The 2006 Tour de France in the French Alps

2004 Tour de France on Alpe d`Huez

Will the 93rd Tour de France be the race in which Jan Ullrich can win his second Tour de France, or will it be the year of Ivan Basso and a first win for the Italian? Lance Armstrong may have left the Discovery team, but we have already seen that Paolo Savoldelli can win a three week event with his win in the 2005 Giro d'Italia. We may also see a surprise with Savoldelli's teammate, the youngster Tom Danielson, who has been tipped to one day take home the yellow jersey for the team.

In 2006, the Tour de France will start on the 1st of July and follow an anti-clockwise route around France. There is no team time-trial in 2006, and three individual tests against the clock including the prologue and the penultimate stage. The race will visit the Pyrenees before the Alps, and have three stage finishes in the high Alps in the final week. With everything building to these decisive stages and the final time-trial, we have a fitting parcours to find Lance Armstrong's successor.

My Advice

This page has been put together to help in planning a trip to see the Tour de France in the Alps. I've included details of the route, my thoughts as well as links to sites which may help in planning a trip in 2006.

After six years living in France, and three successful years of running tours to see the Tour de France, my best advice for Tour de France viewing is to get there early. Remember to pack cold weather gear as it can get chilly on the mountains if when it is not cloudy or raining. Make sure you have food and drink, and money for the day. Also remember your camera and get ready to soak up the atmosphere. The Tour de France is an amazing experience.

For any other questions or advice, remember the Grenoble Cycling Pages message board.

Tuesday 18th July - Back to the Alpe d'Huez

Tour de France Stage 15 : Gap - l'Alpe d'Huez ( 187 km )

Profile : Three high altitude mountains including the legendary climb to Alpe d'Huez.

Stage Detail : The riders will have had the benefit of having had a rest day before today's first alpine stage. The first 50 kilometres of the route will be relatively flat and take the riders east from Gap towards Guillestre passing through Embrun and the stunnning scenery around the Lac Serre Poncon. From Guillestre, the gradient increases over the next 30 kilometres as the riders hit the lower slopes of the Col d'Izoard.

The Col d'Izoard

Above Arvieux, the Col d'Izoard really starts. The exposed road winds its way past fields and up to the village of Bruissard, and the headwind here can often buffet a rider around the road. I logged my fastest descent on a bike here when descending towards Guillestre in 1994. After Bruissard, the road climbs into the forest with frequent hairpins and takes the riders towards the Casse Deserte and the Col.

With less than three kilometres left to the Col d'Izoard, the road climbs out of the trees and drops down into the the Casse Deserte. This is one of the highlights of the Alps and makes the Col d'Izoard a unique Col. Sandy coloured eroded cliffs and scree slopes tower above the road and can glow in the late afternoon sun. It's a beautiful place.

Following the descent of the Col d'Izoard, the riders will pass through Briancon and on to the Col du Lautaret. The climb is never steep, but the 30 kilometres of ascending are on a road that often has a strong headwind. A lone rider would find it difficult to put time into a working group or the peleton on this stretch if it's windy here.

The riders will descend for around 50 minutes from the 2,058 metre Col du Lautaret, riding through La Grave and past the road to les Deux Alps before dropping into Bourg d'Oisans and the start of the climb to Alpe d'Huez.

The Alpe d'Huez

When cycling the 14 kilometres, 21 hairpins and 1,100 vertical metres to the finish in the ski resort of Alpe d'Huez, the climb can be broken down into three stages. The first part of the climb is the steepest with gradients above ten percent for the first six hairpins until the hamlet of La Garde.

The gradient then eases to around eight percent after hairpin 16 and the hairpins are a little more spread out for the following six kilometres. The road climbs through the hamlet of Le Ribot and then past the church above the hamlet.

When the riders pass hairpin six, they will be able to see the ski resort above them on the horizon. There are only five hairpins left outside the ski resort from here and after hairpin four, the gradient steepens to 11 percent for a kilometre before easing to nine percent. Once the riders are into the village of Alpe d'Huez, the final two kilometres to the finishing line ease to around five percent.

Climb Name Distance into Stage Details
Col d'Izoard (2360m) 86 km 14.2 km climb at 7%
Col du Lautaret (2058m) 134 km 12.1 km climb at 4.4%
L'Alpe d'Huez (1860m) 187 km 13.9 km climb at 7.9%

Around Alpe d'Huez : The area around Bourg d'Oisans has some of the best riding in the Alps. Numerous climbs and day rides are close by, including the Alpe d'Huez, Col de Sarenne, les Deux Alpes, Col du Glandon, Col de la Croix de Fer, La Berarde, Col du Galibier. I highly recommend a few days in this area for cycling.

