PINEROLO, France — The 98th edition of the Tour de France in some ways begins today with the two-day centennial of a climb to a mountain pass, the ascent of which was once considered madness.
The race will twice visit the Col du Galibier, the summit in the Alps, first negotiated in 1911 when Frenchman Emile Georget was the first rider to pass the summit in the ninth Tour de France. Until then, the difficult route was only used by drug smugglers.
Much was different in cycling 100 years ago. The first stage featuring the Galibier was 227 miles in length and was the fifth of only seven race stages. If riders needed to walk on the snowy road, they walked.
Legend also reveals tales of cyclists stealing bikes and yelling at race organizers that they were bandits.
The Col du Galibier usually peaks at 8,383 feet and when included in the race (this will be the 58th time) is often its highest point. And many of the race’s most famous riders — Eddy Merckx to Marco Pantani — have been the first to the summit.
But the massive climb at more than 13 miles has always been achieved by riders or defeated cyclists while they’re en route elsewhere — until now.
In the 18th stage, the 169-rider field will ride 124.5 miles from Pinerolo, Italy, to Galibier Serre-Chevalier, France, where a new road section has been built and where the stage will finish at 8,678 — the highest in race history.
But the finishing climb will occur as the third beyond category (the most difficult) of the stage — a rare Tour de France circumstance.
It’s expected to deplete the field.
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Wenatchee’s Tyler Farrar finished 153rd in today’s Stage 17, completing the 111-mile route from Gap to Pinerolo, Italy, in a group of 90 riders and trailing stage winner Edvald Boasson Hagen (Sky) of Norway, by 14 minutes and 15 seconds.
Farrar, who has three top-three finishes, including a July 4 victory in Stage 3, is 157th overall in the field of 169, trailing race leader Thomas Voeckler by 2 hours, 34 minutes, 18 seconds.