Things turn serious Wednesday at the Tour de France with the peloton set to tackle the high mountains on stage 11 as part of a major Alpine doubleheader for the 2022 Tour’s first hors-categorie summit finale.
The stage packs a lot into 151.7km from Albertville to Col du Granon Serre Chevalier, with four classified climbs, including the highest point of the 2022 race and the second highest summit finish in the Tour’s history.
As the race passes the halfway point and a furiously fast return to racing in the medium mountains, there will be plenty of tired bodies in the bunch.
With two trips higher the 2,000 meter mark and climbing temperatures in France, this 151.7km ride will be the toughest test yet for the GC contenders.
“None of the contenders for the yellow jersey can afford a slip-up today. The climbs are tightly packed, starting with the Montvernier hairpins, then continuing with the crossing of the Télégraphe and Galibier passes,” Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme says on the race’s website.
“After passing through Serre-Chevalier, 10 kilometres of climbing at an average of more than nine percent remain to reach the 2,413-meter Col du Granon, which was the Tour’s highest finishing point for 25 years.”
The second-category Lacets de Montvernier and the first-category Col du Télégraphe will serve as an entrée for the finale over the Col du Galibier and the Col du Granon, which come stacked up inside the final 50 kilometers of the stage.
Stage 11 will see the first of two ascents of the Galibier in the 2022, with the Alpine monster set to be ridden again Thursday. The main difference with Wednesday’s ride is that it has been declared the spot for the Souvenir Henri Desgrange — the prize for the first person to cross the highest point of the Tour de France — and the first to reach the top set to earn €5,000.
The Galibier was first introduced into the Tour de France in 1947, when just three riders made it over the top without walking, and it has been included in the race a further 34 times. In addition to it being the site of this year’s Souvenir Henri Desgrange, it also has a memorial to the man who helped create the French grand tour.
It takes in almost 18 kilometers of climbing with over 1,200 meters of altitude gain across that. The toughest part of the ascent is reserved for the final five kilometers, which sees the gradients hit double figures on several occasions.
From the top of the Galibier at 2,642m, a long descent ensues with a passage over the Col du Lautaret — which is not classified from this direction — to the foot of the Col du Granon with 11k to go.
This will only be the second time that a Tour de France peloton has raced up the Granon, with the last ascent coming back in 1986 when Eduardo Chozas was the first to the top, winning the stage by 6:26. At 2,413m it was the highest ever summit finish until the Galibier hosted a stage finish back in 2011.
The big news on that day, however, happened behind Chozas with American rider Greg LeMond taking yellow from his La Vie Claire teammate Bernard Hinault. He would keep yellow all the way to Paris after that, beating Hinault by 3:10 in the overall classification.
A big impact on the GC
As it did in 1986, the Granon could have a defining role to play in this year’s Tour de France. It was the Col d’Izoard that preceded the Granon back then. The extra climbing meters of the Galibier is likely to make this test even harder for the general classification riders.
Though Tadej Pogačar has been fairly dominant this year, as he was in 2021, the general classification battle is still finely poised and small gaps can be reversed or blown much further out in the thin air above 2,000 meters.
Pogačar still sits at the top of the standings with Lennard Kӓmna now the second placed rider at 11 seconds. Jonas Vingegaard, who is at 39 seconds now in third, is still the most dangerous direct threat to the Slovenian, however.
Vingegaard and his team has been telling those who will listen that the Dane’s strengths lie in the longer mountains and this will be the first major chance to prove that. With Roglič gradually working his way back up the overall standings, and UAE Team Emirates will have to be prepared for a dual Jumbo-Visma offensive.
Ineos Grenadiers also comes into this stage with serious numbers near the top of the overall standings. Geraint Thomas and Adam Yates sit 1:17 and 1:25 behind Pogačar, respectively, with Tom Pidcock a little bit further back at 1:46.
Pogačar has shown little signs of weakness at the Tour de France over the last three years and his rivals will have to work hard if they want to find any. If they want to expose cracks in his armor then they will need to take on stages such as this one with plenty of aggression.