Just 146km with plenty of mountains and a summit finish. It’s all live on TV including the cruel start up the Collet du Tamié.
Stage 18 Wrap: Chris Froome arrived last and finished first. There were time gaps between the other GC contenders as they jostle for the podium but the top-6 overall was unchanged. Chris Froome used his TT bike and stayed in his tri-bar tuck almost all the way to put 1m21s into Bauke Mollema. The race for the podium is hotting up, there are now five riders within 68 seconds. Surprise of the day was Fabio Aru who, having spent the whole season Missing in Action, finished third. Some were wondering why Astana got to work on the previous stage and the final climb to the Emosson dam and the answer is simple: Operation Top 10 Gain. Aru is climbing his way up the GC and if Astana don’t look took too scary for Team Sky they can help the Sardinian rise up the rankings.
The Route: 146km and 4,100m of vertical gain to “St. Gervais Mont Blanc”, another Tour misnomer as the finish is in Le Bettex high above St. Gervais and a 15km flight away from the flanks of Mont Blanc, the finish merely offers great views of Western Europe’s highest peak when the weather is good.
Albertville will be humming to the sound of riders warming up given there’s only a brief neutral start before the uphill start via the Collet de Tamié, 7.4km at 7.6% on a rasping road that twists its way up the mountainside via several hairpins. The pass is asymmetric, a snaking, vertical climb on the way up but then a plateau with a longer, straighter and more gentle descent down the other side with few technical obstacles.
They’ll speed past the intermediate sprint in Doussard to reach the opal shores of Lake Annecy and a flat approach to Talloires and start the Col de la Forclaz de Montmin. In total 10km at 7.7km with a gentler start and some flat sections along the way but this is just storing up trouble for later and the final 3km are a steep 11% to the pass. The descent has a quick drop before a flat passage then the race drops downhill via a gorge and back to the valley.
Then comes a flat valley section of 11km to the industrial town of Ugine where they ride around the metal works and begin the Col de la Forclaz de Queige, 5.6km at 7.8% and with some steep, irregular sections. It’s a unusual for the Tour to use such a small road. The descent begins well, some fresh blacktop and then it goes back to normal with awkward hairpins with cracks in the road where grass grows; nothing wild but it’s a backroad rather than a highway as they drop into the Doron valley and begin a drag up to the start of the next climb.
The Montée de Bisanne is 12.4km at 8.2% and a hard climb on south-facing slope which adds to the heat. It’s regular and at first snakes up past Alpine pastures where the prized Beaufort cheese comes from. It’s scenic but not stunning, a workplace rather than the stuff of postcards. The upper slopes are the steepest and the scenery fades amid the small ski resort of Bisanne 1500 before an open section up to the top of the pass. A small descent awaits as they cross over to the Les Saisies and begin a 14km descent with some high speed sections before an 8km false flat section up to Megève and then they take much of yesterday’s time trial course backwards to descend to the valley floor and 3km along the flat.
The Finish: a ski station summit finish but they take a short cut. It’s new to the Tour but was used in the 2015 Critérium du Dauphiné and was where yellow jersey wearer Vincenzo Nibali cracked early and Chris Froome was paced by Wout Poels to the stage win although today’s route is slightly different. Instead of the main road via St. Gervais the race turns right up the mountain side via the hamlet of Les Amerands and there’s almost 3km at 12% and the hardest thing is the irregularity of the road, it rears up and levels out then it kicks up again, all while twisting in places too and there are ramps at 15%.
Once the steep part is over they join a bigger road with some fast sections where it suits a group rather than a lone ride even if the majority of the road is uphill and hard and the road rises to the line.
The Scenario: can a breakaway stay away? Yes but if 20 riders barge clear then only a few will survive the ensuing chase given this is a short and explosive stage. The start will be savage as anyone with any energy left who is not a thunder-thighed sprinter knows it’s today or tomorrow to win a stage or even just crack the top-10 so expect a fierce contest to go clear up the first climb and Team Sky to filter the moves. Anyone who goes go in the break has to be a climber to win but others will still take their chances.
The Contenders: Chris Froome won here in 2015 (pictured) after Wout Poels paced him and he ditched Tejay van Garderen late on the last climb. He says he doesn’t want to win any more stages but why turn down the opportunity? Maybe he can set up a team mate, Wout Poels or another depending on their helper rotation policy.
Richie Porte needs to attack to climb onto the podium, he’s sixth overall and has to pick off his rivals with more than a late surge. He can do this on the final climb where Bauke Mollema might find the early slopes severe and there’s a time bonus waiting at the finish line.
Fabio Aru re-emerged yesterday with a surprise third place and if we’ve rediscovered the 2015 vintage then here is a course to suit the explosive climber with a mouth like a basking shark. Still it’s obvious he wants to move up the overall classification and if Team Sky don’t mind others will.
Everyone’s buried Nairo Quintana but the cooler conditions might suit him today. When he finished the stage two days ago it look him close to 90 minutes to provide a urine sample for the anti-doping control, a sign of massive dehydration and a rookie error. It’s still hard to see him winning but he could beat the downgraded expectations.
It’s not game over for Dan Martin either, he attacked on the summit finish two days ago could use his sprint. Similarly Adam Yates and Romain Bardet can jump well and a stage win is just possible if the stars align.
The two breakaway picks are Rafał Majka and Ilnur Zakarin again, both are climbing very well and you tend to see the same faces in the moves in the final week. Let’s add Alexis Vuillermoz to the list too but he could be on Bardet-duty too.
|Richie Porte, Chris Froome|
|Ilnur Zakarin, Rafał Majka|
|Aru, Yates, Vuillermoz, Quintana|
Weather: heavy rain before the start clearing to give sunshine and clouds with a top temperature of 24°C in the valleys. There is a strong chance of thunderstorms and hail along the way.
TV: live on TV from the start to the finish. The start is at 12.55pm and the finish is forecast for 5.20pm Euro time.