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Etape 4 – 107km

 

3 major climbs are on the route today – the Col de Peyresourde (1,569m), Col de Menté (1,349m) and the Portet d’Aspet (1,069m) – and each one is very different.

We start a steady climb as we leave Arreau with the climb of the Col de Peyresourde starting 8km before the summit. The climb was first used in the Tour in 1910 and guess who was first over the summit? Yep Octave again! Other famous riders to reach the summit first were Fausto Coppi (1951), Lucien Van  Impe (1971 and 1972), Bernard Hinault (1979, 1981 and 1986), Robert Millar(1983 and 1989) and Tommy Voeckler (2012).

At the summit we leave the Hautes-Pyrenees and enter the Haute-Garonne. The descent is 16km long, fast and straight into Bagnères de Luchon. After that we climb the twisting and turning Col de Menté. The climb is 9km long with an average gradient of 9%. It was first used in the Tour in 1966 and the first rider over the summit was Joaquim Galera. Since then it has been used in the Tour 17 times most famously in 1971…

On stage 14 that year Spanish cyclist Luis Ocaña was in the Maillot Jaune with an overall lead of 7 minutes on Eddy Merckx and they crossed the summit of the Col de Menté together in a storm, with streams of mud running across the road. Merckx, an excellent descender, attacked as he descended dangerously down the mountain road. To stay in contact with Merckx, Ocaña took risks descending. Flying through the corners, Merckx lost control and skidded into a low retaining wall at the side of the road. Ocaña trailing close behind could not avoid the fallen Merckx and fell himself. Merckx was up quickly and sped away. Ocaña struggled to release his cleats from the toe clips and was struck by the pursuing Joop Zoetemelk. Help arrived quickly and Ocaña was rushed by helicopter to the hospital in St. Gaudens. He recovered from his injuries, but his 1971 Tour dreams had come to an end. The following day Merckx refused to wear the Yellow Jersey in order to pay tribute to Ocaña. There is now a memorial plaque at the scene of the accident on the eastern side of the Col de Menté.

Our final climb of the day is the 4.4km ascent of the Col de Portet d’Aspet which is short and steep! Sections of the climb are 14% near to the start but it does get a little less steep after that. The climb was first used in 1910 on that infamous stage and the (now) legendary Octave Lapize was the first over the summit.

 

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