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Tour de France News Extra for July 21, 2004

Edited by Jeff Jones

L'Alpe d'Huez: The time to beat

Today's 15.5 km time trial up the Tour's best known climb, L'Alpe d'Huez, will be a perfect opportunity for the top riders to break some records on this tough climb. Matters are complicated somewhat by the 1.7 km of flat at the bottom in Bourg d'Oisans before the riders tackle the Alpe's 21 switchbacks in 13.8 km at an average gradient of 7.9% with the steepest kilometre being 11.5 percent with 4 km to go.

To break the record for the climb, the time to beat over the last 13.8 km is 36'50, set by Marco Pantani in 1995. Pantani also recorded times of 36'55 in 1997 and 37'15 in 1994. All times neglect the first flat part of the climb between the intersection of D211 and N91 to the hydroelectric plant which marks the actual start of the climb. Thus, Pantani's 1997 time is normally quoted as 37'35, including the flat part.

Lance Armstrong's best time for the climing part is 38'05 in 2001, while Jan Ullrich did it in 37'40 in 1997, the year that he won the Tour. Allowing for a time of 2'10 for the extra 1.7 km today, a record breaking time will have to be around the 39 minute mark for the entire 15.5 km.

What is different about today's stage is the fact that the riders will be completely fresh at the bottom, not having ridding 150-200 km previously. "This year, with the start at the foot of the Alpe, and with the nature of the race, I think the record will be beaten," said pre-race favourite Lance Armstrong.

Interestingly, there used to be a mass start FFC sanctioned amateur race up l'Alpe d'Huez in mid-August. The record holder is Patrick Bruet who clocked 39:24 in the late 1980's. However, the start and finish were at slightly different places and the course was about 1.2 km of flat shorter than today's stage. Even so, this gives a very impressive time of about 41'00.

Organisers are predicting crowds of up to a million people on the sides of the roads today, which is roughly equivalent to 30 people per metre of barrier space, which may be stretching the imagination a little. Nevertheless, the crowds will certainly be packed on both sides of the road, with many people travelling here several days ago to stake out a spot.

Data courtesy of Franšois Siohan

Related coverage

Live coverage of Stage 16
Stage 16 profile and rider start times
The Legend of Alpe d'Huez.

Basso looking forward to l'Alpe

Ivan Basso (CSC), currently lying in second place on the general classification at 1'25 from Lance Armstrong, said that he's looking forward to today's 15.5 km mountain time trial up l'Alpe d'Huez. "L'Alpe d'Huez will be an important test," he told L'Equipe. "I am confident, because I rode it five times in two days. After this time trial, I will take stock of the situation and I will know if I can attack."

The Italian already has one stage win to his credit at La Mongie, and said that he also had his eyes on yesterday's finish in Villard-de-Lans. "I really wanted to win this stage. Nevertheless, it is necessary to look at the facts: Armstrong is currently stronger than me. I didn't have enough strength to get past him in the sprint."

Virenque tries again

With a mortgage on the polka-dotted climber's jersey, Richard Virenque (Quick.Step-Davitamon) tried another one of his long attacks yesterday together with Michael Rasmussen (Rabobank). But the efforts of Jan Ullrich and then the chase of US Postal and CSC saw the pair swallowed at the top of the penultimate climb.

"I had a lot of strength at the beginning of the stage, and that convinced me to attack," Virenque told L'Equipe. "I think that I had a good thing going with Rasmussen. But the attack of Ullrich destroyed our hopes. At the end, I was still with the best. But I was tired. It's a shame after spending all day in front. Nevertheless, my goal was to take the mountain points."

Virenque's nearest competitor for the mountains jersey is Lance Armstrong, who is on 102 points compared to Virenque's 177. With Armstrong targeting the yellow it looks more than likely that Virenque will come away from the Tour with his seventh polka-dot jersey, an all time record. However, Virenque is one of the very few riders who actually targets the mountains jersey, which in recent years has been a lot less fiercely fought over than the green points jersey.

Competitions update: new pair up for grabs

Whose shoes?
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Entries have opened on fourth competition to win a pair of Specialized's high-end road shoes.

Specialized's Pro Carbon 04 road shoe
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All you have to do is guess whose sleek feet are inside this pair of shoes and you could win the next pair of Pro Carbon 04 road shoes featuring Body Geometry design and super-stiff carbon fiber sole. For those of you who entered our second competition, the rider in question was none other than the Belgium's 'Mr Versatile', reigning world XC MTB champion Filip Meirhaeghe (Filip has also raced competitively in cyclo-cross, road and track). We'll announce the winner of the third competition - and the owner of the myster feet - once all entries are finalised.

Now, if you did enter the first three competitions and still haven't woin - no worries - enter this competition ASAP and then in the next day, we'll have yet another mystery rider up with another pair of shoes to be won. Good luck!

Fancy a trip Down Under?
Photo ©: Mark Gunter
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Speaking of competitions - fancy a trip to Australia next January? The organisers of the Jacob's Creek Tour Down Under are offering a trip to see the race in South Australia, right in the middle of the southern hemisphere summer season.

Australia's premier race is the Jacob's Creek Tour Down Under, which next year runs January 18 - 23, 2005. The JCTDU is always a huge but friendly event where fans can easily meet riders, and where the racers are happy to enjoy some Aussie sunshine when it's still chilly and damp in Europe. You can join them courtesy of the JCTDU organisation who will fly two lucky winners from anywhere in the world to see the 2005 race. The prize includes car hire and accommodation for the duration of the Tour and two JCTDU Club Tour memberships.

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