Stage 20 of the Tour de France 2019 is 130km from Albertville to Val Thorens. This Alpine stage tackles the Col de Méraillet/Cormet de Roselend, the Côte de Longefoy, then takes the old road via Saint-Laurent-de-la-Côte on the way up to the highest ski resort in Europe, Val Thorens. This is also the Etape du Tour 2019. (Voir Etape 20, Tour de France 2019 - guide à l'étape en français).
This is the official map of Stage 20, Tour de France 2019.
|Date||Saturday 27th July 2019|
|Climbs||Cormet de Roselend (Cat 1)
Côte de Longefoy (Cat 2)
Montée de Val Thorens (HC)
The official Tour de France stage profile for Stage 20:
The riders leave Albertville at 1335, and depending on their average speed, they arrive at the finish line in Val Thorens between 1729 and 1800.
Has the Tour de France's visit to Val Thorens, Europe's highest ski resort, inspired you to go skiing this winter? You might want to learn about ski technique for the first time, or refresh your memory.
Skiing Made Easy is a Kindle ebook. It's a practical guide to learning to ski, based on many happy seasons of ski teaching in Val Thorens. Most of the demonstrations are performed by my friend and fellow Val Thorens ski instructor Marina.
It's less than the price of two cappuccinos in a High Street coffee shop, but much more valuable and long-lasting.
'This is the book I wish I'd had when I started skiing' - Amazon
Val Thorens local Franck Monier has produced this 'light painting' photograph for the Tour de France 2019 in Val Thorens. It features Pau Elie Vandoorne, a member of the Vélo Club of Val Thorens.
Stage 20 of the 2019 Tour de France starts in Albertville.
The riders leave Albertville on the D925 to Beaufort (721m). It's uphill out of Albertville; the road is quite wide, with bends but not hairpins. There's a little downhill, before the D925 flattens out past Queige.
It remains mainly flat on the way to Villard-sur-Doron.
The peloton arrives at Beaufort, famous for its cheese.
Leaving Beaufort, the road begins to pitch up.
This is the start of the climb of the Col de Méraillet. At first, the road shadows the stream, the Doron de Beaufort, and the gradient is quite easy. The second half of the climb is steeper, with hairpin bends. It's wooded all the way, but because the road is wide, the trees don't provide shade when the sun's high in the sky.
The top of the Col de Méraillet (1604m) is at the Chalet de Roselend Hotel, overlooking the Lac de Roselend.
Now the D925 skirts the Lac de Roselend.
After going around the north end of the lake, the road rises up to the Cormet de Roselend. The climb details include the Col de Méraillet and the Cormet de Roselend: hors catégorie, 19.9km at 6%, 1,970m at the top).
Cormet is just another word for 'col' in the local Beaufortain patois. This climb is exposed and tree-less, but for low-growing, avalanche-resistant alder. The steeper part comes first.
The gradient eases once a barren plateau is reached.
After a couple of hairpins, the riders will reach the top of the Cormet de Roselend.
The other side of the col, the road becomes the D902. It's a long descent to Bourg-Saint-Maurice, losing 1,156m height over a distance of 18.5km. At first, the downhill is neither technical nor particularly steep.
There are four hairpins, then more straight road alongside the Torrent de Glaciers. It's lower down that matters get trickier, with a series of tight hairpin bends in the woods.
The D902 brings the peloton to Bourg-Saint-Maurice.
From Bourg-Saint-Maurice, the route is down the valley to Aime/Mâcot-la-Plagne. There, the next climb begins, the Côte de Longefoy. The road heads up through woods.
It would probably be a pleasant ascent in isolation; since it is sandwiched between the Cormet de Roselend and the long montée de Val Thorens, climbing it is likely to be dolorous. To the Etape du Tour participants, it may seem gratuitous, cruel, and unusual. 'Why can't we just go straight to the climb to Val Thorens?' would be a fair question.
The top of the climb, where the mountains points are awarded, comes at Longefoy (1189m).
