Recent Tour de France routes have blended innovation with history. Race director Christian Prudhomme and his team have designed routes that they believe create unpredictable racing, favoring attacking riders and breaking the grip of the strongest teams. With new finishes, steeper climbs, shorter stages and minimal time trialing, their innovations have led to fascinating races. One of their original mountain stages came in 2017, from Briançon to the Col d’Izoard, the first to finish atop the Izoard—yet this alpine pass has a venerable place in Tour history. Since its first appearance in 1922, the Izoard has been included in the race route more than 30 times.
Toward the top of this alpine monster, a pine forest gives way to a landscape of bizarre, tawny needles of dolomite rock amid searing gray scree, not unlike the top of Mont Ventoux. This is the Casse Déserte, which can be formally translated as the “deserted scrapheap” or the less-formal “broken desert.” At its summit the brave cyclist will have climbed for more than 31 kilometers to an elevation of 7,743 feet (2,361 meters). In the 1953 edition of the Tour de France one very special rider rode up the Izoard alone, in the lead. It was Louison Bobet. Ahead of him a convertible car labored upward, a cameraman standing precariously in the passenger seat. Around Bobet was a horde of motorbikes and a jeep, bouncing over the road’s rutted surface. There were few spectators up there in the baking mountain amphitheater.
Bobet, who’d attacked […]
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