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95th Tour de France - The Major Mountains & Climbs 2
By Staff
Date: 7/9/2008
95th Tour de France - The Major Mountains & Climbs 2

95th Tour de France - The Major Mountains & Climbs 2
The Big Mountains of the 2008 Tour de France and Comparable U.S. Ascents. Stages 16 & 17...

By John Summerson

As is usually the case, the mountains of the Tour de France will likely play a big role in determining the race winner. Even with a bit less climbing compared to years past, the 2008 route contains some epic hills including some old favorites that viewers and climbers will recognize.

Difficult climbs make their first appearance in stage 9 with two that are particularly challenging. Stage 10 contains the legendary ascents of the Toumalet and Hautacam. Big mountains return for stages 15 and 16 and the last mountain stage, stage 17, gets the nod for the most difficult of the race.

While many of the major European tour climbs are as famous as the races they are included within, the U.S. has only a handful that are well known to the cycling community. However, many are comparable to those used in the major tours.

In case you want to test yourself on hills comparable to what the pros will be suffering on over the next few weeks let’s take a look at each major climb in the 2008 Tour and some of their American counterparts. Similar American climbs to those on this year’s route are located in Utah, California, Wyoming, Arizona, New York and Massachusetts.

Stage 16 (Tuesday July 22) Cuneo - Jausiers, 157 km
The first of two giant climbs in stage 16 is the Col de la Lombarde. For those looking for its American version, summit Mt Baldy near Los Angeles, California and you will have ridden a comparable hill.

Mount Baldy in Southern California and one of its many switchbacks. More details on the Mount Baldy climb here. Photo © 2008 John Summerson

The 2nd big climb of the day is up the Col de la Bonnette-Restefond and it is a tough one. Unusually long for a major tour, its grade is also a challenge and is one of the most difficult in France. The southern Sierra climb of the west side of Sherman Pass is a similar test although just a bit shorter but steeper.

    Sherman Pass (West)
    Total elevation - 5,316 ft                 Length - 15.2 miles
    Average Grade - 6.6% (10%)         Rating - 4.06 (hors)

The west side of Sherman Pass is one of the toughest climbs in the US. Isolated, beginning at the Kern River, the road immediately heads up a drainage at a steady grade. Be prepared as this hill will test you through multiple switchbacks and the listed stats end just shy of the actual pass (just beyond the cattleguard). Desert-like at the bottom, you ride among big trees near the top.

Sherman Pass is also longer and almost as steep as another TdF classic, Mont Ventoux (closed in winter - Sequoia National Forest - 661 548-6503).

Directions - From Kernville, CA head north along the Kern River on Sierra Way for ~18 miles to its junction with Sherman Pass Rd (on the right) where the climb begins.
Facilities - Kernville, CA Airport - Bakersfield, CA

Photo © 2008 John Summerson

Stage 17 (Wednesday July 23) Embrun - L'Alpe d'Huez, 210 km
This is the most difficult stage of the 2008 TdF. Although the easier side is used in 2008, the climb up the scenic and historic Galibier will be the first real test of stage 17 but the easiest major hill of the day. The west side of Utah’s isolated Route 31, which begins in the tiny town of Fairview in central Utah, matches this side of the famous French climb pedal stroke for pedal stroke.

2006 Tour Gruppo on the Galibier. Photo © 2008 Fotoreporter Sirotti

The next major climb of the stage is a tougher test up the Col de Croix de Fer. Wyoming’s mighty Alternate 14 is a similar climb, both statistically and in spectacular mountain scenery. Located near Lovell near the Montana border, Alternate 14 is likely the most difficult climb in Wyoming and travels through quite isolated terrain.

    Alternate 14 (Wyoming)
    Total elevation - 5,315 ft                 Length - 18.6 miles
    Average Grade - 5.4% (11%)        Rating - 3.34 (hors/cat 1)

The most difficult climb in Wyoming, the isolated route starts out on a shallow, steady grade. For the first few miles the road is very straight and you can clearly see your objective ahead. After 6 miles the grade increases as you begin to switchback up the hill. Eventually the road clings to the side of a cliff with great views.

Wyoming's Alternate 14 - 18 miles... lord have mercy. Photo © 2008 John Summerson

After entering a gorge, the grade eases, there is a small descent, climbing resumes and then the climb ends (unmarked) at a brake check area for cars which is on your left as you ascend. After a small descent the road continues to gain in elevation but significant climbing has ended. The lower half of this route will be hot in the afternoons in summer as it faces west and is exposed all the way
(closed in winter - Bighorn National Forest - 307 674-2600).

Directions - From Lovell, WY head east on Alternate Route 14. Once you cross the Big Horn River continue 2.3 miles to the Yellowtail Wildlife Habitat Management Area on the right where you can park. The climb starts just beyond the parking area at the bridge over a normally dry wash.
Facilities - Cody, WY Airport - Billings, MT

Photo © 2008 John Summerson

L’Alpe d’Huez
Perhaps the most well known climb in the world, L’Alpe d’Huez finishes off the queen stage of the 2008 Tour. New York’s Whiteface Mountain is more than its match regarding difficulty. A difference between these climbs is that Whiteface primarily goes straight up while d’Huez switchbacks up the hill.

    Whiteface Mountain
    Total elevation - 3,566 ft                 Length - 7.9 miles
    Average Grade - 8.6% (12%)         Rating - 3.13 (hors/cat 1)

Whiteface Mountain, which is closed to bikes until 5PM, is a very solid climb up to a castle-like visitor’s center. At the three mile mark you come to a toll booth and the following few miles are the most difficult of this very steep climb. The grade eases a bit and good views arrive near the top. It is also a lightning fast descent and there is an annual race on its slopes.
(closed in winter - Whiteface Mountain Memorial Highway - 518 946-2223).

Directions - In Wilmington, NY the climb begins at the junction of routes 86 and 431 by heading up 431. Facilities - Lake Placid, NY Airport - Burlington, VT

Photo © 2008 John Summerson

91st Giro d'Italia - Giro Climbs & Comparable USA Climbs - 1
91st Giro d'Italia - Giro Climbs & Comparable USA Climbs - 2

John Summerson is a cyclist who collects climbs the way a connoisseur might collect fine art; with one difference; John finds, measures and conquers the mountains savoring the suffering and challenge of each and then writes about them.

John  is the author of The Complete Guide to Climbing (By Bike) "A guide to cycling, climbing and the most difficult hill climbs in the Unites States"  Read our review of the book here. For more information on the book go to the books website where there are more climb profiles and a link to purchase the book.

 All photo & elevation graphics © 2008 John Summerson

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