Stage 19: Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne to Tignes

Cycling summary

Breakfast: 07:00. Transfer: none. Start time: 08:15. Distance: 123m. Terrain: mountain (3,308 metres climbing). Climbs: one HC (Col de l’Iseran), one Cat 1 (Tignes, but also above 2,000 metres), one Cat 2, two Cat 3. Finish: 17:25. Time in saddle: 8h04. Temp 28C (15C at altitude). Drinks: 4 litres.

Suffer scores: John 8/10. Wim 7/10.

Local lowdown

Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne is often visited by cyclists, in part due to its placement on the route of the Marmotte ride as it is the gateway to the Télégraphe and Galibier climbs (the latter we descended yesterday). That ride is a beast, being 174km long and featuring 5,000 metres of climbing, though that almost seems like a routine ride these days. Almost! Today we reach the highest point of the Tour at 2,770 metres and will end up in Tignes, which some may know as a popular skiing resort although apparently the original settlement here was flooded due to the construction of a dam in 1952. This is something that I saw in Spain last year too when we stayed in Riaño, which had been rebuilt in 1980s due to the old town being submerged for a similar reason.

Tale from the Tour

To begin with, I took the opportunity in my “unicorn” speech to defend the Bath Rugby jersey and to pour shame on Windy who had nominated me! Bit of fun really and we had some banter about it on the ride afterwards. I awarded the unicorn to someone who had dared to wear a yellow Tour de France leader’s jersey, which is an absolute no no and a breach of the unofficial rules of cycling (Velominati rule 16 if you are interested!).

A short day, but a tough day. The holiday is well and truly over and we really are at the business end of this Tour now. I first appreciated this yesterday, when it seemed to me that people were riding conservatively as we contemplated the big days to come.

Today we had as our main focus the highest paved road in the Alps – the Col de l’Iseran at 2,770 metres.

On the way to the Iseran
Halfway up and looking back down

The first few categorised climbs before the Iseran were not especially taxing – I think that might not have been the case at the start of the Tour when we noticed all the smaller climbs a lot more. But after many days in the saddle, these days it’s sometimes hard to know what’s a Cat 3 or 4 and what is just an undulation. I’m sure more of the roads we ride on could be categorised if the ASO wanted to do that.

The Iseran wasn’t too bad a climb. Although it goes high, the start point was already high at around 1,800 metres. It had snowed here last week while we were in the Pyrenees but the roads were clear even though there was still some snow around. Contributed to a nice cooling breeze as we climbed up.

By contrast, the descent to the bottom of the final climb was truly horrid. Lots of tunnels to go through and the road surface was poor, so it was a relief to turn off and start the final climb to Tignes, where we are staying tonight.

There is another tough day tomorrow which means that there can be no let up in concentration. When I did this in 2017, the penultimate ride was a 20km time trial (aka cafe ride) around Marseille before boarding a train to Paris. Will be very different this year – details to follow!

I scored this a 9 despite the ride being shorter than yesterday and with less climbing. That’s because I was physically exhausted, not sitting very straight on the bike (no upper body strength) and also because of that descent which pushed the suffering up to 9 rather than 8. Wim is finishing strongly.

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