The final mountain stage of the Tour de France and a very hard day out with a mix of high climbs, “hidden” ascents and then a tricky descent to the finish.
Démare-rage: a break of five riders and not the usual wildcard cannon fodder, two Paris-Roubaix winners, the bulk of Guillaume Van Keirsbulck and two former world champions in Luke Durbridge and Thomas Boudat. All kept on a tight leash but the breakaway also plays with the lead, they know they can’t ride away so better to hold something back and then try to brake the chasers later in the stage. Still it didn’t happen and we got the inevitable bunch sprint in Pau. Arnaud Démare got the perfect leadout from Jacopo Guarnieri and launched just at the right time to win. He drifted left across the road to leave Christophe Laporte frustrated in post-stage interviews but Cofidis didn’t appeal, Démare’s move wasn’t enough to trouble the commissaires.
Démare made a point of thanking André Greipel. The German had accused him of cheating in a since-deleted tweet, but before backpedalling The Gorilla got his timings wrong, comparing Démare to Quintana in his writing while sharing a screengrab of a time gap to Kangert instead; besides a Sporza journalist had spent the day in the broom wagon watching Démare who was last on the road and said he didn’t see anything untoward.
The Route: a start in Lourdes, the town you visit once to prove that you won’t return again. To explain, Lourdes thrives from religious pilgrimages but it’s not the sacred that’s off-putting, it’s the profane as shops compete to sell a gaudy mix of Christian memorabilia – how about an 80cm tall plastic Jesus with a lamp inside? – and this removes some of the charm of an otherwise well-located place next to the Pyrenees. It’s 30km to Bagnères-de-Bigorre and all on lumpy roads including the climb at Loucrup and then onto the first mountain pass of the day.
The Col d’Aspin is climbed via the harder side and 12km at 6.5% but with solid sections of 8% on the upper two thirds before easing a the top.
A quick descent and it’s straight onto the Tourmalet, 17km at 7.3% and one of the most famous climbs of the Tour and once past the introductory 5km the slope is often 9-10% to the top but all on a large road. The descent comes in two parts, first the drop down the mountain pass to Luz, then the valley section downhill to Argelès-Gazost.
New for 2018 is the Col des Bordères, a back road and harder than the roadbook says. It climbs straight out of Argelès-Gazost with a 7.5% slope for the best part of three kilometres and then a short descent to the start of the profile above, it’s an irregular climb of 8km to the top and all on a narrow rural road. Then a quick descent on a narrow road lined by drystone walls to Arrens. The Col du Soulor is next, a major climb in its own right but here it’s part of the Col d’Aubisque. Still it’s 7.5km at 8.1% and then the balcony road over the Col d’Aubisque whose last three kilometres are 7%.
The Finish: it’s a long, fast descent down the Aubisque, 20km and including several fast, technical sections. The road had been washed away by floods in June but has been rebuilt just in time for today’s stage. The descent ends with three kilometres to go. There’s a right hand bend after the flamme rouge which is wide and then it’s over a bridge before a left hand bend with 500m to go which is much tighter and clear run to the finish.
The Contenders: a good day for a breakaway, expect plenty of action early on as a third of the peloton knows this is there last chance for a stage win. Julian Alaphilippe (Quick Step) has almost secured the mountains jersey. He’s had two mountain stage wins so far but note they’ve been on shorter climbs, today could be out of reach. Still as we know if he’s dropped on the Aubisque he can always come back on the descent. Polka-dot rival Warren Barguil (Fortuneo-Samsic) is not chasing the jersey any more, it’s all about the stage win and he’s been sitting up to save himself for today but if he has a chance so do several others, there’s a crowded field with Rafał Majka (Bora-Hansgrohe), Mikel Nieve and Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott). Thomas de Gendt (Lotto-Soudal) has tried but not looked convincing, he could barge away but there are so many other climbers. Like Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo), the Izaguirre brothers and Domenico Pozzovivo (Bahrain-Merida).
Among the GC contenders Steven Kruijswijk (Lotto-Jumbo) managed a big raid in the Alps, he could try for the same this time and the final climbs make for a less linear effort to real him in. Primož Roglič can try to shake the tree as well but he can’t go for such a long raid and his sprint isn’t so good so maybe the stage win isn’t so easy?
Nairo Quintana (Movistar) crashed yesterday but as we saw two days ago he comes into form for the third week of the Tour and high altitude suits him too. Does he save it late for the Bordères-Soulor-Aubisque or do Movistar go big and try a move on the Tourmalet? Probably not, Alejandro Valverde can go for a swansong and the descent and flat finish is ideal for him.
Romain Bardet‘s entourage said he had a crise d’hypoglycémie on the Col du Portet, he bonked in plain English. If so then it was a nutritional hiccup but if you crack like this you tend to implode and lose a lot of time, he limited his losses. If you crack like this you can often rebound soon after so if he did then he’s in with a good chance today and has room to go clear now.
Will Chris Froome (Team Sky) go wild and launch a long range move like the Giro? The course suits but it’s not a regular thing, but maybe he’s more suited to a long grind today even if he cracked in the intense stage two days ago.More realistically team mate Geraint Thomas has a good chance, to mark his rivals and then use his jump in the flat finish.
Lastly Dan Martin (UAE-Emirates) is a good choice, able to jump away on the climbs and not a direct threat on GC. If Quintana out-climbed him he packs a decent sprint from a small group.
|Alaphilippe, Nieve, Majka, Yates, Dan Martin|
|Barguil, Quintana, Thomas, Valverde, Bardet|
Weather: warm and sunny but not as hot as yesterday, 28°C in the valleys
TV: live from the start at 12.05pm CEST with the finish forecast for 5.50pm CEST.