July 2

A Little Tangent

One of the important facts about a cycling course is the gradient of a big climb, customarily expressed, as on highway signs, as a percent. For example, the Col de la Madeleine, which the Tour de France goes over in stage 17 this year, has an average gradient of 8% for 19.5 km. I’ve seen it written in a few places (e.g., CyclingNews) that this is the percentage that the elevation gain is of the horizontal distance, in other words, the tangent of the angle that the road is pitched up from horizontal expressed as a percent. While that may be true, I doubt it for two reasons. First, the distance that the race travels is measured along the road surface, which is most certainly not horizontal or the elevation gain would be zero. So, the horizontal distance would have to be calculated. Second, the ratio of the directly measured quantites, elevation gain to distance along the road, the sine, is exactly the ratio of the force pulling the rider backwards (down the hill) to his weight, a very good way of assessing the relative difficulty of various climbs.

Be that as it may, it all amounts to a mere quibble, since the difference between the tangent and sine is insignificant for the size of the angles involved. For example, sine(6°) = 0.1045, tangent(6°) = 0.1051; about six in a thousand.

posted @ 01:15 AM EDT

July 27

Yellow Jersey Group on the Col de la Madeleine

[Yellow Jersey Group]
The picture shows the Yellow Jersey Group climbing up to the last switchback before the summit of the Col de la Madeleine, the second climb of the 17th stage, and the highest elevation of this year’s Tour de France. At this point Armstrong trailed a breakaway, but in the end took his fourth stage win of the race.

It took me about two and a half hours, with a couple of stops for water and a snack, to make the 19.5 km climb ahead of the racers who completed the day’s 204.5 km, with five climbs, in around six and a half hours.

posted @ 07:43 PM EDT

July 28

Gendarmerie Wears Yellow


An extreme extrovert in our group at the finish near Villard de Lans convinced a couple of the Gendarmerie to wear yellow.

posted @ 01:38 PM EDT

Voeckler Finishes in Yellow

Thomas Voeckler, pictured 250 m from the uphill finish of the 15th stage of this year’s Tour de France, won the hearts of cycling fans, not just those of his country, France, by taking the Yellow Jersey from Armstrong in the stage following the Team Time Trial—where he was the best placed overall of a successful five man breakaway—and hanging on to it for twelve days.

Lance finally overcame Voeckler’s nine and a half minute lead, winning back the Maillot Jaune, in the first stage in the Alps, which ended at the ski resort outside of Villard de Lans.

Voeckler was clearly spent, psychologically as well as physically, but brightened a bit at the huge roar of the crowd; a treat that he enjoyed everyday that he was in yellow, and even after. Each fan may have a favorite, but almost all cheer and encourage every rider, appreciating the chance to witness their great efforts.

posted @ 01:48 PM EDT

Hincapie in Rare Individual Performance

Big Georgie Hincapie, pictured at the start of the penultimate stage of this year’s Tour de France, a 55 km Individual Time Trial in Besançon, epitomizes the “domestique” as a rider capable of winning spring classics but, in le Tour, completely subjugating himself to the goal of his team; putting Lance Armstrong on the top step of the podium in Paris.

A measure of his strength and pride was his performance in the ITT, where with nothing to gain except helping his team place well in the overall classification, he finished with the eleventh best time of the day, under four minutes behind Armstrong’s stage winning time of one hour six minutes and forty-nine seconds. Judging by the lack of a spare bike atop the team car behind him, the U.S. Postal Service’s team director sportif, Johann Bruyneel, was less concerned about Georgie’s losing time due to a possible mechanical problem than Hincapie himself.

posted @ 02:15 PM EDT

The Col du Glandon

[Col du Glandon]
Here are Jim and I at the Col du Glandon, the first climb of the 17th stage of this year’s Tour de France, which we biked over on the day before the racers. The race course went downhill from here though we continued up a few more kilometers over the Col de la Croix der Fer (2030 m), and then descended about 30 km to the beautiful little town of St. Jean de Maurienne.

This day was an object lesson in cycling the Alps. The Col du Glandon is listed as 27 km at 4.5%, which doesn’t sound very difficult but that’s an average grade while there are very long stretches that are well in excess of 10%, and a few places where the road goes down - around 300 m in one steep and bumpy, technical descent - only to go back up again. Everyone in our group who completed both this and the Col de la Madeleine agreed that the Glandon was the harder of the two.

posted @ 03:01 PM EDT