Saturday, June 13, 2020

10 Hardest stages ever in Grand Tours

Coppi in Cuneo Pinerolo
Coppi in Cuneo Pinerolo
It is difficult to make a list of the hardest stages in Grand Tours ever. After doing some research, you can read this list of 10 stages showing some of the most epic stages in history. Distance and elevation make those stages very special, and some of them will be, no doubt, in cycling History forever.

I've chosen 4 for Tour de France, 4 for Giro d'Italia and 2 from La Vuelta a España.

- Stage Luchon-Bayonne in Tour de France. Classic stage 326 km long including Peyresourde, Aspin, Tourmalet, Aubisque and the much smaller Osquich. This stage was in the Tour de france route years1910, 1911 and 1912, and opposite direction Bayonne-Luchon (possibly harder as the big climbs are at the end of the stage) was in the years 1913, 1914 and 191 to 1929.
One of the most famous Tour de France stages, if not the most
- Tour de France 1983 stage Bourg d'Oisans-Morzine with 247 km and 7200 mts elevation including Col du Glandon, La Madeleine, Aravis, Colombiere, Chatillon and Joux Plane. The winner was Jacques Michaud in an amazing stage with 7 hours 45' 25". In this stage Laurent Fignon gave a big step to the final overall win.
Bourg d'Oisans Morzine, epic stage Tour de France 1983

- Tour de France 1992, stage Saint Gervais-Sestriere, 254 km long and 6500 mts elevation, including Col de Saisies, Cormet de Roselend, Iseran, Mont Cenis and Sestriere. Claudio Chiappucci was the winner in an amazing breakaway from km 28, wearing the polka dot jersey. It took 7 hours 44 minutes 51 seconds. Miguel Indurain bonked a few km to the finish line.
Epic stage ending in Sestriere, Tour de France 1992
- Tour de France 1996. Stage Argeles Gazost-Pamplona, 262 km including  Aubisque, Marie Blanque Soudet and Larrau (and still 100 km to go to Pamplona). The winner was the swiss Laurent Dufaux in 7 hours 7 minutes. Indurain said to be the hardest stage in his carrer. No need to say any more.
The stage should have been a tribute to Indurain.
- Giro d'Italia 1914. It is said to be the hardest big tour ever with 5 stages over 400 km long. Stage 1 Milano-Cuneo was 420 km long including the climb to Sestriere (this was the hardest stage ever in Giro d'Italia history as per La Gazzetta dello Sport), but according to other souces, stage 6 Bari-L'Acquila was the hardest, with many riders forced to retire.

- Giro d'Italia 1949. The epic stage Cuneo-Pinerolo won by Fausto Coppi is one of the most dramatic wins in cycling history, including the climbs to Maddalena, Vars, Izoard, Mongenevre and Sestriere. Coppi won in 9 hours, 19 min 55 sec.

One of the most famous stages ever. Cuneo-Pinerolo
- Giro d'Italia 2011 Conegliano-Gardeccia Val di Fassa, 229 km with the climbs to Piancavallo, Forcella Cibiana, Passo Giau, Passo Fedaia and Gardeccia. The winner was the basque Mikel Nieve in 7 hours 27 minutes.
Conegliano-Gardeccia Val di Fassa, Giro d'Italia 2011
- Giro d'Italia 2012: Caldes-Passo dello Stelvio: 218 km and total elevation 5900 mts, including Passo del Tonale, Aprica, Mortirolo and Stelvio. The winner was Thomas de Gendt in 6hr 54 min 51 sec.
Queen stage ending at Passo dello Stelvio
- Vuelta a España 1992 Viella - Luz Ardiden, a stage 144 km long including Portillon, Peyresourde, Aspin, Tourmalet and Luz Ardiden. Total elevation 4500 mts. The winner was Laudelino Cubino in 4 h 52' 36". It is said to be one of the hardes stages in La Vuelta history.

- Vuelta a España 2015, Andorra la Vella-Cortals d'Encamp 145 km with Collada de Beixalis, Ordino, La Rabassa, Collada de la Gallina, and finish at Cortals d'Encamp at 2005 mts height. About 5000 mts elevation. Stage winner was Mikel Landa in 4hours 34 min 54 sec.
Stage in Andorra, not a single flat kilometer

This is my list of hardest stages ever in Grand Tours.
Do you agree? Feel free to share and comment below.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Top 10 best cycling climbs in the Pyrenees

Col du Tourmalet, the king of Pyrenees passes
It is always a hard job to choose the best climbs in a mountain range. Specially a very big one as the Pyrenees, with over 600 km of mountains, being the border between France and Spain..

