth. While the Avenir route started in the valley floor and went straight up, the Tour route also takes in the Madeleine to add a twist to the knife.

Prudhomme was enthusiastic about the inclusion of the Loze in what he called the Tour’s new look for a new century.

“The Tour continues its innovation,” he said in Paris on Tuesday. “Next year, the longest stage will be 218km — we’ve never had the longest stage be so short.”