By Roger Childs
Diverse challenges, spectacles and landscapes
This stage moving westwards from the French Alps illustrated the tremendous appeal of Le Tour for riders, spectators on the ground, and television watchers back home. It was a four hour plus ride of 192.5 km through varied terrain with plenty of ups and downs. It started at Le Bourg d’Oisans near the Alps and finished across the River Rhone in the city of Saint-Étienne.
Challenging for the riders
This was a mix of all the variations of terrain the riders face on the Tour – long flat stretches; through river valleys and farmland exposed to the winds; over rivers such as the Rhone; through villages, towns and cities; and up forested hill-climbs of 3 — 6 km.
Invariably, any significant climbs which test the legs are followed by sharp downhills where the cyclists can relax but need to keep their focus to stay on their bikes. On Stage 13 there were a few wobbles on the sharp corners and some riders came down. You have to look after yourself but inevitably some cyclists come down because others lose control. Fortunately, every team has a car following which has spare bikes, and if a rider hits the deck there will quickly be someone from the crew to lend a hand. The cyclists can also get spare drink bottles from the team car and occasionally a technician will lean out of the window to make adjustments to a bicycle!
The great spectacle
Millions of French people and visitors watch on the sides of the roads; in the farmland; on the footpaths of the urban areas where the roads may be very narrow with tight corners; and all over the hillsides on the climbs. They may not see much, but enjoy the experience.
Often there are some over-exuberant fans, especially on the hill climbs, who wave national flags, chase the cyclists and try and take selfies, but fortunately near the top of the rises there are barriers to provide some protection. The barriers are also there for the last few km at the finish where the competitors may be travelling at 60–70 km/h.
The fans at home get superb coverage of the varied landscape ranging from incredible steep cliffs and snow-covered covered peaks to wooded hill climbs and farmland growing everything from sunflowers to maize. The cameramen on motorbikes provide brilliant coverage of the leaders, the jersey holders and sometimes the back of the field. If there is a crash there will be replays of what happened. There is also plenty of information on how far to go; the speeds different riders are travelling and the relative positions of cyclists in the different categories. The commentary is expert and comprehensive, and details are given about settlements, historic buildings and regions.
For the record …
Stage 13 was won by Danish rider Mads Pedersen. There was no significant change in the general classification, which determines where the150+ bike-riders are placed. The top ten positions are unchanged and Dane Jonas Vingegard retained his yellow jersey and leads by 2 minutes 22 seconds from SloveneTadej Pogačar, with Welshman Geraint Thomas just 4 seconds further back. For the hopes of the locals, Frenchman Romain Bardet is only nine seconds back in fourth. These leading riders have already been on the road for over 50 hours and 47 minutes!
There are still eight stages to go including two massive hill climbs in the Pyrénées, so placings may well change, and it’s not over until the final sprint on the Champs-Élysées in Paris on Monday week.