Tour de France stage 18: Alpe d’Huez awaits

With the peloton facing the mighty and mythical climb up to Alpe d'Huez, not just once but twice on Thursday, stage 18 looks set to be the most dramatic day of racing in the Tour de France so far. See the video preview.

Tour de France stage 18: Alpe d'Huez awaits
One of the hairpin bends on the mythical Alpe d'Huez. Jean-Pierre Clatot/AFP


With two climbs of the mighty Alpe d'Huez in store, Thursday's 18th stage of the Tour de France has all the makings of an epic, as long as the weather is not too unkind.

The 172.5-kilometre ride from Gap north to the finish 1,850 metres up is the Queen stage of this year's Tour, with three category-two climbs lying in wait as well as the double ascent of what is one of the most famous mountains in the history of the race.

The first climb starts in Bourg d'Oisans and takes the peloton all the way up the 21 bends of the road to the summit, each one with a plaque containing the name of a former stage winner on the mountain.

However, instead of going all the way to the top, the riders will turn off early for a short descent before taking on a climb that has never featured in the Tour before, the category two Col de Sarenne.

Its summit is at just under 2,000 metres, but it is the hair-raising downhill section rather than the climb here which will have kept riders awake on Wednesday night.

As long as they survive that, they will go all the way up the Alpe this time, all 13.8km at an average gradient of 8.1 percent.

All of this will be played out to a backdrop of hundreds of thousands of fans who will line the road up the mountain, including huge numbers of Dutch, who always flock here when the Tour passes, thanks in large part to the country's proud tradition of success on the climb.

Three riders from the Netherlands have won on L'Alpe d'Huez twice, including Joop Zoetemelk, the last Dutchman to win the yellow jersey back in 1980.

On this occasion the Tour is Chris Froome's to lose, and he will be dreaming of recording a fourth stage win so far, while Alberto Contador tries desperately to close the gap.

However, race organisers will be desperately hoping that the weather does not put a spanner in the works – storms are forecast throughout the day in the French Alps and there have been rumours that the second climb of the Alpe may have to be cancelled.

(See a video review of the stage courtesy of Global Cycling Network)

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Swiss army trains for French invasion

A bankrupt France tears itself apart into several regions, and one of them marches over the border to Switzerland to get back its stolen money. The Swiss army has this imaginary scenario covered, according to military simulations revealed over the weekend.

Swiss army trains for French invasion
"Operation Duplex-Barbara": Defend Switzerland and its stolen money from a breakaway French invasion. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP

Switzerland's army simulated a French attack against their country in training exercises in August, the newspaper Matin Dimanche revealed on Sunday.

The army imagined a scenario in which France was in financial turmoil and had split up into several regional entities.

One of these, “Saônia,” was preparing attacks on Switzerland to retrieve money it had apparently stolen from it.

Operation “Duplex-Barbara” was practiced at the end of August, according to the Swiss daily, and essentially involves the (existing) Jura region of eastern France breaking away from the rest of the country.

“Saônia” then launches the invasion across the Swiss border, with a pro-Saônian government paramilitary group, the BLD (Brigade Libre de Dijon) going “in search of the money Switzerland stole from Saônia,” according to Matin Dimanche.

IN PICTURES: France in the future – what could change

“The exercise has strictly nothing to do with France,” said Daniel Berger, captain of the Swiss armoured brigade.

“It was prepared in 2012 when fiscal relations between both countries were less tense,” he added.

SEE ALSO: French rush over the border to Switzerland – to escape tax hunt

Switzerland is famed for its bank secrecy laws, which critics say have enabled many clients to shield their wealth from the scrutiny of tax inspectors back home.

But these once sacrosanct laws are slowly being eroded as France and other countries such as the United States step up their fight against tax evasion in a troubled economic climate.

SEE ALSO: Swiss recruiters boycott “lazy and arrogant” French workers

In 2012 the Swiss army had imagined a different scenario: one in which they were faced with an influx of refugees after the euro currency had crashed and provoked social chaos in Europe.

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