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July 7, 2016 – This image of a 20-strong group riding away from the peloton on the Col d’Aspin in the Pyrénées was shot at the 2010 Tour de France.
#PelotonShorts by John Wilcockson/Photo by Yuzuru Sunada
That scene could well be repeated on Friday’s 162.5 kilometers stage 7 of the 103rd Tour de France (#TDF2016), in which the Aspin (12 kilometers at 6.5 percent) is not only this Tour’s first Cat. 1 mountain, but also the day’s last climb—the finish at Lac de Payolle comes just 7.5 kilometers after the summit. The big difference is that on Friday the Aspin will be packed with spectators, whereas six years ago it was early in a stage and most of the fans were waiting on the later Tourmalet and Aubisque climbs.
As for the first Pyrenean stage of this Tour, it should continue the sifting-out process that began last Sunday on the hilltop finish at Cherbourg and continued Wednesday on the hilly stage 5 to Le Lioran. But we’ll probably have to wait till this weekend, and the first mountaintop finish on Sunday, before the true contenders emerge.
So what can we expect Friday? In recent years, there have been two Tour stages that finished shortly after cresting the Aspin (or nearby La Hourquette d’Ancizan).
In 2008, Italian climber Riccardo Riccò (later excluded from the race on testing positive for a third-generation EPO), attacked solo on the Aspin and, 26 kilometers later in Bagnères de Bigorre, took the stage by 1:04 over the chasers. And in 2013, also in Bagnères de Bigorre, Dan Martin out-sprinted Jakob Fuglsang for the win, 20 seconds ahead of a 19-man chase group, after they attacked on the Hourquette d’Ancizan, with 30.5 kilometers to go. // Those two stage finales were preceded by several long climbs.
This time, 140 kilometers of flat and rolling terrain precede the Aspin, so a breakaway may gain many minutes before the Sky and Movistar teams set tempo on the Cat. 1 climb. The peloton will split, and some favorites may attack near the top of the Aspin and try to stay clear on the 6-kilometer descent. And with a forecast for an 80-percent chance of heavy thunderstorms when the race hits the Aspin, that descent could be critical.