There are many different criteria to keep in mind to make a list like this one. I chose 2 main criteria: landscape beauty and steepness. I also had in mind other points as traffic conditions. These are my favourite climbs in the Pyrenees:
  1. Port de Bales: This solitaire pass was asphalted recently and first included in Tour de France year 2007. Often into the rain and mist, if you get to the top in a clear sunny day you will have one of your best experiences upon a bike. And also challenging: on the Mauleon side they are 20 km and over 1200 mts elevation.
  2. Port de Pailheres: This climb has been included several times in Tour de France since 2003. Not one of the historical passes, but no doubt one of the most beautiful. The right side to climb is from Mijanes. There are a couple of very nice loops including Pailheres: With Col de Chioula and Col de Pradel. Both about 80 km and 3000 mts elevation the whole loop.
  3. Col du Tourmalet: The king of all the climbs in the Pyrenees. Possibly the most famous in the Pyrenees. Not the steepest, not the longest, but full of cycling history, first climbed in Tour de france 1910. The Geant at the top, the souvenir shop, the restaurant with the bikes hanging from the ceiling... A must for every cyclist to get up there!
  4. Col d'Aubisque. The second most important climb in the Pyrenees. Only being neighbors with Tourmalet makes it a little less important. The Laruns side (Gourette ski station) is the steepest, but the Soulor side is simply beautiful with the iconic Cirque du Litor. Aubisque was first included in Tour de France in 1910 as well.
  5. Hourquette d'Ancizan. This is an alternative climb to the classic Col d'Aspin. First used in Tour de France in 2011, Hourquette d'Ancizan is a tiny narrow road with spectacular landscape. Not a hidden gem since it was already included in TdF, but definitely not one of the most famous.
  6. Coll d'Ordino (Also known as Collet de Montaup). In Andorra, it is not specially high nor steep, but it is a beautiful one. Worth to mention a spectacular viewpoint called Mirador del Roc del Quer on the Canillo side. Nearby you can find the climb to Ordino-Arcalís, which is also beautiful, and the iconic big O at the top.
  7. Amazing views at La Creueta.
  8. Collada de la Gallina. Also in Andorra, which has become recently a kind of cycling paradise. Recently (2015) asphalted the side from Fontaneda. Terribly steep climb which has already some cycling history as Vuelta a España included Collada de la Gallina in 2012, 2013 and 2018. The Godfather of this climb is the former professional cyclist Joaquim "Purito" Rodríguez, who lives in Andorra.
  9. La Creueta. Not very known pass in the spanish (catalan) Pyrenees, close to La Molina ski station. The right side to climb is from La Pobla de Lillet (also from Gombren). Scenic climb with amazing views. Solitaire one, which makes it an additional reason to be included in the list.
  10. Port de Larrau. Border pass in the basque Pyrenees, one of the steepest all over the Pyrenees on the french side. It was discovered to the world of cycling on Tour de France 1996, in a monster stage which was the end of Miguel Indurain era, the day thet the Tour de France ended at his doorstep.
  11. Cirque du Troumouse/Col des Tentes/Boucharo. In fact they are 2 different roads starting at Gedre, a little south Luz St Sauveur (starting point of west side of Col du Tourmalet). At Gedre there are 2 roads, one heading to the beautiful Cirque de Gavarnie (the road follows to Col des Tentes/Boucharo already in Spain) and the second one is a toll road to Cirque du Trumouse, fantastic solitaire road. Both are dead end roads. A must.
Recently, the Cyclist Magazine from UK released a top 100 cycling climbs all over the world, and there were 13 climbs from the Pyrenees: 7 of them are in the list here (missing the spanish and Andorra ones) and the nice climbs missing in our list are Soulor (which makes part of Aubisque), Lac de Cap de Long, Aspin, Peyresourde, Superbagneres and Hautacam. 

Sure there are many other nice roads in the Pyrenees, I specially want to mention the small basque mountains (Izpegi is one of my favourites), but it is always hard to make a top 10 ranking. I hope you agree with me! If not, comment below!