We’re now halfway through this monumental race and if you haven’t managed to watch a stage, tonight’s 184km slog is a great place to kick it all off.
At the beginning of this race we marked July 14th, Stage 12 as one to watch. Not only is this one of the most important stages for the riders looking to win overall, it also happens to fall on Bastille Day; France’s national day to celebrate the revolution that occurred some 200 years ago.
The atmosphere tonight is guaranteed to be electric. The cycling itself will match the mood, with French cyclists looking to gain national hero-status with an audacious stage win and the likes of Froome, Porte and Quintana (all non-French) looking to gain time over one another.
Race director Christian Prudhomme and Technical Director Thierry Gouvenou have proven themselves astute organisers by choosing the legendary Mont Ventoux as the destination for the finish line.
Mont Ventoux is a remarkable climb. It’s considered the toughest in all of France for a few good reasons. The 16km climb is steep, registering an average gradient of 7.5 per cent. To put it into perspective, it’s a similar gradient to our Old Willunga Hill, just five times longer.
But the gradient is where the similarities come to a grinding halt. Once the elevation rises above the tree line, the Mountain becomes akin to the surface of the moon. Its mixture of grey and white rocks rebound the summer heat, raising the temperature significantly, while the lack of trees allow for hot, sweeping winds to flow along the dusty, chalked-up roads.
But that’s not all Mont Ventoux is famous for. Sadly it was the end of line for British cyclist Tom Simpson in 1967, who died from a mixture of exhaustion and amphetamines.
In 1950 Swiss cyclist Ferdi Kubler almost died, managing to pull himself across the line, before declaring “Ferdi killed himself on the Ventoux!”
As French philosopher Roland Barthes once put it: “The Ventoux is a god of Evil, to which sacrifices must be made. It never forgives weakness and extracts an unfair tribute of suffering.”
Kubler celebrates his 97th birthday on July 24th – the day the peloton roll into Paris – and will most certainly be watching as this generation of cyclists tackle the behemoth that is Mont Ventoux; something he never did again, retiring from professional racing the following year in 1951.
The Ventoux is a legend in its own right. It is a huge challenge for the peloton and it could well prove the difference between who will and who won’t win this year’s tour.
Expect plenty of energetic attacks from braggadocious young French riders looking to steal the spotlight on their national day of celebration. A course like this suits the likes of Romain Bardet and Thibaut Pinot. Whether they have what it takes to outlast the likes of Froome and co is a question we’ll have an answer for soon enough.
In the meantime, the only question you need to be asking is what champagne you should be buying to compliment the soft cheese you’ll be eating as you watch this magnificent stage tonight. Spoil yourself, it’s certainly worth it.
Vive La France!
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