Tour de France Stage 18 Preview

The final mountain stage of the Tour de France and a great way to end given the short distance, the mighty Col du Tourmalet and then the road to Hautacam, one of the hardest climbs in the Pyrenees.

Stage 17 Wrap
A fierce start with 55km/h average for the first 15 minutes and 50km covered in the first hour. Over the first climb some riders jumped across from the bunch to the breakaway including Vasil Kiryienka who did what he does best and just rode so hard that he went clear. FDJ have nicknamed their scooter “Vasil” because they use it to train riders to sit tight on the back for a long high intensity session, the same as sitting in the front group when Kiryienka gets to work for Sky. But FDJ’s coach Fred Grappe is also persuaded that Sky are pushing their riders so (too) hard that they’re heading for burn out. Yes or no, Kiryienka faded on the the Col d’Azet and was caught. The larger group included Rafał Majka in his polka dot jersey although be looked tired in the first half of the stage… …and reversed this on the final climb where he started with a deficit on several riders and sailed past them. The last rider he caught was Giovanni Visconti, the Italian had attacked earlier but it seemed like bravado and the longer the climb went on the more he was churning the gears. Majka caught him and the two briefly worked together but the Pole attacked and rode away for the stage win. He’s climbing so well you wonder if he really wants to be on a team in the service of Alberto Contador. Presumably he can take his chances elsewhere during the season.

Further back and the GC contenders sat tight until the last climb. Thibaut Pinot was the first to attack but he was countered by Jean-Christophe Péraud and in time Vincenzo Nibali and Jean-“Limpet” Péraud rode away although the Frenchman did share some of the work. Behind Valverde was initially dropped but thanks to team support was paced back and even found the energy for a “shotgun” finish, bursting past Thibaut Pinot to steal a few seconds. Péraud might be France’s third man but the likeable rider is fourth overall and the best option for a French podium finish. But each time we do the numbers something happens the next day.

The Route

  • Km 28.0 – Côte de Bénéjacq, 2.6 kilometre-long climb at 6.7% – category 3
  • Km 56.0 – Côte de Loucrup, 2 kilometre-long climb at 7% – category 3
  • Km 95.5 – Col du Tourmalet (2 115 m) Souvenir Jacques Goddet, 17.1 kilometre-long climb at 7.3% – category H
  • Km 145.5 – Montée du Hautacam (1 520 m), 13.6 kilometre-long climb at 7.8% – category H

Another day and another stage that’s shorter than many U-23 races. But all the better as it makes it more lively and you don’t need much more during the third week of a grand tour. There are two climbs along the way but the early part of the stage is relatively flat. Whatever the Côte de Bénéjacq and the Côte de Loucrup can offer the valley road to St Marie de Campan offers more. The approach to the Tourmalet is a hard ride with some climbing just to get to the foot of the pass.

Col du Tourmalet profile

The Tourmalet starts easily enough, the road to Gripp is gentle and creates a false illusion of comfort. But from here the road rises up and the road climbs via a series of long ramps. This is arguably the uglier side but it’s equally hard as the stiff slopes attest. The further on it goes the harder it gets with double-digit gradients as the race climbs through the resort of La Mongie. The descent is fast and if there’s nothing wild there are several risky points on the way down.

Once the race reaches Luz the descent ends and the race takes a larger valley road. The profile makes it look like a long freewheel but this isn’t the case at all, it’s a slow descent to the foot of the final climb.

The Finish: a gentle and even genteel start as the race climbs out of Ayros on a wide road. It’s hard but steady at the start but after a right turn and a funnel section through a narrow road the climb becomes more wild. Onwards and if the black slopes look bad, they’re actually worse with 15% gradients in places. The final five kilometres are high selective and it’s uphill all the way to the line.

The Scenario: rinse and repeat? This is another short mountain stage. But unlike yesterday it’s just got two climbs, the giant Tourmalet and the tough finish. I think we’re likely to see a breakaway go clear early and the GC contenders save themselves for the final climb. Any move on the Tourmalet is too bold with the long descent and valley section before the final climb.

The Contenders: a tough day for Rafał Majka. He leads the mountains competition but the final climb offers 50 points to the winner. Does he try and infiltrate the early move to get points on the Tourmalet or save himself for the double-points bonanza at the end? Mikel Nieve was very fast on the final climb yesterday. But there were no prizes for that and today’s his last chance. The same for Pierre Rolland, Joaquim Rodriguez, Nicolas Roche and José Serpa. Alessandro de Marchi has been strong but I don’t think he’s punchy enough for the stage win.

Among the GC candiates, Vincenzo Nibali sits above all the rest. Did Thibaut Pinot have an off day yesterday? If so then he could recover for today. Romain Bardet prefers irregular climbs and there’s nothing more uneven than Hautacam.