This graphic shows the climb details:
After the King of the Mountains point in the centre of Longefoy, the D88 leaves the village. The prospect is an idyllic pastoral Alpine scene.
The route enters woods, and drops down to 1200m to cross a stream, Nant Thiéret. It then rises to 1311m at Notre-Dame-du-Pré.
The descent from Notre-Dame-du-Pré is a series of steep hairpins through a forest.
It's easy to guess why this route has been chosen: a tricky descent before the final climb of the 2019 Tour de France has the potential to shake up the General Classification if someone makes a mistake. Parts of the road, but not all, have been resurfaced. Still, if it's raining, it will be treacherous. Let's hope it doesn't result in a serious injury to one of the riders.
Etape du Tour participants often complain about the descending skills and judgement of their fellow riders. This may be the part of the parcours where concerns are most acute, particularly as there's bound to be some fatigue by this point.
Les Plaines marks the end of the descent.
Beyond Les Plaines, the route crosses the Isère, overlooked by the Chapelle Saint-Jacques perched on a rock.
The race route goes under the main D90 valley road, over a level crossing, then joins the D90. It reaches a roundabout at Moûtiers, and takes the D915 to Salins-les-Thermes.
After passing the Super U supermarket, there's a sign pointing right towards Saint-Laurent-de-la-Côte.
The climb to Val Thorens starts on the old road via Saint-Laurent-de-la-Côte, the D96, (not the main D117 up the Belleville Valley).
It's a narrow, windy road. I've heard it said that insurers don't try to apportion blame when there are crashes here, they just assume that it's 50-50.
The first part has a modest gradient, and a yellow-white chalky rock to the left. There are small bridges where torrents flow down ravines.
It's lightly wooded, and the trees will provide some shade. After about 3km, there's a larger ravine, which shows signs of landslip. It's called le Ravin d'Enfer, and it has a more modern bridge over it.
The road continues through the trees until a height of 815m, where it reaches the first of a series of hairpins.
Now the road has a little wall on the downhill side, to stop all but the most determined from driving off. There are six hairpin bends on the way up towards la Côte Derrière (a village just off the D96). It's steep enough to be a popular spot for crag martins.
Some years ago, against my better judgement, I used to drive down this road in the morning and back up in the evening. It was winter, and my conveyance at the time was a 1998 Vauxhall Cavalier boasting two snow tyres. When there was snow on the road, it was touch and go whether I'd get back up the hill at the end of the day. I found that the critical bend was hairpin 4, at a height of 903m. If I made it past there, I reckoned I was in the clear - everything would be tickety-boo.
The road winds past the hamlets of la Tour and le Mas, and passes the turn to Villartier. There's a bridge over a little stream called Nant Torchet, then a curve around the hillside to what passes for the Big Metropolis in these parts, Saint-Laurent-de-la-Côte.
Soon after Saint-Laurent, the road reaches the slightly ramshackle (in a good way) village of Planvillard, and spaghettis through it.
The final section of the D96, past la Rochette and les Varcins, is flat and even a bit downhill. There's a view of the rounded peak that looms above Saint-Martin, le Cochet, and its neighbour to the right, la Pointe de la Fenêtre.
Then the D96 meets the main road up to Val Thorens, the D117.
The riders will turn left at the junction. There's around 2km of straight-ish road to Saint-Martin-de-Belleville, and it takes them from 1195m to 1347m.
The route enters Saint-Martin-de-Belleville at the lowest entrance to the village.
There are a few bends in the road on the way up to the centre. The riders will be able to see the church tower.
Opposite the church is the Mairie (Town Hall).
Next, the route takes the riders up the main street of the village, past the Post Office, to the skiers' car park. From there, it's steeply uphill past some new chalets, back to the main D117 up the valley.
The height at the exit from the village is 1468m. The next landmark is the Baroque Chapelle de Notre-Dame-de-la-Vie, a very fetching religious edifice.
Not much height is gained on the way to Saint-Marcel (1505m). Looking over the rooftops of the houses in Saint-Marcel, you can see Les Menuires in the distance.
