GAP, France (VN) — Tuesday’s descent of the Col de Manse reminded everyone of the hidden dangers in the Tour de France. On Thursday, riders face another serious challenge — not the double ascent of the Alpe d’Huez, but the never-before-used Col de Sarenne.
To include the Alpe d’Huez twice in one day, organizer ASO will take the race east and over the Sarenne pass, at 1,999 metres. After the first climb to the Alpine ski station, the road undulates for four kilometers and kicks up for another 5km to the col. Along that road and the subsequent 26km descent, several pitfalls wait.
“I’ve seen it in training and also in the [Critérium du] Dauphiné; it’s a very dangerous descent,” overall leader Chris Froome (Sky) said in a post-stage press conference on Tuesday. “The road surface is not great. I wouldn’t say it’s level; it’s not smooth. There aren’t any barriers — if you go over the corner, then you will fall down a long way. I hope the riders are aware of that so they don’t take risks like today.”
Alberto Contador (Saxo-Tinkoff) crashed while pushing the pace, nearly crashing Froome, on the Manse descent to Gap in stage 16. The time trial tomorrow should present fewer risks as the riders are going off one by one, which leaves the Col de Sarenne as the immediate concern.
ASO resurfaced part of the road, asphalted the gravel sections, and smoothed some wavy sections, but felt a complete makeover was unnecessary. A Tour de France press representative told VeloNews today that, as with every stage, two cleaning vehicles would pass the climb two hours prior to the riders.
Time trial world champion Tony Martin (Omega Pharma-Quick Step) finished the Dauphiné stage in June so concerned about Sarenne that he wrote about his feelings on his website: “I have to say that I was negatively surprised. … The road is old and narrow. It’s a bad road, no guardrails. A mistake could see you falling straight down 30 meers.”
He reiterated those feelings on Tuesday morning.
“It’s still the same descent. … It’s quite nasty and a really dangerous descent,” Martin told VeloNews. “We’ve made a lot of comments already in the media, so I really hope the organization heard it.”
Martin said trying to organize all 179 Tour riders in a protest is too difficult.
“You’ll always have some riders who don’t just make a race uphill, but also make it downhill,” Martin added. “It’d be difficult to get everyone to make the same decision.”
Martin recognized that the stage would likely go on as planned, but hoped that his colleagues approach the Col de Sarenne with caution.