A flat day should mean a sprint stage but with few sprinters left in the race and the remaining ones worried they’ll get smoked by Mark Cavendish today could see a breakaway stick.
Stage 18 Review: with the tufts of hair sticking out of his helmet, Tadej Pogačar looks like a boy on a ride to visit his grandmother. With the repeat attacks and stage wins in the yellow jersey he looks like a mini-Merckx or Hinault. Time will tell what rider he’ll become but given he’s still eligible to ride the U23 category in the Worlds this September, he’s got plenty of time and telling ahead. Still, his win for the second day was a close one rather than something you could wager on an hour before the event. Today’s stage starts in Mourenx (see below) and if Pogi is a cannibal it’s nouvelle cuisine, sniping Vingegaard and Carapaz in the final moments of the stage rather than roasting them over an open fire or boiling them alive in a cauldron. Beyond the trio, who are The Trio as in the podium, Rigoberto Uran cracked on the Tourmalet and lost 9 minutes, falling to tenth overall. David Gaudu put up the biggest fight but he was too strong on the Tourmalet, he dropped Julian Alaphilippe and only had Pierre Latour for company on the descent for the first two hairpins and went alone, he might have regretted this given the way Enric Mas was briefly troubling our Trio in the final kilometre.
The Route: 207km and away from the Pyrenees. There’s a hilly start but gentle rollers and with the Pyrenees in legs will almost feel flat. Then the course flattens out and passes the flat Landes pine forest on many long, flat and featureless roads before emerging later for the vineyards around the Garonne river and the crossing over to Libourne.
The Finish: a dragstrip of a finish, even the bridge over the Dordogne before the flamme rouge is flat.
The Contenders: who is Mark Cavendish‘s biggest rival today, Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma), Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Fenix), Cees Bol (DSM)… or all the teams who have no hope of a sprint win today and know today is their last chance of a stage win? Deceuninck-Quickstep and Alpecin-Fenix have to control and chase today and that’s a tall order but if only a small group of riders from wildcard teams manage to go clear then it’ll be a long day before the inevitable sprint. Cavendish is the obvious pick but as we saw in Carcassonne the sprints are getting more ragged and he’s not winning by bike lengths like old.
For a breakaway Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo) is the archetypal rider, a finisseur who is powerful on the flat, he could go solo late into the stage or clean up from a small group. Think Nils Politt (Bora-Hansgrohe) and maybe Kasper Asgreen (Deceuninck-Quickstep) who can hitch a ride and sit on citing his sprinter. Michał Kwiatkowski (Ineos), Ivan Garcia Cortina (Movistar), Magnus Cort (EF-Nippo) and Oliver Naesen (Ag2r Citroën) fit the bill as riders who could win from a move.
|Wout van Aert
|Bol, Philipsen, Asgreen, Stuyven, Politt, Naesen, Kwiatkowski, Cort, IGC
Weather: sunshine and a top temperature of 26°C.
TV: the start is at 12.20pm and finish is forecast for 5.25pm CEST. Tune in to see the early action and if things calm down once a break goes then come back for the finish.
Off on a tangent: the start in Mourenx rhymes with the 1969 Tour de France and Eddy Merckx’s stage win from Luchon to Mourenx. That morning he was leading the Tour by eight minutes and untroubled. But he attacked, went solo almost accidentally and followed through to double his lead overall. Some of this was down to a stand-off behind over who should chase but that’s petty details. He’d been winning plenty before but this was both a masterpiece and a signature raid, a demonstration of his cannibal appetite.
For non-cyclists Mourenx is probably more famous in France because of the Lacq gas field underneath and the new town built in 1949 for the swelling population. It’s hardly Texas but that’s the point, the town is an example of French planning rather than a wildcat growth. The gaz stopped in 2013 and the “new town” looks pretty old now but contributed to plenty, French corporate giants Sanofi and Total were built on the resources underground and of course Total now has its own team in the race.