LYON, France — Now, the Tour de France goes sharply uphill, much more sharply than last year. More likely than not, the champion who will be crowned next Sunday in Paris will be the rider who copes best with this last week of vertical torture.
The pain starts today on the horrid climb of Mont Ventoux. The barren white mountain rises from the sunbaked plains of Provence. The 181 brave souls who have survived the 2,325 kilometers (1,444 miles) ridden so far, out of 198 who started two weeks ago, will see the climb coming long before they hit it, so there will be plenty of time for apprehension, for butterflies in the stomach, to build.
The forecast is for uninterrupted sunshine, so the riders will find no relief from the weather either. As if the climb itself wasn’t hard enough, they will already have ridden 221 kilometers (137 miles), setting off in the mid-morning, before even reaching the foot of the mountain in the late afternoon. So they will be tired for the ascension, too.
Today’s stage — a grand total of 242.5 kilometers (150 miles), including the final climb — is the longest of this Tour and starts in the Rhone valley town of Givors.
“Ventoux is always scary,” said Garmin-Sharp rider David Millar, a veteran of 12 Tours. “It’s going to be horrible for everyone.”
One of the big questions is whether yellow jersey-holder Chris Froome will zoom or go boom on the climb, perhaps extending his race lead if he has a good day or losing it if he has a disastrous one.
The Briton is an excellent climber. The steepness and length of the Ventoux ascent should suit him. But because the climb is so tough, even top riders can lose bags of time if they wilt. Ventoux has the hardest rating for Tour climbs. In around one hour of sustained physical effort, the Tour will go from an altitude of 300 meters to 1,900 meters (the equivalent of a vertical mile). The uphill goes on for 21 kilometers (13 miles) to an old weather station at the summit.