I spoke at length with 3-Time Tour Champ Greg LeMond just days before the roll out in London, hoping his expertise might provide some insight as to how this year’s parcours would affect the outcome.
In 1990, I saw he Tour pass through the Alps in typically blazing heat. On Alpe d’Huez, I pedaled my mountain bike up to the halfway point before the 10lbs. of wine, cheese and sausage in my backpack got the best of me. When the race came through, Steve Bauer was in his last day in Yellow, and it was LeMond with Bugno and Delgado off the front. Although no Alpe d’Huez this year, there’s no easy way through these mountains.
GC Men: Show Yourselves!
Greg: “This is gonna be interesting because you’re going into these mountain stage without having done an individual time trial, which puts the hierarchy together right before the mountain stages. If you won the tt, then everybody is gonna expect you and your team to control the race. The tt winner will have to race much more defensively, while the other riders are looking for weaknesses and will try to attack him.”
“But now you’re going into these stages with no real defined leader, and this year, with all the big guys out, this could the craziest Tour for many years. This is gonna be wide open, and I couldn’t even begin to tell you who I think is a favorite. This will be one of those really fun races where everybody believes they’ll be the next Tour de France winner.”
PEZ: As a GC rider, the first real test is Stage 7 into the mountains – from Bourg-en-Bresse to Le Grand Bournand. In the last couple of days leading to this, are you doing anything different to get ready for the first big climbs?
Greg: For me personally, I always liked having a stage like day 5 to Autun that got me into the rhythm of climbing, but was still fast. But you never know, at least when I was racing, until you hit the first mountain, there’s always a bit of nervousness – are you gonna be really good? You hope you will, but you don’t know until you get up there. And up to this point, none of your competitors have really shown what they’re capable of.
The last climb of the day, the Col del la Columbiere – if it’s well thought out and attacked, you’ll see one of the guys who’s gonna win the Tour at the front. You’re not gonna see a gc contender getting dropped on this climb, and somehow miraculously make it back up.
It’s a 16km climb with almost a 7% grade, it’s going to be a real big tough day – their first big test and I think this is going to be very aggressively raced. You’re gonna find out who’s in shape and who’s competitive, and you’ll probably see the winner come over with the group in this race.
PEZ: Stage 8 Grand Bournand to Tigne looks tough – six rated climbs and three Cat 1. climbs to the summit finish. The key obstacles are # Km 99.5 – Cormet de Roselend (- 19.9 km climb to 6 %), the Montйe d’Hauteville (15.3 km climb to 4.7 %), and the finish to Montйe de Tignes (18.0 km climb to 5.4 %) – another tough day ahead…
Greg: “Yeah, but these aren’t really substantial climbs – they’re not extremely difficult with really steep grades. Those are fast climbs, but they’re not gonna blow the field up. This could be an aggressive stage because it’s so much up or down, up or down. Especially in the first 60km, it’s the perfect place for a good group of riders who are decent climbers to get away, because the other teams with the big gc riders are not gonna race flat out with those climbs at the end. But I think by the leaders team will work to keep the break from gaining much time, the real racing will happen on the climb at the end.”
PEZ: The final day of the Alpine trilogy comes after a much deserved rest day (July 16, Monday), then it’s Stage 9 – Val d’Isere to Briancon (read the PEZ-Report on Briancon here.) – 160km with the HC Col d’Iseran at only 15km, then the Telegraphe and Galibier peaking about 38km before the finish, with that nasty little digger in Briancon (which proved a time-gapper in this year’s Giro).
Greg: “The Galibier is an incredibly long climb, but it’s not real steep, it’s just kind of a grinder. (Read the PEZ-Report on Galibier here.)It’s long enough that if someone was really strong and had a couple of teammates, they could put some distance on people. If the Telegraph was attacked aggressively, and had the field split… this climb is so long that if someone’s having a bad day you could put some time on them.
“If everybody’s still equal, it could be whittled down to a small group, but there’s still a tremendous amount of distance and time from the Galibier summit to the finish. Still, it’s pretty fast, and it’s not unreasonable that if the bunch is shattered and coming over in small groups, that if a small group is away and they attack the descent pretty hard they might stay away. But if you’re in a small group of 3-4 riders, and there’s a group of say 20 guys behind you, you’d probably have no chance of making it to the end.
“That valley usually has a tailwind blowing away from the Galibier, which would aid the breakaway.”
PEZ: So the Alps look like some tough days, but not the toughest days in the race.
Greg: Yeah… there’s nothing earth shattering. But I’ve seen it happen where it looks like it’s not the most difficult part, and everybody’s worried about the Pyrenees stage, that sometimes it’s one of those stages where you don’t expect something to happen – and it does and that really changes the race.
Get this: Pez at the 1990 Tour – driving across France enroute to a date with Alpe d’Huez and the photo I snapped of Greg above. Remember top-heavy hair, Oakley Frogskins, and negative sideburns? …yeah I’m cool.
• See LeMond Racing Cycles website: LeMondBikes.com
• See LeMond Racing Cycles website: LeMondBikes.com