Vincenzo Nibali
Mikel Nieve, Thibaut Pinot
Rafał Majka, Nicolas Roche
Pierre Rolland, Brice Feillu

Weather: cooler and the further the race goes the more likely it is to rain. The Tourmalet and Hautacam could be in the clouds.

TV: live from start to finish, 1.15pm Euro time to 5.30pm.

65 thoughts on “Tour de France Stage 18 Preview”

    • An outside one, he’s been doing well but can’t go too far up the road because others will chase him to defend their top-10 positions and he’s simply not been climbing fast enough to outride the others if he comes to the foot of Hautacam with the others.

      • Well he better leave and join Orica then, I heard their attempts to grab Wiggins/Kelderman etc haven’t gone well 🙂

        Seriously though, but for the Kreuziger passport issue Majka would probably have also ridden the Vuelta, and while originally it would have been as a domistique for Contador, as we’ve seen with this year’s Tour especially, opportunities often come in unexpected places. Plus of course he has age on his side, Contador probably only has another two or three years as a serious GC contender and Oleg Tinkoff has a fat chequebook and is willing to pony up for successful riders, so I think Majka is in a pretty good position overall.

        • Wiggins to OGE, was nothing other than “negotiating games” to force the (sky) “hand that fed”.
          Similar to OGE having Yates brothers under contract until end of 2015, you can bet Brailsford will be sniffing their chamois, to add them to Pinot….

      • Winning King of the Mountains isn’t historically a qualification to becoming a contender for the classifications. Very few in the last 25 years or more have been successful in that respect. Not Virenque, not Voeckler, Soler, Sanchez etc etc. When Jalabert won it twice, his career was slowing Down. Majka still has a LOT to learn before he can start looking for the yellow jersey but of course he will want to try. He may leave Tinkoff to do so, but it’d be a big mistake. No one is better suited for teaching Young riders to evolve than Riis.

  1. Maybe it’s just the fact that he won in polka dots but Majka style reminds me of Rasmussen..I also can’t stop thinking of what would we see if Contador was in the race, Tinkoff is so strong!!

    I hope GC contenders provide something different today than the same story in all the MTF’s. In theory both Valverde and Pinot need at least another minute over Peraud.

    The best GC team though this year seems to be AG2R, both in the Giro and the Tour being quite prominent and with their star rider missing…

    • Yes, Peraud is only 8 seconds off the pace of Pinot but 42 seconds behind Valverde; but as INRNG pointed out, Peraud is the best Time Trialist in the Top 10 (I believe that’s what you said). Barring any crashes, mechanicals, etc., Peraud has a good chance of finishing on the podium if he can gain time on Valverde today and in the ITT. I think Peraud will have more support than Valverde to support him in the climbs today.

      Valverde barely hung on to his 2nd place, but who knows what his legs will bring today. As Spanish National TT Champion, Saturday’s ITT will be very revealing, as the GC contenders are all good TT.

      I would like to see Pinot knock Valverde off the podium in Paris, and two Frenchmen surround Nibali – Pinot and Peraud.

      • The interesting element of yesterday’s stage, was that Movistar, fid all the right things, for an all out effort from the “Spanish Juice Master”….

        2 up the road, 2 with him, and, erm, ah, ooh, nothing.
        He just sat there.
        Either, he knew he was on a hiding and hanging, or he talked the team talk, and had absolutely zero.

        Didn’t add up, 3rd day in Pyrenees, and he better come out firing, but it won’t happen.
        He’s going out the arse end of that Tour podium, quicker than it takes to infuse 800ml 🙂

  2. The Tinkov team played it cleverly. Majka was sitting in the breakaway bunch until he got the message that Roche, who had attacked some time earlier with Visconti, was fading and needed help. Majka immediately accelerated hard and dropped all his breakaway buddies and quickly rode up to Roche. Then Roche used all the energy he had left riding for Majka who thanked for the help and took home a beautiful win. It sure looks like Tinkov team is having a ball without Contador.

    • I have a half-baked (probably not even that well cooked) theory that Il Pistolero’s going to Alonso’s deal next season and Tinkov/Riis already know it so they don’t care much that he’s out of LeTour.

    • Just when Frank Schleck shows some signs of having his legs, he gets dropped off the back. He isn’t riding well this Tour compared to past Tours when he was strong in the mountains. Since his return after the doping charge, he has not been the same rider. Also, when the brothers Schleck aren’t riding together in a race, they seem to perform poorly. Poor Andy, never will get his TDF win aside from when Contador was stripped of his Tour win. Doping, team changes/problems, injuries have all taken their toll on these two it seems…wonder if they’ll ever make it back?

      If you were kidding about Schleck, then I just posted what you already knew.