The road is relatively flat on the way from Saint-Marcel to les Granges (1544m) and Praranger (1566m).
After Praranger, the road ramps up again, but with a steady gradient. The entrance to Les Menuires is at 1763m.
The race route reaches the centre of Les Menuires (1807m). There's a view of the spiral spire to the left, then a bit of downhill.
After the short descent from Les Menuires, the D117 climbs in a straight line past the Les Bruyères quarter of Les Menuires. Then the climbing increases in intensity, with four hairpins past Chez Pépé Nicholas.
After that, the road is straight, with a steady gradient. The altitude might be starting to make itself felt now - at least on the Etape du Tour participants, if not the professionals contesting the Tour de France. The road goes under a skiers' bridge.
A little further on, the avalanche shelter comes into view, and the Aiguille de Péclet looms above Val Thorens.
Now the road reaches parking P4, and the first of six hairpin bends. The UCPA is on the third of the bends, and the ice racing circuit on the fifth.
I'll call the sixth and final bend 'Jupiter's corner'.
Then there's just a flimsy tunnel to go through before arriving in Val Thorens.
Coming into Val Thorens, the competitors go under another skiers' bridge.
Now, the route is marked with banners like the one in the photo above. They lead to a junction where there's a right turn down rue du Soleil.
At the bend in rue du Soleil is the résidence Ancolies and the Chamois d'Or. Here, the riders fork left. (It's a road in the summer, but in late March, it was still covered in snow).
Then, the route takes the riders up the Combe de Thorens/2 Combes - pistes in the winter.
When the ski season is over, a road is cleared in the Combe de Thorens, up to the Chalets du Thorens (photo below taken on 30th May 2019).
The finish line will be just before the Chalets du Thorens.
Paul Moucheraud is a former professional cyclist from Val Thorens. He's now a director of the Ecole du Ski Francais in Val Thorens. I chatted to him about Stage 20, and his memories of the last time the Tour came to Val Thorens in 1994.
How do you see the stage playing out?
It's only a short stage, at 131km. As soon as the climbing starts at Beaufort, the field could split, with a group including the GC favourites forging ahead up to the Cormet de Roselend. It'll be hard for anyone to come back. There's a flat section between Bourg-Saint-Maurice and Mâcot, but I doubt it's long enough for a team to organise themselves and work together to bring back a leading group.
After Mâcot comes the Cote de Longefoy. It's not a climb I know. The map shows that the road continues to rise after Longefoy, to 1,311m at Notre-Dame-du-Pré. The descent from there looks technical, with lots of hairpins - some of them steep - as the road goes down through woods. If it rains, it will be treacherous.
After a stretch on the main road (N90/D915), the final climb begins on the D96 via Saint-Laurent-de-la-Côte. What is it like?
The hardest part comes quite early on. There are three steep hairpins before la Côte-Derrière. If it's down to a small group of favourites, that's where the battle is likely to take place.
After la Côte-Derriere, the climb is quite steady through Saint-Laurent. When the riders reach the hamlet of Planvillard, it's flat or downhill until they get to the junction with the main road up the Belleville Valley, the D117.
The route goes through the village of Saint-Martin-de-Belleville, then it's a steady climb to Les Menuires. There's a short descent the far side of Les Menuires before the final stretch to Val Thorens.
Will the altitude play a role near Val Thorens (with the finish line at 2,365m)?
Yes and no. It can have an effect, but the competitors all know about it in advance, and train for it at high-altitude camps.
The finish line is to be just beyond Val Thorens. The riders go through the resort, then head up the Combe du Thorens, which is a ski piste in winter. They cross the line just short of the Chalets du Thorens.
What do you remember of the Tour de France last time it came to Val Thorens in 1994?
I was 14 years old. With Val Thorens Ski Club, I was part of the publicity caravan, throwing out leaflets promoting Val Thorens.
Miguel Indurain was my idol at the time. He was leading the Tour de France that day, and went on to win it. Unfortunately, the fog came down at the finish, but I saw all the riders cross the line, including Luc Leblanc.
