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the Col du Granon, a challenge for the organization and the champions

To justify the choice of routes for the Tour de France, its director Christian Prudhomme often repeats: “We have to go where the sport takes us. » And this Wednesday, July 13, the sport takes climbing aces to the Col du Granon, perched at an altitude of 2,400 m. A rediscovery, the Grande Boucle reconnecting with the monster winding through the heart of the Hautes-Alpes for the first time since 1986, its previous and only visit.

These thirty-six years of scarcity of the “Ogre of Briançonnais”, Stéphane Boury is hardly surprised. “It’s really very complicated to land up there”, summarizes the person in charge of arrivals within the organizing company ASO. However, he knows a lot about it, the former amateur runner converted to ASO at the turn of the century and promoted to kingpin at the end of the stage in 2016. With an almost military discipline, he participates in the improbable roaming of the great circus cyclist, at the head of a team of 80 people on a war footing from 6 a.m. to channel 1,200 cars and 120 38-tonne heavy goods vehicles to each race terminal, not to mention the public always very present to greet the winner of the day.

“It’s a cul-de-sac, with very few places available”

This crazy crowd is unthinkable at the top of the Granon. “It’s a cul-de-sac, with very few places availableexplains Stéphane Boury. So no stands, VIP spaces, the bare minimum authorized to ensure retransmission, a few very rare cars and trucks. The team buses will be waiting at the foot of the pass. For four years, in this configuration, the riders have been equipped with armbands and whistles, to stand out in the crowd, and they have been cycling down. Normally, everything goes well. I watch over it with mad energy. It is my mission. »

Limiting access is not just a matter of security. Environmental concerns are also essential on a site registered in the European network of Natura 2000 protected areas. “The Col du Granon is our most sensitive area this yearcomments Karine Bozzacchi, project manager at ASO. The mountain is always problematic, and the hardest part is having the right people in the right place. For the Granon, we had very good contacts with the management of the Hautes-Alpes territories and the Natura 2000 project manager, and we found solutions. We have a whole range of measures established with Biotope, a firm of naturalist experts. A botanist goes upstream to carry out inventories. We send material to protect from trampling many forbidden spaces. »

leave no trace

The passage of the Tour must leave no trace. At the very top of the Granon, a 200 m strip of tar2, posed for the occasion, must very quickly disappear. On the edges of the very narrow road, forbidden to motorhomes since July 4 and where access on foot and by bike is limited to the morning before the race, the call for responsibility is in order. “Over the past ten years, the public has nevertheless greatly changed its behaviorcontinues Karine Bozzacchi. Most often, people leave with their waste. »

This was not really the case in 1986, when a huge crowd had accompanied, throughout the last kilometers in the lunar landscape, the heroes of the time, including an exhausted Bernard Hinault who had to abandon his yellow tunic to the American Greg LeMond, future winner of the Tour. Christian Bourbon remembers it with emotion, at the time a young France Telecom technician who had helped lay a 10 km cable across the mountain to provide telecommunications.

Today president of the ASPTT Briançon club which organizes the Granon Challenge every August, a hill climb launched in 1978 by Louison Bobet, he plans an intense spectacle on a terrain he knows perfectly: “It’s a very irregular pass, and that’s its main difficultyhe warns. It is impossible to have a cruising speed like in the Izoard and the Galibier. The slope is terrible on the end, which should also be crushed by the heat. »

The onslaught of the sun is everything that Tadej Pogacar hates. Is he risking his yellow jersey on the Granon, like Hinault in the past? Christian Bourbon is wary of comparisons. “In 1986, the Col de Vars, Izoard and Granon sequence was more difficult, especially with 190 km of racing, concludes the expert. There, over 150 km, there is certainly the Telegraph and the Galibier, but a long descent before the Granon which allows you to recover. The runners will still have strength at the foot of the Granon. There will be sports. » The exact justification for choosing the Granon.

———

Finally a triumphant escape

Four climbs were on the program for this short tenth stage (148 km) between Morzine and Geneva. A gentle approach to the Alps, a day promised to adventurers. Before the big explanations to come, they are about twenty to be allowed the beauty about halfway. Classic breakaway up to 37 km from the finish when the race was interrupted by a handful of demonstrators warning against global warming. Twelve short minutes of rest, and the breakaway continued by accumulating the minutes ahead of the peloton. His men will not give up and it is the Dane Magnus Cort Nielsen who wins the half-wheel bet. In a good move, the German Lennard Kamna saw himself in yellow for a while, but without hurrying, Tadej Pogacar kept his tunic for a few seconds.

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