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“We are entering a new world; a new way to climb high-altitude slopes, with crazy gradients,” Tour de France routemaster Thierry Gouvenou said of the Col de la Loze when presenting the 2020 race route back in October 2019.
And now, after 11 months of waiting, the Tour’s new “kingmaker” is looming on the very near horizon. Wednesday’s Alpine stage out of Grenoble will finish in the thin air at the top of the 2,304 meter Loze, and the climb to the summit could be the one to make or break yellow jersey hopes.
At 21.8 kilometers long and 7.8 percent average gradient, the Col de la Loze easily stacks up against the stats of legendary Tour passes such as the Tourmalet, Galibier or Ventoux. However, the averages and distances of the Loze belie its ferocity. The final five clicks all sit at around 10 percent gradient and include a series of ramps kicking to 20 percent – all while over the watershed 2,000-meter altitude mark.
“The Col de la Loze is a tarmac bucking bronco,” explained cycling blog INRNG. “It’s hard to get into a rhythm, the temptation is to power up the steep parts and recover in between, only you’re 2,000-meter altitude now and oxygen debt comes with a penalty interest rate. It’s not the Mur de Huy all the way up, the defining characteristic is the frequent, abrupt changes of slope, no profile graphic can capture this.”
Wednesday will be the first time the Tour has raced up to the 2,304 meter summit of the Loze, though the lower pitches will be familiar to many. The first half climbs up to ski resort Méribel via an often-ridden road before the real fireworks begin. Above Méribel, the road becomes a newly-paved-over ski run, initially created for mountain bikers looking to cross the valley to Courchevel.
With all the major GC teams having scouted the pass before the Tour, riders are probably wishing they will have mountain bike gears available to them for the Tour’s 17th stage, which also takes in the 17-kilometer grind of the Col de la Madeleine.
“The Col de la Loze is one of the toughest climbs I’ve ever done,” said Tadej Pogačar, who currently sits second overall, 40 seconds back on race leader Primož Roglič. “There will undoubtedly be differences tomorrow. The rankings will be changed, I am sure of that … Even when we rode it in training it was hard to get to the top. I cannot imagine what it will be like in the race.”
It’s expected for Pogačar to be going toe-to-toe with countryman Roglič in the thin air of the Loze as the youngster faces a race against time to pull back his 40-second deficit. Roglič is braced for one heck of a battle.
“It will be crazy-hard tomorrow in the final 5km,” yellow-jersey wearing Roglič said Tuesday. “It will be a big fight for every second.”
Race director Christian Prudhomme described the Col de la Loze as the “prototype of the 21st-century pass” when the Tour’s route was revealed last fall. And this new-world climb could dictate the winner of what has proven a truly unprecedented pandemic-era Tour on Wednesday afternoon.