[‘The race will blow to pieces’ – Tadej Pogačar ready for historic Tour de France Puy de Dôme test
The organisers of the Tour de France are always on the hunt for new climbs, mountain roads or bike paths that have laid undiscovered by the world’s biggest bike race. The Col de la Loze, which returns on stage 17, has just been ridden once before; these are the new tests, fresh terrain to break top cyclists on.
Sunday’s final climb is different, however. There is nothing new about the Puy de Dôme, it being first used at the Tour in 1952. However, this volcanic climb has been dormant at the Tour since 1988, due to access issues. It is as good as new to the riders at this year’s race.
It is not the longest or hardest at this year’s race – there are eight climbs this Tour longer, including three that feature on stage 17 – but it is one of the most iconic. After 35 years of no action, it is back in contention.
It is steep, though, on the extinct volcano itself, with 4.2km at an average of 12%, without a single hairpin, as the road spirals around, like a real-life version of Zwift’s volcano. Perhaps the riders have been training virtually to prepare.
The race’s director, Christian Prudhomme, said that this is what makes it so hard: “This is what is unique. It’s not just the steepness but the fact the road turns in the same direction. That doesn’t happen anywhere else, it’s what has made this climb mythical.”
The other odd thing about this climb will be the lack of fans. None are allowed after the 4.2km to go barrier, meaning that it could be a quiet, tortuous experience for the riders. There is a light railway to to the summit, but this will be reserved for journalists, dignitaries, and the like.
Barely anyone in the peloton will have ridden to the top, with the road closed almost all year; local boy Romain Bardet (dsm-firmenich) is one of the few who has got lucky, riding in the sportive which goes up the Puy de Dôme every year.
It has the potential to shake things up even further on general classification, a GC which is finely poised. Yellow jersey Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) leads Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) by just 25 seconds, with the pair trading blows over the first two proper mountain days. Behind, there is a whole host of contenders for the podium, with third currently occupied by Jai Hindley (Bora-Hansgrohe).
“For everybody, tomorrow is something new, it’s a special stage and I think it will be super, super hard,” Pogačar predicted after stage 8. “The race will blow again to pieces.”
The Tour’s organisers will be hoping for a scene like the one in 1964, when Jacques Anquetil and Raymond Poulidor went shoulder-to-shoulder on the slopes of the volcanoes, a scene that created lasting imaged. The Tour begins on Sunday in his home town of Saint-Léonard-de-Noblat in tribute to him, proof of his ongoing popularity.
The last winner up the Puy de Dôme was Danish, Johnny Weltz, who took advantage of a long-distance break.
“I knew he won, I cannot remember the year of course but I hope I’m feeling good tomorrow. I have to make a plan for what we’ll do, but it’s not only up to us,” his fellow Dane Vingegaard said this week.
“It depends on the legs, how strong Jonas feels he is compared to all the favourites and specially Pogačar,” Arthur van Dongen, Jumbo-Visma’s
directeur sportif Arthur van Dongen said on Saturday.
The climb might as well be new, as nobody knows how it will play out. We will be hoping for an eruption on the extinct volcano.