TdF Stage 9: An Inside Look

We’re taking an insiders look at tomorrow’s Stage 9 of the Tour de France. My good buddy, Chris Russell has climbed sections of this nasty Alpine stage and was kind enough to give us his preview (including videos) of what to expect as the riders set out from Morzine.  Here is Chris’ description and comments on Stage 9.

So we’re into week two of the 2010 Tour de France.  It has already been spectacular, with a start in Holland, some pretty sketchy cobbled sections through Belgium, and a number of high speed climaxes through the plains of central France where the sprinters get to stretch their legs.

But beyond today’s first rest day, we get down to business.  The Alps.  This is where the real contenders will come out to play.  For those of you who have been to the Alps, you’ll not only appreciate the awe-inspiring majesty of the sheer scale of the place, but you’ll no doubt sympathise with what lies ahead for the riders.

Stage 9 begins in the ski resort of Morzine at approximately 1000mtrs, across the valley from the infamous Joux Plane (avid cyclists amongst you will know that this is the climb where Lance Armstrong bonked but recovered to save the day back in 2000). Unfortunately for the riders, missing out on Joux Plane is no consolation for the epic 204kms which lie ahead tomorrow.

Immediately there’s a quick descent to the valley floor, into Cluses (a pretty busy industrial town – watch out for the crazy one way system here!) before the peleton faces the monstrous Col de la Colombière. At 1618mtrs, it’s not the highest climb, but it’s short, steep and will see some exciting attacks for sure.  The climb really begins in the village of Le Repesoir, approximately 25km from the summit.  Expect to see some attacks here on the lower slopes.  The Colombière really begins some 12-15km later, when the road narrows and rises in front of you like a brick wall! It’s not as steep a gradient and is certainly more forgiving than the likes of Alp D’huez, but its a tough test.  There’s a sheer drop to your left as you climb, and like most alpine ascents, you won’t see the road in front of you until you’re actually there (Watch out for falling rocks…the glacial melt water often loosens the slopes a bit!).  From approximately 8km, the gradient rises again and the treeline subsides.  Expect to be out the saddle here and hitting your max.  Views from the top are nothing short of spectacular – to the North, you’ll look back down into the valley below, across to Morzine, with Mont Blanc in the background.  To the South you’ll face your fast and open descent into Le Grand Bornand.  It’s cold at the top and oxygen is thin so be prepared.  I’ve climbed the Colombière a couple of times and by far the easiest route to the summit is from the other direction – the south.

Here’s a look at the climb about 4 kms from the summit

And what it looks like from the top

I wouldn’t expect today’s stage to be settled on the Col de la Colombière by any means.  There’s a long road through Haute-Savoie before getting to the Col de la Madelaine, where the real battle begins.  There’s a small matter of 130km to cover here but expect the peleton to be together, probably chasing a few early attacks off the front.  If you get to visit, stop off in Alberville, and if you’re that close, you might as well drive the 20mins up to Lake Annecy – one of the most beautiful places i’ve ever visited.

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