Best view points : On this stage, Alpe d'Huez. It's where the action will happen.

The Col d'Izoard is a beautiful place to cycle or drive over, so if you have the chance to visit this Col then you won't regret it. The Col du Lautaret is one of the busiest roads in the Alps as it is the main road between Grenoble and Briancon and the Italian border. However, the views are simply stunning with views over the glaciers and peaks of the Ecrins massif.

The Alpe d'Huez

The best spot has to be Alpe d'Huez to have 'the' Tour de France experience in 2006. The tourist office in the ski resort reported over half a million people on the mountain in both 2003 and 2004, and the experience starts up to a week before for some keen fans. Don't worry, you can arrive early on the day and find a good spot.

Alpe d'Huez has it all; the mountain views, the incredible atmosphere and an uphill finish where the riders are split up into small groups. You can expect to have at least 30 to 40 minutes between the first and last rider to pass. My favourite spots are between hairpin three and one. There is a lot of mountainside in which you can find a spot to wait for the Tour, and this is perfect if you've got a young family who need to expend energy. There is plenty of mountainside for running around. Expect traffic jams getting to the resort, so the earlier you leave, the better and expect even bigger jams after the Tour.

Wednesday 19th July - The Alpine Giants

Tour de France Stage 16 : Le Bourg d'Oisans - Le Toussuire ( 182 km )

Profile : A day in the high mountains of the Alps with the alpine giant of the Col du Galibier before the tough ascent of the Col du Glandon and the final three kilometres of the Col de la Croix de Fer. A small ascent of the Col du Mollard and the final ascent to the ski resort of la Toussuire.

Stage Detail : The first kilometres of this stage are uphill with over 40 kilometres of climbing to the 2,646 metre Col du Galibier. The gradient averages just over four percent to the 2,058 metre Col du Lautaret before the riders turn left at the Lautaret to climb the eight kilometres to the Col du Galibier. It is here that the gradient ramps up to an average of nearly seven percent to the Galibier with grades increasing to 12 percent in places just before the Col.

The Col du Galibier

At 2,646 metres, the Col du Galibier is the high point on the 2006 route, and is a highlight of the Alps. At over 2,600 metres, there are views towards the highest mountain in Europe, the 4,800 metre Mont Blanc, and to the south, there are views over the 4,000 metre mountains and glaciers of the Ecrins massif.

From the Galibier, the riders will have over 35 kilometres of descending to the town of St-Michel-de-Maurienne and the valley floor. It's not all downhill as there are five kilometres of climbing out the ski resort of Valloire to the 1,566 metre Col du Telegraphe. The road continues to gradually descend to the foot of the Croix de Fer.

The next climb is listed as the Col de la Croix de Fer, but in fact, the riders will climb to the Croix de Fer via the Col du Glandon. The route then joins the last three kilometres of the Col de la Croix de Fer on the Allemont side. The Col du Glandon is steeper over the second half of the 20 kilometre climb, with the slope in final five kilometres frequently over 10 percent.

The climb to La Toussuire

The route descends for 14 kilometres down the Col de la Croix de Fer before turning right at the Pont de Belleville and climbing for just under six kilometres under the three impressive peaks of the Aiguilles des Arves to the 1,630 metre Col du Mollard. The descent takes the riders through Albiez into St-Jean-de-Maurienne averages around seven percent and is very technical with numerous hairpins on a wooded descent.

There are 18 kilometres of climbing from the valley to small Alpine ski resort of La Toussuire. The vertical climb is just over 1,100 metres and will take the riders through the hamlets of Fontcouverte, Villarembert and le Corbier on their way to the ski resort. The climb is never as steep as the Alpe d'Huez with three kilometres over the 18 around nine percent. Most of the climb is between six and seven percent.

Climb Name Distance into Stage Details
Col du Galibier via the Col du Lautaret (2646m) 45 km 42.8 km climb at 4.5%
Col de la Croix de Fer (2067m) 127.5 km 22 km climb at 7%
Col du Mollard (1638m) 147.5 km 5.8 km climb at 7%
La Toussuire (1690m) 182.5 km 18.4 km att 6%

Around La Toussuire : The ski resort of La Toussuire is unknown in the modern era of the Tour de France. The resort is known locally in the French Alps as being on the course of the Arvan Villards cycling event. There is a good range of cycling close to the resort with the day rides possible to the Col du Galibier, Col du Glandon, Col de la Croix de Fer, Col du Mollard, Col de l'Iseran, Col du Grand Coucheron and Col de la Madeleine.

