A massive day in the Alps, today’s stage is harder than tomorrow’s dash to Alpe d’Huez as it’s got more climbs and more technical descents with no time for a breather before the underrated climb to La Touissuire.
It’s live on TV from start to finish.
Stage 18 Review: we’re getting two races for the price of one with a breakaway battle for the stage and a contest behind in the yellow jersey. All the better because the overall contenders are marking each other and defending their positions. The day’s breakaway was being chased by Giant-Alpecin and Trek Factory Racing despite both teams having men up the road, they didn’t want to reel the move in but to limit its lead to defend Warren Barguil and Bauke Mollema’s top-10 positions.
Up ahead things were much more aggressive. Romain Bardet made the day’s breakaway and the move kept shrinking on the way to the Col du Glandon. The Ag2r rider attacked over the top of the pass and exploited the descent to take 40 seconds lead on a group of 10 riders. Bardet isn’t great in a contre la montre but this was a race contre la monstre as he battled the demons of a bad opening week and, in the words of his own team manager Vincent Lavenu, the day when he was “game” for Stephen Cummings the “hunter”. Talking of hunting it’s been a Tour that rewards the bold stage hunters and if we include Van Avermaet and Sagan riding away in Rodez and Rodriguez in Huy then Bardet’s win marks the ninth stage won by an attack.
It makes you think: is it worth the likes of Vincenzo Nibali riding around finish seventh overall? What if he sat up, had an ice cream by the road and surrendered 20 minutes on purpose. No longer a danger overall to Froome nor Gesink he’d be allowed to in the breakaways and probably has the legs to win a stage.
- Km 15.5 – Col du Chaussy (1 533 m) (D77-VC), 15.4 kilometre-long climb at 6.3% – category 1
- Km 83.0 – Col de la Croix de Fer (2 067 m), 22.4 kilometre-long climb at 6.9% – category H
- Km 103.0 – Col du Mollard (1 638 m), 5.7 kilometre-long climb at 6.8% – category 2
- Km 138.0 – La Toussuire (1 705 m), 18 kilometre-long climb at 6.1% – category 1
The Route: some stages have had uphill starts but today opens with a first category mountain pass. It’s 15.4km long at 6.3%, hard enough but this is flattered by a downhill section before Montvernier meaning much of it is steeper with 8-10% a lot of the way and at times on a road not much wider than a car. So if anyone wants to go clear here they have to be near the front to start with. The descent is narrow before it picks up the wide ribbon of the Col de la Madelaine to drop back down to the valley.
The race then rides down the valley for an intermediate sprint and then back up and the road is never flat as it heads to the Col du Glandon and then the Croix de Fer. The Glandon start is easy and on a regular road, it’s the top third that’s the hard part with 9-10% at times before a brief drop and then the climb to the Croix de Fer, almost a big ring sprint for the HC mountain points with a gradient of 5-6%. The descent is fine before turning off for the Col du Mollard 5.7km at 6.8% and with some steeper sections before the small ski village. The descent starts easy enough but then turns on a side road for a shaded, gravelly descent with some tight turns on the way to St Jean de Maurienne… today’s start town.
The Finish: the climb to La Toussuire has yet to enter the pantheon of mountain climbs, largely because the Tour has only visited twice but also because it’s a dead end and, as impolite as it may be to point this out on the day the town has paid for the Tour to visit, it’s ugly. But it makes for a fine test today with steep roads from the start. As the profile shows the road is steep from the start as it climbs out of the valley but the profile doesn’t show how irregular the climb is with flat then steep parts. That green flat bit above? There’s actually a downhill section. From there it rears up and levels out a few more times before the 3km to go point in the ski city of Le Corbier where the slope starts to level out.
The Contenders: when Chris Froome race here last time in the Tour de France he wanted to ride away for the stage win in La Toussuire but team orders told him to pace Bradley Wiggins. Now he’s the one giving the orders. He’s been the strongest in the race and is backed by the strongest team in the race. Nairo Quintana is the other obvious choice, the Colombian has been testing Chris Froome and we’ll see what he tries today, it’s just possible he goes for a long raid but more likely he sits tight and tries for the stage win and with it a chance to take a few seconds. The climb to La Touissuire is long and the flattening slopes near the top make it better to attack on the steeper parts with at least 5km to go.
Both Alberto Contador and Vincenzo Nibali are attacking but their moves have been closely marked and if Contador tries for the stage win then Nibali might chase because he wants the glory and so they cancel each other out. Alejandro Valverde was in trouble on the Glandon yesterday, a short term problem or a real sign of fatigue? If it was just a missing energy gel then he can still deploy that sprint, especially if the lead riders end up cancelling each other out like on the Plateau de Beille.
Can a breakaway stay away? Sky won’t want to chase too hard from the start and there’s only Movistar to share the controlling duties. Thibaut Pinot could try again but he paid for his efforts two days ago in yesterday’s stage and could sit out today’s racing to be stronger tomorrow, ditto Pierre Rolland who fought hard for second place yesterday. Otherwise look to Rigoberto Uran, Wilco Kelderman, Simon Yates or Rafal Majka for strong riders in the third week who have been climbing well but missed the move yesterday.
|Nairo Quintana, Chris Froome|
|Majka, Uran, Valverde, Thomas, Contador, Nibali|
Weather: hot and sunny with 33˚C in the valley and a mild 18˚C at altitude.
TV: live from start to finish with the arrival expect at 5.45pm.