I remember my dad [professional cyclist Maurice Moucheraud] being on TV, appearing on a programme called Vélo Club, with Gérard Holtz.
Who do you think could be the stage winner?
Romain Bardet, of course!
Nairo Quintana, Adam Yates, Romain Bardet, Geraint Thomas, Egan Bernal, Richie Porte, and Steven Kruijswijk could all do it, but I'm picking Thibaut Pinot.
Stage 21 of the Tour de France 2019 is the traditional final sprint stage in Paris.
Read about Stage 21 of the 2019 Tour de France.
Albertville is a town on the river Arly, near its confluence with the river Isère. It is surrounded by mountains - the Bauges to the west, the Beaufortain to the north, and the Chaine de la Lauzière to the south.
Albertville was on the Roman route from Milan to Vienna (which crossed the Alps via the Col du Petit St-Bernard). Because of the confluence of the Arly and the Isère, the Romans called the higher part of the town ad confluentes. (This part of Albertville is called Conflans today). There was a customs post lower down, referred to as ad publicanos.
At the end of the C12th, the Knights Hospitaller of St John of Jerusalem founded a hospital for travellers and pilgrims down near the river, and the village which developed around it was called l'Hopital.
Modern Albertville was formed in 1836 by King Charles Albert of Sardinia (of the House of Savoie). He merged the medieval town of Conflans with the town of l'Hopital.
Albertville's economy is largely industrial, with hydroelectricity and paper mills. Kassbohrer, who make piste bashers, have premises here.
Albertville hosted the 1992 Winter Olympics. Many of the events took place in nearby ski resorts, including Le Praz (ski jumping), Val d'Isère (men's giant slalom, Super G, downhill, and combined), Méribel (women's Alpine skiing events), and Les Menuires (men's slalom). The skating took place in Albertville: the ice rink (Halle de Glace Olympique) remains; the speed skating venue (l'anneau de vitesse) has been given over to athletics.
There's a cycle path most of the way from Albertville to Annecy.
Beaufort, or Beaufort-sur-Doron, is a village in the Beaufortain area of Savoie. It's close to the winter and summer resort of Arêches-Beaufort.
Other than tourism, the main occupation is agriculture. The village of Beaufort gives its name to Beaufort cheese (a firm, raw cow's milk cheese similar to gruyère.
Bourg-Saint-Maurice is a town in the Tarentaise valley, on the river Isère.
It is surrounded by ski resorts, and there's a funicular railway link to Arc 1600, part of Les Arcs. Bourg-Saint-Maurice is also popular in the summer as a base for walking, mountain biking, and road cycling. There's a whitewater canoe and kayak slalom course on the Isère at Bourg, used for training and competitions.
Moûtiers is a modest-sized town at a bend in the river Isère, roughly half-way between Bourg-Saint-Maurice and Albertville. It serves as a hub for the ski resorts of the 3 Vallées (Courchevel, Méribel, and Les Menuires/Val Thorens).
The settlement here was called Darantasia in the Gallo-Roman period. The name Moûtiers comes from 'monastery'.
There's a small historic centre near the Cathedral Saint-Pierre.
Les Menuires is a ski resort at an altitude of 1850m. It is part of the linked 3 Valleys ski area.
Val Thorens is the highest ski resort in Europe, at 2300m. The first draglifts opened in December 1971, the resort has developed since then. Like Les Menuires, it is part of the linked 3 Valleys ski area.
Val Thorens has capacity to accommodate around 25,000 visitors. It is primarily a winter destination, and skiers and snowboarders enjoy unbeatable snow cover, direct access to the slopes from nearly all hotels and apartments, excellent nursery slopes for beginners, extensive blue and red runs for intermediates, and challenging black runs and off piste itineraries for experts.
The Cime de Caron cable car provides a stunning panorama.
In the last ten years, more up-market hotels have opened, to complement the existing mix of accommodation. There are plenty of restaurants, and bars aimed at different types of tippler.