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

95th Tour de France - The Major Mountains & Climbs
The Big Mountains of the 2008 Tour de France and Comparable U.S. Ascents to test your grit on. Stages 9, 10 & 15. 

John Summerson the Daily Peloton climbing expert returns with his comparison of climbing challenges in the USA to the climbs of the 95th Grand Boucle.

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 9 (Sunday July 13) Toulouse -Bagneres-de-Bigorre, 222km
Col de Peyresourde

The first big mountain test of the 2008 TdF will be stage 9’s Col de Peyresourde. The category 1 climb comes after 152 kilometers of racing and 4 categorized climbs. A similar US climb is Pine Creek Road in California’s Owens Valley. Pine Creek gets steeper as you ascend and ends beneath soaring granite walls.

    Pine Creek Road
Total elevation - 3,075 ft                 Length - 8.7 miles
    Average Grade - 6.7% (11%)         Rating - 2.29 (cat 1)

This is a stout climb along a creek within a steep-walled canyon. Like almost all climbs of the eastern Sierra, the grade increases as you ride. Very scenic in its upper end, the last 8/10ths mile is along a private, narrow road up to a mine.

Directions - From Bishop, CA head north on 395 for 8 miles to its junction with Pine Creek Rd on the left. Head down Pine Creek Rd for 1.6 miles (school on left) to begin the climb.
Facilities - Bishop, CA Airport - Reno, NV

Col d’Aspin
The 2nd major climb of the day is up the Cat.1 Col d’Aspin coming after 184 kilometers in the riders legs. The north side of Massachusetts’s Mt Greylock, near North Adams, is a close match statistically although with a bit more foliage and less altitude to battle.

Stage 10 (Monday July 14) Pau - Hautacam  154 km
After L’Alpe d’Huez the Col du Toumalet may be cycling’s most famous climb and the big test of stage 10. California’s Whitney Portal is very similar although perhaps even a bit more difficult and spectacular; a rarity in the world of mountain cycling.

    Whitney Portal
Total elevation - 4,580 ft             Length - 11.3 miles
    Average Grade - 7.7% (13%)     Rating - 3.98 (hors)

Mount Whitney portal road rises to 4,580 feet where the foot path starts to the summit. Photo © 2008 John Summerson

Whitney Portal is a great and difficult climb out of the high desert up towards Mount Whitney, the highest mountain in the lower 48. Like most eastern Sierra ascents this one starts out tame and ends up tough. The grade generally increases as you climb so that a five mile stretch in the 2nd half averages 9%. The hill lets up just before the finish at Whitney Portal and a parking/hiking area (trailhead to Mt. Whitney). Whitney Portal is also very similar to the famed French climb of the Madeleine, a monster frequently used in major cycling classics including regular appearances in the Tour de France
(closed in winter - Inyo National Forest - 760 876-6222).

Directions - From highway 395 in Lone Pine, CA take Whitney Portal Rd west for 6/10ths mile to begin the climb where the road crosses the Los Angeles aqueduct.
Facilities - Bishop, CA Airport - Reno, NV

Photo © 2008 John Summerson

The next major climb of stage 10 is the legendary Hors category Hautacam. Who can forget Armstrong’s epic climb in the rain up these savage slopes while winning the 2000 Tour. The west side of the Sierra’s Sonora Pass is quite similar in length and grade (although with a greater maximum grade) and one of the most beautiful climbs on earth.

Stage 15 (Sunday July 20) Digne-les-Bains-Prato Nevoso, 216 km
Two climbs on stage 15 two will make an impression. The first is the Col d’Agnel (substituting for the Col de Larche due to rock fall danger). Arizona’s giant Mt Lemmon, just north of Tucson, is very similar although with a much longer riding season due to its latitude. Both are long and variable grade climbs to high altitude.

Mount Lemmon a favorite challenge and training ride for pro riders who live in and train in the Tucson, Arizona area due to its mild winter weather. Photo © 2008 John Summerson

The next test on the stage is the Col de Pratonevoso, a shorter but steeper ascent overall. Its statistical match in the US is Nacimiento Fergusson Road. Rising from the Pacific Coast Highway south of Monterey, CA its length matches its average grade and is one of the most beautiful climbs on earth.

    Nacimiento Fergusson Road (west)
    Total elevation - 2,506 ft                 Length - 6.9 miles
    Average Grade - 6.9% (11%)         Rating - 1.74 (cat 1)

The west side of Nacimiento Fergusson Rd is a solid climb that is perhaps the most scenic in the U.S. on an isolated road with great views of the Pacific Ocean. Very narrow without any shoulder over much of its length, the top section is shaded. The east side of this climb, while not as difficult, is single lane in places and winds through a tight tunnel of trees.

Western exposure of the Nacimiento Fergusson Rd climb overlooks the Pacific Ocean. Photo © 2008 John Summerson

Directions - From San Luis Obispo, CA head north on highway 1 (Pacific Coast Highway). Nacimiento Fergusson Rd is on your right about halfway between San Simeon and Big Sur. Facilities - Monterey, CA Airport - Monterey, CA

Photo © 2008 John Summerson

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.

95th Tour de France - The Major Mountains & Climbs 2
91st Giro d'Italia - Giro Climbs & Comparable USA Climbs - 1
91st Giro d'Italia - Giro Climbs & Comparable USA Climbs - 2

 All photo & elevation graphics © 2008 John Summerson

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