Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Pair of giants

The summit of Australia's highest peak, Mount Kosciuszko, is 2,228 meters above sea level. In today's stage of the Tour de France, the riders will tackle two giants, both of which are considerably higher than Kosciuszko: the Col de l'Iseran [2,770 meters] and the Col du Galibier [2,645 meters]. For Tour aficionados, the vision of these two Alpine passes is awesome. In the course of stages like the one that is about to start this morning, the concept of the Tour is elevated to mythical summits. Everybody knows already that there will be glory for a small elite—whose identities are still unknown—and suffering for many others. Here's a photo of the approach of the Iseran:

And here's a chart indicating the slopes from Val d'Isère up along the 17 kilometers leading to the summit of the Iseran:

In Tour de France terminology, slopes are classified into numerical categories, indicating their severity. But summits such as the Iseran and the Galibier are indicated as HC, hors catégorie (outside the categories): that's to say, so steep that they're well beyond the upper limits of the existing categories. That terminology reminds me of the alleged system of counting employed by Australian Aborigines: one, two, three, many.

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