No modern Grand Tour is complete these days without a mystery climb. A mountainside with a set of vital statistics to send a shiver down the spine of anyone who’s ever flung a leg across the top-tube of a bike.
Mystery climbs come in two flavours.
Either the oh, look, how come we’ve never spotted that old goat track winding up yonder hillside, any chance we could get a concrete mixer up there?
Or, you know that massive mountain that we get the Tour de France lads to ride up quite regularly…it’s too easy, how about we lay another ten kilometres of double-steep Tarmac and really make them earn their post ride bowl of brown rice?
Today, the Col de la Loze fell into that second category. Scaling the very clouds up to an altitude of two thousand three hundred metres, steepest at the top, hitting thirteen, eighteen, and twenty percent gradients, it was essentially a form of torture.
The UN are on the phone as we speak, talking the race organisers through the finer points of the relevant human rights treaty and proposing mass waterboarding as a more ethical way to separate the top half dozen closely matched riders in future.Embed from Getty Images
They hit the bottom of this great climb, twenty kilometres from the summit, having already scaled the Col de la Madeleine and with the Tequila Sunrise of the Bahrain McLaren team on the front. Clearly setting up their leader Mikel Landa.
How you interpret what then played out for Landa depends on your point of view.
They drove the front of the race, Roglic’s Jumbo Visma lieutenants lined up behind, up to the ski resort of Meribel and beyond. In an ideal world they would deliver their Basque climber somewhere near the upper reaches of our summit and he would ride away for the win.
But, having held on for as long as they could, in the final few kilometres Landa cracked cruelly at the moment of truth.
Either a moment of weakness and evidence of a fundamental flaw in Landa’s mentality, or, as I prefer, a damn good attempt to take the race to the rest of the contenders on the single hardest day of racing perhaps in the entire calendar.
Bold, brave, and he died on the front foot and on his own terms. Better to live a day as a lion than a life as a lamb ‘n’ all that. Even better, of course, to live three weeks as a relentless machine of a cyclist without showing so much as a crevice of weakness.
But we, the cycling public, are ridiculously hard on guys like Landa.
He exited stage left and we were left with a small handful of contenders. The road rollercoasting atmospherically and heading ever upward.Embed from Getty Images
To watch the teammates, grim of face and grey of pallor, turn themselves into blancmange in service of their leaders, had been a difficult enough watch. The pain endured by likes of Dumoulin and De La Cruz enough to put us all of our collective afternoon iced bun.
But Tadej Pogacar chasing down rival Roglic in the final kilometre was something else; something no mother would like to see. Brave, gutsy, and tortuous. He fell a few seconds (and some extra bonus seconds) short of the race leader.
If he’d had a little cry at the finish line you would not have judged him for it.Embed from Getty Images
Further on still was Colombian Miguel Angel Lopez, leaping like a half-cooked salmon to win the stage and snatch a spot on the podium.
It was tense, exciting, and as an armchair fan maybe even a little gratuitous.
Roglic remains the race favourite, with a couple of Alpine stages and a time trial up La Planche des Belles Filles to negotiate.
How the next Grand Tour tops the Col de la Loze with the next iteration of the mystery climb is anyone’s guess. Short of setting the riders on fire a kilometre from the summit, I’m not sure how bike racing gets any tougher than that.