La Couillole under the microscope



The last 50 kilometres of the penultimate stage of Paris–Nice will serve up a double whammy consisting of Col Saint-Martin and a summit finish on the never-used-before Col de la Couillole. Maxime Bouet reconnoitred the end of the stage to prepare his ninth participation in the Race to the Sun —the first one in Fortuneo colours. Time well spent…

A record will be broken when the 75th edition of Paris–Nice takes the race higher than ever before. The 1,678 m Col de la Couillole is four metres higher than the Valberg ski resort, which featured in the Race to the Sun back in 1999. Apart from this statistical curiosity, the course of the penultimate stage offers an opportunity and a challenge which is unlike any other on several counts, explains course designer François Lemarchand: "The lack of references for this climb could wrong-foot riders. Of course, I'm talking about the fact that they've never raced on these roads before, but it'll also be the first time they tackle such a gruelling stage so early in the season. At the Tour de France, this would be a tricky mountain stage!"
Some canny riders wanted to check out the climb before facing this stage, which is presented as a revamped version of the famous stage from Nice to Pra Loup of the 1975 Tour, won by Bernard Thévenet. Maxime Bouet, for example, spent a morning training session reconnoitring the terrain, starting precisely on Col Saint-Martin. "I reconnoitred the first climb in my car… and I realised it's much longer than the 7 to 8 kilometres it says in the profile. The valley before the climb rises gradually, at a gradient of 3 to 4%, so we'll be softened up by the time we reach the ascent. The descent is very technical. Even those who reach the summit with the leading group could get dropped and have trouble getting back on", warns the Fortuneo rider as he meticulously goes through the decisive parts of the stage.
The stage win, overall victory, podium spots… There will be many things at stake as the peloton hits the 16 km Col de la Couillole. "It'll be a tough sequence because there's just two or three kilometres of flat in between", continues Bouet. "It's a very consistent climb, but I think the first part is harder: the road is rather narrow and the asphalt doesn't provide much traction. It reminds me of Montagne de Lure, where we raced in 2009 and 2013. However, this time round, I think it could be a good idea to attack from Col Saint-Martin, either to fight for the stage win or to help a teammate towards the end. I could easily end up in this situation, for example, to support Arnold Jeannesson. This stage suits him to a T".

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