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Tour de France Stage 20 Preview

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Saturday’s 146.5-kilometer stage 20 of the 103rd Tour de France (#TDF2016) is regarded by some as the hardest of the three weeks, partly because it comes at the end of the Tour when fatigue has set in, but also because five men are still contending for the Paris podium—assuming Chris Froome retains his four-minute grip on the yellow jersey.

Words by John Wilcockson; Photo by Yuzuru Sunada

Physically, it’s as tough as Friday’s grueling stage 19 that stretched riders’ organisms to the limit, because of the constant climbs and descents, and the rainstorms that made the finale so treacherous. The downhills on Saturday could prove even more decisive than the uphills. That’s because the stage is made up of 30 kilometers of flat, 46 kilometers of climbs and 70 kilometers of descents. And with a 95-percent chance of heavy thunderstorms in the last two hours of racing, crashes could again play a part in the outcome.

The day’s four climbs—the Aravis, Colombière, Ramaz and Joux-Plane—are steeped in Tour history. But this is not a conventional Tour stage. Most of the 14 stages that have ended in Morzine were lengthy—such as this one in 1991 that was 255 kilometers long and resulted in a solo victory for French climber Thierry Claveyrolat. Saturday’s stage is far more compressed; and the inclusion of the Col de la Ramaz after the long, steep descent of the Colombière will split up the field far earlier than traditional Morzine stages that went over the short Cat. 3 Col de Châtillon. The Ramaz has 14 kilometers of climbing at 7 percent (with some double-digit stretches) and is followed by a 16-kilometer descent to reach the flat 12-kilometer run-in to the Col de Joux-Plane.

Riders regard this last major climb of the 2016 Tour as challenging as Mont Ventoux, because it’s 11.6 kilometers long and reaches the summit with an unrelenting, almost straight 5-kilometer stretch steeper than 9 percent. This is where Nairo Quintana emerged at the Dauphiné in his rookie season by surprising a Team Sky train (before Brad Wiggins won the Tour) and descending to Morzine to take a 16-second win over Cadel Evans, with Wiggins at 24 seconds.