  3. I would have thought Majka’s best bet is going to be to get in the break if he can and take the “win” on the Tourmalet. If he does this then he only needs to cross the summit first or second to win the polka dot jersey assuming that Purito doesn’t win both summits. If he waits in the peloton and tries to take points on the final summit he would have to finish sixth or better behind a Nibali win to keep the KOM jersey. Surely the first option is more reliable option.

  4. A thought; would it be an idea to test for the presence plasticizer in the days after grand tours rest days?
    While not a banded substance itself, such test cloud be seen as a marker as to which teams/riders may have re-infused highly oxygenated blood that could have naturally created while training at altitude prior to the grand tour.

    • They do test for this.

      As for “which teams”, it’s hard to imagine 9 riders lined up “doing bags” like the old days. Certainly we’re not seeing whole teams riding like they used to either.

  5. Yesterday’s stage must give more support to the call for shorter, more intense stages – it was full gas from Km0, groups and individuals spread across the road, various team tactics at work, attacks uphill and downhill. And all in a neat, made-for-tv, 3 1/2-hour package. No waiting for the racing to start and everyone in the mix (or out the back and stressing to finish in time).

    • Agree with you KB and Inrng, there is no need for epic stages to make things exciting especially in the third week. Managed to see the flag drop yesterday and it was action from the start, Great stuff.

        • The very long Giro queen stages in 2011 and 2012 saw podium riders attack far from the finish. Yesterday we just had Bardet on the descent. I’d take the Galibier stage Andy won over any of the “intense” short stages. The day after saw Contador go crazy, but everything still came back together, and if Contador had been like any other normal rider, it’d have been a group ride for the contenders until Alpe.

          • Long stages under the blazing sun also favour other riders than short, explosive stages. It’s no wonder the long stage saw grizzled veterans like Voeckler and Rogers on the attack. Longer stages are more about endurance and tactical insight, whereas in the shorter stages it’s more about the W/kgs.

  6. Lot of thoughts about today’s stage result.

    Aside from the battle for 2-5th GC spots, the KoM prize being chased, one common denominator, has just been sitting and waiting, watching, Nibali.

    OGE/Sky/BMC/ all most likely to try, or appear to, but I’d say, Nibali is worth a bet, if he follows the action, and finishes it.

    Just a thought……

    • He had more than five minutes left, I heard. So I think he should be good for today, as the time cut will be similar with less climbing involved.

    • Kittel is doing enough to survive the stages.
      His eyes, are firmly on Paris Champs Elysées final stage.

      Kittell has been smart with effort and recovery.
      After his initial efforts and stages, he backed off, went into survival mode.

  7. I was betting on Majka yesterday and Voeckler the day before, so I haven’t been that far off recently, but for today, I am not so sure. I think it goes back to one of the GC competitors. Majka will be sore after yesterday and his lead is quite big, but if Nibali wins and Majka is not close, he might lose the jersey. So being first on the Tourmalet might give him the margin to preserve his jersey without having to go way past his limits on the Hautacam.

    Further, Pinot and Bardet have to be offensive, as their inferior time trial asks for a larger margin compared to Valverde and Peraud. But I can’t see anyone dropping Nibali, and he will want to finish the mountain stages on a high note. So he’s my pick for today.

    • Yes, Its standing out a little too much. I like his riding but the gap between him and the fie;d seems too much. Sad we have to be this cynical but the pro peloton brought this on themselves.

      • I wouldn’t judge someone by their riding style. Based on pedalling technique Richard Virenque was riding clean because he was struggling so much on the bike?

        Nibali’s just got a good poker face.

    • Not Really. If the stronger GC competitors were still in the Tour, then he would need to push himself. I am not surprised that he is having little problems vs Valverde, the French, etc. Nibali is at his prime (28?) while Valverde isis growing old and the French are not yet mature. Also, he has made no super-human attacks. He briefly surges, settles into a tempo and the others do not respond (except Peraud).

      • What is more, it’s a typical situation with “inertial advantage”.
        In the previous two stage Nibali’s competitors where killing themselves with top efforts, while he, being – a lot… or even slightly – superior, didn’t ever need to go deep (Pinot leaving him some meters behind on Port de Balès, Nibali “unable” to get away from Peraud’s clinch on his back wheel…).
        In a stage race, that means huge advantage in the third consecutive mountain stage, magnifying the (existing) differences.
        Nibali took a very strong position with the pavé stage and the first mountain stages. It was a kind of samurai strike-first-and-win-all battle.

  8. Love the Tour, but I am left wondering about the supernatural abilities of Nibali, am I the only one suspicious of his sudden talent and looking fresh as a daisy after long climbs? Haven’t seen that in a few years, is there testing going on? I certainly hope so. By the way, he’s not the only one who looks a little too full of energy. I don’t want the Tour to be marred by more talk of “juice”, am I being unreasonable?

