The Casse Déserte and the Col d’Izoard road, Queyras © D. MacArthur

The 104th edition of the Tour de France (from 1 to 23 July 2017) will highlight the mountains and the climbers with three stages in the Hautes-Alpes two days before the arrival on the Champs Elysées. The Col du Galibier, Col de Lautaret and Col de Vars are on the agenda with an unprecedented finish at the summit of the Col d’Izoard, 95 years after Philippe Thys’ win. Amazing!

“The tour is won in Briançon, before Paris,” said Raphael Geminiani. A motto that others may well adopt. Many cyclists such as Bartali, Maes, Coppi, Bobet, Bahamontes, Gimondi or Merckx, triumphed in the Hautes-Alpes: outside the town’s ramparts, on the slopes of the Galibier, around the Col de Vars hairpins or in the heat of the Izoard.“A great champion crosses the Casse Déserte and the Izoard summit up front, on his own, wearing the yellow jersey”. Bernard Thévenet, two-time winner of the tour (now in charge of public relations for ASO) might well confirm this as he won there in 1975

TWO FINISHES AND TWO STARTS IN THE HAUTES-ALPES

Is history repeating itself? The course of the 104th edition of the Tour de France was unveiled yesterday at the Palais des Congrès in Paris. In 2017, it is to make a notable return to the mountains, particularly in the Hautes-Alpes. Between 1922 and 2015, the county hosted the start or the finish of stages of the tour 76 times. Once again, it will provide the scene for three stages and see the return of three giants: the Col du Galibier, Col de Vars and Col de l’Izoard in the village of Arvieux (Queyras). There will be an unprecedented and historic finish at the latter summit (2 360 m) on 20th July, 95 years after Belgian Philippe Thys won (1922). Briançon-Col de l’Izoard a ‘royal’ stage with the infamous Casse Déserte acting as arbitrator, “the rotten crater that dares not speak its name” as Antoine Blondin called it. A cyclist’s heaven, closely guarded by the memorial stone in honour of Bobet and Coppi, keepers of this legendary, lunar, almost unreal landscape. A day marked by the 34th visit to Briançon as stage town and the ascension of the south side of the Col de Vars (2 108 m). A formidable 14-kilometre warm-up of hairpin bends from Gleizolles (Saint-Paul-sur-Ubaye), before heading to the Guillestre area for the final climb and arrival at the Col d’Izoard. The Col de Vars is selective, particularly over the last six kilometres with an average gradient between 9.5 and 12%.

SERRE CHEVALIER, BRIANÇON, COL DE L’IZOARD, EMBRUN

Prior to this, on 19th July, the peloton will have entered the Hautes-Alpes for the 59th time, via the north side of the Col du Galibier. It will then engage in a 9-km descent on the Lautaret to arrive in the Hautes-Alpes’ largest ski resort: Serre Chevalier (La-Salle-les-Alpes). The Galibier (2 642 m) the “warrior’s summit” close to the hearts of Henri Desgrange, Emile Georget or Raymond Poulidor who surely remembers losing the Tour to Merckx there in 1974. From plan Lachet (Savoie) to the summit, there are 18 kilometres of endless bends (average gradient between 7.2 and 11.8%). A high-altitude section where Andy Schleck’s centenary-stage victory cry from 2011 still resounds and images of Thomas Voeckler’s heroic ride in the yellow jersey remain. Even today, the Galibier is the highest stage in the history of the Tour.

 It is to be noted that the Étape du Tour 2017, Europe’s benchmark cyclosportive event, with close to 15,000 participants on the starting line, will be following the route of the Briançon-Col de l’Izoard stage. The 27th edition will take place over 178 kilometres on 16 July 2017. On 20 July “La Course by le Tour” women’s race will follow the same route.