In the weeks and months after returning home from my Breakaway
travels I exuded an air of ascender’s arrogance. In a couple of weeks I’d climbed almost three times the height of Everest. I’d taken on and (just about) survived many of cycling’s biggest names: Ventoux, Galibier, Izoard, Stelvio … .
None of the climbs that Scotland had to offer could perturb me. “Think this is bad?” I’d shout at my legs, “this is nothing compared to the [insert famous-name climb] and you survived that!”
I’d been there, done that — or so I thought.
With every grand tour comes a clutch of climbs, some big names, some I’d never heard of, whose tarmac my tyres have yet to touch. The routes of 2014’s big three prove no exception.
These past few years the Giro and Vuelta seem to have been locked in a battle to decide which grand tour can cram the most mountains into three short (for us spectators, long for the suffering riders) weeks. Not content with finding climbs most mortals would struggle to ride up on a quad bike, they have even chucked in some, like the Plan de Corones
, which had yet to be paved.
For 2014 Giro organisers have put together what they have referred to as a more ‘humane’ route, which doesn’t mean it will be in any way lacking in climbs. (It’s ‘humane’ like killing a convict by lethal injection instead of hanging them by a rope.)
Most of the big names and/or big climbs feature in a fearsome final week. Stage 15 has just one, it comes right at the end and is more than enough climbing for anyone in a day. The finish at Montecampione delivers 1512 metres of ascent in around 20 kilometres, with an average gradient of 7.5%. The name meant little to me before (despite Pantani having won there in ’98) but knowing those numbers I now really want to ride it.
Stage 16 has two piddling warm ups (sarcasm alert! Stelvio and Gavia – been there, done that) before a summit finish atop Val Martello
(not been there, want to do that), over 22 kilometres long and topping out at over 2,000 metres. Stage 18 features the Passo San Pelegrino
(1918m), which I have driven but sadly never ridden, and two which I think are Giro newbies (I’d certainly never heard of them — feel free to enlighten me in the comments) the Passo del Redebus
(1455m) before the climb to the Rifugio Panarotta
(1760m), which is 16 kilometres at 8%. A dream/nightmare day depending on your perspective.
The mighty Monte Zoncolan
, which should require no introduction, hovers like an evil ogre at the end of the penultimate stage. This 10 kilometre torture, with gradients that top out over 20%, taunts alongside Spain’s L’Angliru on a list of climbs I must
ride before I die (or before I require a Gruber Assist just to ride on the flat).
Climbs might not dominate the route of the Tour as they do the Giro and Vuelta but there are always plenty big beasts to whet the appetite. This year the riders will have three mountain ranges to play with: the Vosges featuring before the better known Alps and Pyrenees. Le Grand Ballon
(1343m) is the big name in the former, with six Tour visits since 1969 when Lucien van Impe was first over the top.
Two big names in the Alps draw my eye, both of which have featured stage wins by the bogeyman: Chamrousse
(1730m) an 18 kilometre climb at 7.3%, and the mere 17 kilometres of Hautacam
(1560m). Port de Bales
has only featured in three Tours but at over 18 kilometres long and rising to a height of 1755 metres it has the credentials to feature many times more in the future.
Some climbs you fancy for the challenge they present, others for the air of mythology that hangs around their peaks. Then there are those to which you are attracted on more superficial grounds. Enter the poetically named final climb from stage 10, La Planche des Belles Filles
(1035m, 5.9 km at 8.5%). Yes, it’s where a couple of Brits did rather well in 2012, but it’s actually the name that gets me — such beauty to grace a climber’s palmares.
The 1885-metre-high ski resort of Risoul
is another newcomer to the Tour. It’s 14 kilometres long and takes in 850 metres vertically, which sounds exactly like my kind of fun.
In the Pyrenees there’s stage 17’s Plat d’Adet
. In Tour terms it dates back to the year after my birth, when Raymond Poulidor won the summit finish there. It’s just over 10 kilometres long and has an average gradient of over 8%. Numbers to make my mouth drool and my knees go weak.
More than a few names in France then, but Yorkshire’s hosting of the Grand Dé
part has thrown up another legend I am yet to tackle, and one that’s far closer to home. The 521 metre ‘Cote de’ Holme Moss
in the South Pennines is definitely not Alpine in scale but it’s undeniably a British legend.
With eight mountain finishes in its itinerary it’s little wonder the 2014 Vuelta has a climb or two (or three, four, five …) that are total mysteries to me. And it’s not just me. Four of those summit finishes (La Zubia, San Miguel de Aralar, La Camperona and Monte Castrove) are new to the race organisers too.
According to race director, Javier Guillén, “the Camperona stands out
”, and with a final three kilometres that includes grades of 24% it will surely stand out for the riders too.
Stage 11 will finish on the climb to San Miguel deAralar
. The 11 kilometre ascent averages 8%, but hits gradients of 16-17% in the finale and is said to be surfaced but in need of some repair work (beginning to sound like a Giro climb). It’s not just the statistics that suggest it’s a challenge, five-time Tour winner Miguel Indurain described it as “very tough
”, and that is all the recommendation I require.
So the list of climbs I’d still love to tackle grows and is now easily as long as the one that mutated off the scale in the days of our Breakaway ‘planning’ (poring over maps and greedily snatching up every famous name we saw).
Sooner or later my itchy cleats will get the better of me and I’ll stuff another bundle of Col names (some famous, others less so) into my back pocket, head to the Continent and climb up or shut up — hopefully the former, hopefully sooner rather than later.
I wonder what Drew’s up to this summer?