Road cycling might not be the first discipline that springs to mind when thinking of extreme sports. But consider this: competitors at this year’s Tour de France will complete 21 stages covering a total distance of 3,460 km over a three-week period. They will navigate dozens of peaks over five mountain stages. That includes the 2,770 m Col de l’Iseran, which they’ll approach from the most difficult side and they’ll hit speeds in excess of 130 kph on the way back down. They have just two days’ rest. Sounds pretty extreme right?
This year’s race is set to be one of the most open ever with at least a dozen riders in with a serious chance of winning, amongst whom are defending champion Geraint Thomas, Grand Tour winner Adam Yates and young hotshot and favourite in the cycling betting markets Egan Bernal. That should make for an even more fascinating spectacle than usual.
But for those who want to experience the race in the flesh, where are the best places to get a feel for the action?
Col du Tourmalet
The Col du Tourmalet Mountain has been climbed 86 times in the history of the Tour de France but this year will be only the third time a finish has been set at its peak. That makes it the ideal spot to view the race as the strongest climbers do battle over the gruelling closing stages. With the spectacular backdrop of the Pyrenees and a 19 km stretch with an average gradient of 7.4%, the Col du Tourmalet perfectly captures the beauty and brutality of the race. The Tour will head to the summit for Stage 14 on July 20.
Col de l’Iseran
Stage 19 will see the riders pass over the 2,770 m Col de l’Iseran which has a 12.9 km section with an average gradient of 7.5% and a peak of 10.2 %. The Alpine peak has only been used seven previous times in Tour history and just once in the last 27 years. The mountains pass will be lined with passionate fans cheering on their heroes during the toughest section of this 126.5 km stage.
Col des Chevrères
This Stage 5 climb is relatively new to the Tour having first been used in 2004. The ascent starts in Servance in the Eastern French region of Bourgogne-Franche-Comté and covers 10.3 km. The average gradient is only 5% but there are some shorter sections that reach 18%. For cyclists of any level, that feels like riding up a vertical wall. The forest setting creates a different atmosphere from some of the other mountain stages. It is just one of seven climbs that feature on the 175.5 km Stage 5 of the Tour.
Riders that pass the Col de l’Iseran and Col des Chevrères will have the equally difficult task of negotiating their way back down again. If you want to see wheel-to-wheel racing at speeds of up to 130 kph, the same hills are still worthy of your time – just position yourself on one of the descents instead.
Featured Image: Max Pixel