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Great Cycling Climbs of the Tour de France - 2019

For me the Tour de France, the Giro d’Italia or even the Vuelta an España don’t really start until you get to the mountains. Sprint stages are boring and intermediate stages are mostly irrelevant. This has a lot to do with the fact most of the riders feel much the same way. Why bother with putting any effort in early on, when you’ve got to go over some of the highest road passes in Europe.

Of course, if you want to actually win, instead of just taking part, that’s exactly what you need to do. Francesco Nibali showed how it’s done by attacking right from the gun in Yorkshire a couple of years back. All the talk that year was how would Froome handle the stretches of Flanders cobbles. Nibali had him beat long before he even reached the cobbles.

Alberto Contador stretched Team Sky almost to the breaking point one day in the crosswinds of central France because he also understood if you give Froome an easy ride to the mountains you’re just playing into his hands. Froome is like some strange exotic insect that is carried on the shoulders of his teammates to halfway up the first mountain climb and then released to do his high cadence dance to the top. Froome was born at altitude trains at altitude and is going to beat you at altitude. Just ask Tom Dumoulin or Nairo Quintana.

As someone obsessed with cycling photography generally, and the great cycling climbs of the Tour de France specifically, the first sight of the mountains just gets me every time. Unusually the first skirmish with the mountains in this year's Tour comes in the first week on stage five in the northern French Alps. Before almost immediately cutting south-east, cross-country towards the Pyrenees, the time trial in Pau, and the mountain top finish on the Col du Tourmalet.

What a day that is shaping up to be. Not only for the race for the yellow jersey but for everyone watching. Either sitting on the top of the Tourmalet or the sofa, this stage will be visually spectacular. Coming across the Pyrenees from Col d'Aubisque in the west via the Coll de Soller takes in some of the most stunning landscapes in Europe. Let’s hope it doesn’t rain.

The climb to the mountain top finish on the Tourmalet was made for Team Sky, or as they are now known Team Ineos. With so many of the younger up and coming riders choosing to ride the Giro d’Italia instead of the Tour de France, it's difficult to see any other outcome than a Team Ineos train powering up here with Froome or Geraint Thomas in tow. My money would be on Geraint.

The Tour bypasses both Alpe d’Huez and Mont Ventoux as it heads back up towards the Alps again and the Col d’Izoard. The Izoard seemed for a long time to be confined to the history books but has become a favourite again in the last few years. Climbing firstly up onto a beautiful green wide plateau surrounded on all sides by mountains. The Izoard heads into a series of steep uphill sections interspersed with hairpins before coming out into the barren prehistoric landscape for which it is famous. Think flying dinosaurs, the Pterosaurs, or the Nazgûl if you're a Lord of the Rings fan. Neither would look out of place here.

Francesco Nibali must already be planning his attack on the descent of the Col d’Izoard. It’s steep and twisting, constantly switching back and forth as it plunges down to meet the bottom of the beautiful Col du Lautaret. Which in turn climbs up to meet the southern side of the Col du Galibier. This stage would be more than enough for your average tour rider, but the main GC boys will be trying to keep something back for the challenge of the next day.

And so we come to the Col de I’Iseran. The most spectacular landscape to ride a bike anywhere in Europe. This is neither the Col de la Madeleine or even the Col de la Croix de Fer. This is of an even grander scale than those two epic climbs. This is a ride up through one of the last great wilderness landscapes of the Alps. Don’t expect much in the way of fireworks to start with, but make no mistake this is a judgment day. I would expect to see an early breakaway which the main peloton will spend the day reeling in. As they slowly crumble from the relentless gradient, and the ever reducing oxygen levels, the main contenders will fight it out up to the highest point in the race at the top of the I’Iseran.

 davidt cycling photography prints.