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The ‘Giant of Provence’ will undoubtedly to leave its mark on this Tour
By John Wilcockson
When Lance Armstrong says that Mont Ventoux is “the hardest climb we’lldo this year,” you know he means it. He clarified that statement by sayingSunday’s 221km stage from Lodève to the 6273-foot Ventoux summitmay not be the most difficult stage, because there are no other climbs.But when you have already been riding on rough, rolling roads in 90-degreeheat for more than five hours, the sudden effort of scaling a 21.5km climbhas an added bite.
The severity of the climb cannot be exaggerated. As the French cyclistRaphaël Geminiani said on a stage of the 1955 Tour: “Easy Ferdi, theVentoux is not a mountain like all the others.” He was speaking to FerdiKubler, who Geminiani had followed when the colorful Swiss rider made acrazy attack as soon as the long climb began. In reply, Kubler said, “Ferdi,too, not like the others. Ferdi great champion.”
Unfortunately. The aging champion underestimated the Ventoux and sufferedterribly on the upper slopes, exposed to the hot sun. He began zigzaggingand almost collapsed. It was in similar conditions on the Ventoux in the1967 Tour that Britain’s most successful cyclist Tom Simpson collapsedand died, having pushed himself too far. An autopsy identified traces ofalcohol and amphetamines in his system.
The ascent of Mont Ventoux from the south begins with a fairly gentlerise of 816 feet of 5km at 4 percent across the Vaucluse vineyards. Thenthe narrow road swings left on a steep switchback to begin a relentless“wall,” up through a pine forest, climbing 2824 feet in 9km at 9.6 percent(with pitches as steep as 15 percent). It then emerges from the trees andswings left for the remaining 1611 feet of climbing for 6.5km across abare, limestone “moonscape,” averaging 7.5 percent. The total is 5251 feetof climbing for 21.5km at a 7.6-percent average grade.
It’s on this climb that the Tour’s 164 survivors will toil for the bestpart of an hour (for the fastest riders) late Sunday afternoon. The Ventoux will be packed with thousands of fans from all over Europe and North America.
Armstrong has said he would like to win this prestigious stage, or at leastbe faster than his immediate rivals on overall classification: SpaniardsJoseba Beloki and Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano of ONCE-Eroski, LithuanianRaimondas Rumsas of Lampre-Daikin, and Colombian Santiago Botero of Kelme-CostaBlanca.
Based on the two mountain stages in the Pyrenees, Beloki (still only2:28 behind Armstrong) presents the biggest challenge. But none of thesefour can be ruled out, especially as the third week of the Tour often revealsriders with unsuspected reserves. Also, no one can rule out a bad day forArmstrong or any other top rider.
As Armstrong said on Friday, “You have to remember that one bad day on the Ventoux, when it’s very hot, windy and you’re alone, you can lose a lot of time.”
But the Texan is very unlikely to be alone Sunday afternoon. His Spanishteammates Roberto Heras and José Luis Rubiera are both in fantasticclimbing form, and will probably pace Armstrong through at least the opening15km of the Ventoux. Armstrong has yet to win a Ventoux stage of the Tour(or June’s Dauphiné Libéré) in four attempts. Maybe the fifth time will be a charm.
DETAILSOF STAGE 14: Lodève to Mont Ventoux, 221km.
INTERMEDIATE SPRINTS: Sauve (71.5km) and Châteauneuf-du-Pape(160km).
CLIMBS: One hors-categorie climb, Mont Ventoux(from 200km to 221km).
WEATHER FORECAST: Another hot sunny day with temperaturesas high as 91 F on the plains, cooling to 64 degrees by the 6000-foot summitof Mont Ventoux. Light winds from the south during the stage, then a westerlywind of 10 mph on the Ventoux.See also: “Thecurse of the Ventoux — The ‘Giant of Provence’ is not like other climbs.”