Best view points : The final climb; by the time the riders reach the final climb of La Toussuire, the field will be splintered into small groups and the riders who want to win the stage and the Tour will be attacking here. The road on the final half of the climb to La Toussuire passes through open pastures with plenty of space for spectating as well as impressive mountain views in every direction.

Thursday 20th July - A Sting in the Tail

Tour de France Stage 17 : St-Jean-de-Maurienne - Morzine ( 199 km )

Profile : A day in the medium mountains in the northern French Alps, with five catagorised climbs. The final climb of the Col de Joux Plane is steep and is the perfect place to attack for the stage win before the 12 technical kilometres of descending into Morzine.

Stage Detail : The riders will have over 50 kilometres of flat riding in the valley before the climbing starts above Albertville.

The Col des Saisies is the first of three cols that follow in quick succession. At 1,650 metres, the Saisies is the second highest climb on today's stage of the day with gradients of between five and seven percent over the 14 kilometres.

The Col de la Colombiere

The route descends to Flumet where the riders start one of the easier climbs of the day. The Col des Aravis climbs for six kilometres, passing through La Giettaz on the way to the 1498 metre Col.

The riders will drop down through the ski resort of La Clusaz before starting the Col de la Colombiere in le Grand Bornand. The road winds it's way above the village passing wooden chalets and through pastures filled with cows, their bells ringing as they eat. The first ten kilometres average between three and six and a half percent, before the road steepens for the last three kilometres to the 1,618 metre Col.

The riders will descend into the town of Cluses on a technical descent, passing through Le Reposoir after eight kilometres. The route takes the race across the bottom of the valley to start the fourth climb of the stage. The Cote de Chatillon is the penultimate climb of the day and is a 250 metre vertical climb out of the town to 735 metres before the flatter roads to Samoens.

The Col du Joux-Plane is the perfect way to end a stage. The riders are tired and face just under 12 kilometres of steep and unrelenting roads before a fast and twisting descent to the finish in Morzine. The climb starts in Samoens at 710 metres in altitude with the first two kilometres averaging six percent in gradient. The slope increases for the next three kilometres with an average of nine percent, before an easier kilometre at just over six percent.

The Col du Joux-Plane

The final six kilometres are the steepest with each kilometre between nine and ten percent gradient. The climb winds its way up the mountainside through the forest, with frequent breaks in the trees giving views towards the snow capped peak of the 4,800 metre Mont Blanc.

The riders descend for two kilometres before a few hundred metres of riding to the 1,650 metre Col du Ranfolly, but then it is all downhill to the stage finish in Morzine. The road is small with frequent hairpins and winding sections - you can even ski the road in the winter as it is part of the Les Gets ski area. With gradients often more than ten percent. It is a descender's descent.

Climb Name Distance into Stage Details
Col des Saisies (1650m) 82 km 14.9 km climb at 6.4%
Col des Aravis (1498m) 108.5 km 5.9 km climb at 7.3%
Col de la Colombiere (1618m) 133.5 km 11.8 km climb at 5.9%
Cote de Chatillon (735m) 160.5 km 5.1 km climb at 4.9%
Col de Joux-Plane (1700m) 187 km 11.7 km climb at 8.7%

Around Morzine : There are two notable climbs above Morzine. The first is the Col de Joux-Verte which continues on to climb to the ski station of Avoriaz. The climb to Avoriaz was used as the final climb in the 1994 Tour de France mountain time-trial when Piotr Ugrumov won the stage.

Morzine's famous climb above the ski resort is the Col de Joux-Plane which is 1,700 metres in altitude and a difficult climb. The Col de Joux-Plane was the final climb on stage 16 of the 2000 Tour de France on the stage from Couchevel to Morzine. Lance Armstrong cracked on the climb and Jan Ullrich took over a minute out of the American. Armstrong had already done the work to win the Tour de France but described the stage as 'the hardest day of my cycling life'. The Joux-Plane was also used on the sixth stage of the 2005 Dauphine Libere, where the Colombian Santiago Botero won.

Best view points : The Col du Joux-Plane and the finish in Morzine.

The top of the Col du Joux-Plane has mountain views over the Alps as well as a small lake as well as the possiblity for hiking early in the morning.

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