PINEROLO, Italy, (Reuters) – – With three climbs of more than 2,000 metres and the highest ever Tour de France finish at 2,645 metres on the classic Galibier pass, altitude will be a deciding factor in today’s 18th stage.
“Two thousand metres is the limit at which every one of us is suddenly lacking oxygen and some riders handle it well and others far worse,” said Movistar team director Yvon Ledanois.
“This is not really something you can work on, it’s part of your natural abilities and in cycling if you improve something it’s always at the expense of something else,” he told Reuters. Finishes at more than 2,000 metres being exceptional, there is no real way or need to prepare for the effects of altitude yet most leading riders have taken part in training sessions to cope with the conditions on the so-called “queen stage”.
“Cadel has good references at altitude and he’s always felt well in the high mountains but we organised two training camps at altitude as soon as we discovered the course,” said Australian Cadel Evans’s team director John Lelangue.
Most experts cite three-times Tour champion Alberto Contador, Luxembourg’s Andy Schleck and former world champion Evans as the men who should feel at home on the 2,774-metre Col d’Agnel, the 2,360-metre Izoard and the Galibier. “Altitude finishes make the grandeur of the Tour because they are usually decisive,” said Gerard Guillaume, the Francaise des Jeux team doctor.
“They usually favour riders with an exceptional weight/power ratio, clearly light riders with a lot of power and longer legs.
“Physiologically, Contador and Schleck have an edge but Evans has punch and a natural ability to raise his heartbeat level. This is all about genetics.”
Former rider Charly Mottet, fourth in the 1987 and 1991 Tours de France, warned, however, that even natural-born climbers would suffer.
“We often climbed the Galibier in the last 100 years but we never finished on it,” said the Frenchman, who lives nearby and knows the pass well.
“It makes a huge difference. The last kilometre of the Galibier, after the tunnel, is dreadful. It’s going to sort out the ones who can stand altitude from the ones who can’t.
“You have a lot less horsepower up there, you don’t go as fast. And you can only attack once, you cannot get carried away, it’s just impossible.”