    • Would Nibali be winning by 7 minutes, would he even be in the lead for that matter, if Froome and Contador had managed to stay upright, if Quintana had raced?

      How much real pressure were the Astana team put under when Sky and Tinkoff no longer had any reason to put them under any pressure?

      Valverde has looked past his best, while a lot of the other GC contenders are “up and comers” who will improve over the next few years.

      I think Nibali just found himself in a super fortunate set of circumstances, where he was clearly the best rider in the race and he showed it.

    • I believe Nibali’s wattage output numbers are pretty “human” in this Tour, significantly below the superhuman stuff guys put up in the EPO era. (Not 100% sure about that though.)

    • If you’ve followed the career of Nibali, you’d see that he has not just found “sudden talent.” His
      palmares is quite impressive. I saw him climb one of the longest (race changing) climbs in the 2009 Tour of California, which typically passes through the county I live in. He was 25 years old then and riding for Liquigas (6 years with Liquigas). I commented to my friend how impressive he was as he solo-climbed that long, steep road, chasing the leader of the stage. I thought, this rider will one day win the TDF. Take a look at his palmares:

      Grand Tours
      Tour de France
      4 individual stages (2014)

      Giro d’Italia
      General classification (2013)
      4 individual stages (2010, 2011, 2013)
      1 TTT (2010)

      Vuelta a España
      General classification (2010)
      Combination classification (2010)
      1 TTT (2013)

      Stage races
      Tirreno–Adriatico (2012, 2013)
      Giro del Trentino (2008, 2013)
      Giro di Padania (2012)

      One-day races and Classics
      GP Ouest-France (2006)
      National Road Race Championship (2014)

      So, he has progressively gotten stronger, more experienced, won the Giro and the Vuelta, stage races and is now at a peak age (29) to win the TDF. This should be no surprise that he is doing this well. Whether Contador and Froome’s presence would have made a difference is an unknown, but it’s still a huge accomplishment to win the TDF, as it looks like he will. And he better be clean!

  9. So, I expect Péraud to finish ahead of Pinot due to his superior TT abilities, but does Pinot have a shot to hold off Valverde? I know he’s worked a lot on his TT – I’m hoping it pays off for him Saturday.

    • Pinot has indeed improved through hard work on his TT outcomes. Through winter and spring he continued to improve. In the Tour of Romandie he finished 9th. “I am pleased with my performance and I notice that I only lost six seconds to Tony Martin in the final flat and downhill section, ” he said…However, I did well in each of the tests that I have targeted so far: the Volta a Catalunya (to get back into racing after a knee injury) , the Tour of the Basque Country and the Tour de Romandie.” – CyclingQuotes, 04.05.2014

      “In this time trial, Thibaut did much better than I thought possible,” sports director Yvon Madiot said. “He beat some real specialists like Ludvigsson, Navardauskas, Dennis, Nibali, Fuglsang, Clement, Péraud and Talansky and so reached the objective of finishing in the top 10.”

      Pinot shows good legs still, while Valverde seems somewhat cooked on these last climbs.
      Who knows how tomorrow’s flat stage followed by the TT will affect Valverde? Will he have more fuel in the tank by Saturday to excel as a champion TT? My money is on Pinot beating the Spaniard. Movistar seems to be imploding.

  10. I realize it’s not a particularly strong field this year, my comment had more to do with how fresh he looks, especially in the mountains. Anonymous and Barodeur Billy made good points based on facts and I admit I’m going on merely a hunch.
    What’s the story on Cannondale and Garmin-Sharp maybe merging next year?

      • Yawn.
        Give a look around.
        At least Vinokourov was a great rider, not just a mediocre with license to dope (to dope themselves when they were riding and/or to dope their riders in the following years) as many managers – and doctors – in sooooo many present or *recent* team staffs.

        • Vino was a cheating dirty Ba*tard. I wouldn’t trust him to run a bath. Olympic champion my ar*e! Real shame Nibali has to be with such an outfit. Just my opinion of course.

          • That gold medal is so shiny! There’s Justice somewhere.

            So many of Vino’s victories weren’t due to doping, since they didn’t depend on sheer strength but on choosing the right moment, race tactics, bravery and so (corruption, if anything 😀 ).

            IMHO, you should always prefer a classy rider (who has everything to lose in a system of endemic cheating, like the French one in which he grew as a rider) to any – provisionally – uncaught “miracle of science” who not only is doping, but is also receiving protection from friend in high places… and, more than everything, wouldn’t be even riding at top level without doping, let aside winning.

            But anyone is free to choose the shade of gray he prefers…

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