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  • 29.10.15

    The climbs the Tour de France forgot

    As the Tour de France has grown in size and budget, it has left behind some of its most famous battlegrounds. Here then are the climbs the Tour has left behind

    Sam Larner

The Tour de France is won and lost in the mountains. As more and more of the route is dictated by financial and logistical concerns, the pool of suitable mountaintop finishes has shrunk and climbs crammed with history have been left behind. Here, then, are six climbs the Tour has outgrown...

Mont Faron, 5.5 kilometres at 9 percent gradient 

Regularly used in the Tour Mediterranéen and, to a lesser extent, Paris-Nice, Mont Faron has only been seen once in the Tour de France, as a mid-stage climb in 1957. The descent, a thin ribbon of rough asphalt flung down the mountainside, wouldn’t even be considered for the Grand Tour now and with more than 1,000 vehicles required at a summit finish, the cramped Mont Faron rules itself out of consideration. 

Although it would be great to see the climb from Toulon in the Tour, the bigger concern is that we may never see it in a major cycling race ever again. Suffering financial woes, the Tour Mediterranéen was cancelled in 2015 and Paris-Nice requires only slightly fewer vehicles than the Tour de France.

Ballon d’Alsace, 12.4 kilometres at 5.2 per-cent gradient 

Widely and erroneously remembered as the first climb ever used in the Tour de France in 1905 - the Col de la République was actually on the route in 1903 and 1904 - the Ballon d’Alsace has fallen out of favour in recent years. Its last use as an ascent was back in 2005 but it hasn’t been employed as a summit finish for 36 years. 

The cost for a Tour stage finish is around the €700,000 mark and with no ski station at the summit or large town at the climb’s foot, there hasn’t been much desire to stump up the money to bring a finish back to the Ballon.

Guzet-Neige - 23.7 kilometres at 4.3 percent gradient

The ski resort in the Ariège hosted a Tour de France stage finish three times in a dozen years between 1984 and 1995 but it has not returned since. 

It was the scene of a fantastic finale in 1988 when Robert Millar, Massimo Ghirotto and Philippe Bouvatier were clear. The Scotsman led the sprint to the finish, only to take the diversion, intended for motorcycles and team cars, 150 metres from the finish, as did the pursuing Bouvatier. Ghirotto ended up as the surprise winner.

Unfortunately, there’s not much money in small ski resorts, especially in the temperamental climate of the Pyrenees. Anyone who’s seen those clips of the finish in 1988 might well be smashing open their piggy bank, or opening a Kickstarter seeing as it’s 2015, to raise the money to bring the Tour back to Guzet-Neige.

Puy-de-Dôme – 14 kilometres at 7.5 percent gradient

Ask a child to draw a mountain and they will draw the triangular silhouette of the Puy-de-Dôme. Ask them to draw a road up it and they will draw a road going round the mountain, exactly like the coiling one to the summit of this volcano to the west of Clermont-Ferrand

It was a regular fixture in the Tour de France between 1952, when Fausto Coppi won the stage, and 1988, when Pedro Delgado wore the yellow jersey. It leapt to legendary status in 1964 when Raymond Poulidor and Jacques Anquetil battled elbow-to-elbow for the stage and overall win. 

The mountain's standing was further enhanced in 1975 when Eddy Merckx was punched in the kidney near its summit and ended up second overall, the first time he had lost the Tour de France.

The Tour will never return to Puy-de-Dôme after a railway was installed alongside the road to take tourists to the summit. The road, already narrow, has become impossible for the large trucks of the Tour to use and so, for cyclists, the mountain will remain only as a memory to the previous battles on its slopes.

Orcières Merlette – 11 kilometres at 5.9 percent gradient

You can tell a lot about a climb by the quality of rider who won at its summit; Luis Ocaña, Lucien Van Impe, Pascal Simon and Steven Rooks have all been first to the top of this ski resort in the southern Alps. 

It was the summit finish of an Alpine day where Ocaña trounced Merckx in 1971; eleven years later, Bernard Hinault added some gloss to his fourth Tour de France victory there. It was also the finish of a time-trial in the 1989 edition where Greg LeMond moved back into yellow inside the final week. 

With so much history and a sizeable resort at the top of the mountain, it’s hard to believe that the Tour won’t be visiting Orcières again, but we’ve waited 26 years.

Superbagnères - 18.5km at 6.3 percent gradient

Superbagnères is a small ski village above the southern Pyrenean town of Bagnères-de-Luchon. It’s hosted a Tour de France finish six times between 1961 and 1989, including two time-trials in 1962 and 1979 and the shortest ever mass start stage in 1971, just 19.6 kilometres in distance

Superbagnères’ last appearance in the Tour also marked the final Tour stage win for Rouleur columnist Robert Millar, who led over the Tourmalet, Aspin and Peyresourde on his way to victory. 

Unfortunately, like several other climbs on this list, when the money flooded into cycling in the 1990’s, this climb was left priced out of the stage finish market.

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