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MONTPELLIER, France (VN) — Off with its head, the Giant of Provence is dead. But the bike race lives on.
The removal of six kilometers from the top of Mont Ventoux due to high winds is more a spiritual loss than a material one, but there is no question it will have a racing consequences. This Tour has lost its Giant, an icon and venue for the major battle between Nairo Quintana and Chris Froome in 2013. Ventoux lost its head — on Bastille Day, no less — but the hard day of racing remains.
“To be honest, I don’t think it really changes too much,” said yellow jersey Chris Froome said of the stage’s slightly reduced challenge. “The climb up to Chalet Reynard is really hard already.”
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Gusty winds in the valley below Mont Ventoux are forecasted to hit more than 30 miles per hour, even stronger than those that blew the Tour into pieces numerous times on Wednesday’s stage into Montpellier. On the summit, above the trees and into the exposed moonscape we associate with Ventoux, the winds will likely be even more powerful.
The race will now stop at the moonscape’s edge, where the trees end and the rocks begin.
The racing will be different, but volatility is the only real guarantee. Wind early in the stage could play a role once again; Sky will surely look to hit Ventoux’s lower slopes with a head start over Quintana, if possible. And the climb itself could see more aggression at its base.
“It could be even split to pieces before the climb, so I really don’t know what to expect,” Froome said. “We’ll have to wait and see. If anything, it’s going to mean it’s an even more intense race once we do hit the climb, because it’s even shorter.”
Even a shortened Ventoux is no small task. The climb to Chalet Reynard, which was used this year in Paris-Nice, is still 9.6km up from the mountain’s base. It features pitches over 10 percent. With the reduced distance, the steep first three kilometers of the climb may now be used as a springboard.
“We will have to race it in a different manner,” Quintana said. He declined to elaborate.
The shortened climb places extra emphasis on Friday’s time trial, too.
“To win a Ventoux stage really is something special, but certainly at the back of all of our minds will be the time trial the next day,” Froome said. “Whoever goes really deep on Ventoux will pay the price the day after.”
The competition may remain intact, but there is no question that this Tour has lost its something of its soul. The race to Chalet Reynard is not the Ventoux, not really. This year’s race has no Alpe d’Huez to carry the Tour’s historical burden. Yes, Thursday’s stage may produce an excellent race. But Mont Ventoux owes its place in cycling’s memory to its upper reaches, a wasteland of sun-bleached stone cut through by a single strip of steep tarmac that leaves riders exposed, alone, just a pair of seating legs spinning away on the moon.
“It will be a shame if we can’t race the entire Ventoux, because it’s a beautiful climb, and a day that is very good for me,” Quintana said.
“I would like that the race goes to the top,” said Team Sky sport director Nicolas Portal. “Not just for us, but for the sport.”