Tour de France Stage 18 Preview

The last day in the Pyrenees and the last mountain stage. Can Jonas Vingegaard get a stage win in the yellow jersey, can Simon Geschke take points to keep the Dane at bay in the mountains competition?

Score draw: no breakaway could get clear on the plains, it wasn’t for the want of trying. Just as some teams have sprint trains, others were deploying several riders to help launch a rider into the breakaway with one rider acting as a leadout/battering ram before their climber made their move; another rider deployed to help the move go away. It was so intense but nobody could move. On the Col d’Aspin Thibaut Pinot and Alexey Lutsenko attacked to build a slender lead, it was hard to take time on a yellow jersey group that was racing hard. The stage felt it was being run around the side of a volcano and that suddenly the seismographs could start shaking, at any minute things could erupt.

Pinot and Lutsenko were reeled in by a chase group. Andreas Leknessund and Rigoberto Uràn had a brief spell on the front but they led by seconds as the Tadej Pogačar-Jonas Vingegaard group bore down. The inseparable pair were using up their remaining team mates fast, with Vingegaard by himself from the Col d’Azet onwards. Pogačar had McNulty left.

McNulty kept pulling, pulling and pulling. Vingegaard probably couldn’t go around but he didn’t need to. He just had to mark Pogačar all day. Pogačar accelerated over the top of the Col d’Azet but Vingegaard followed and the Slovenian eased up. McNulty only pulled over in the final kilometre to leave the pair to duel on the steep airstrip in Peyragudes, and it was La Planche des Belles Filles again as Vingegaard got the jump but was overhauled on the line by Pogačar. The day ended in a draw, Pogačar gaining four seconds in time bonuses but crucially he was going for the stage win, not the yellow jersey. The threatened eruption didn’t quite happen, this wasn’t a fire and brimstone stage, Pogačar took what he could and we’ll see what today brings.

Riders were scattered all over the mountain but it just entrenched the hierarchy as time gaps widened, Geraint Thomas started the day in third overall at 2m43s, he finished third overall at 4m56s. Romain Bardet was the GC gainer of the day, rising from ninth to sixth overall but as things stand Aleksandr Vlasov will beat him in the time trial so he’s seventh overall but we’ll see what he can do today. Finally Fabio Jakobsen came in last and with seconds to spare, his team mates standing on the line to roar him on as he sprinted to the line to make it for another day.

The Route: 143km and 4,000m of vertical gain and, like yesterday, most of it’s condensed into the second half of the stage where it’s either up or down, there are no valley sections to recover and regroup. 4,000m is plenty on a traditional mountain stage, it’s tough across 140km, harder still when it’s backloaded in a stage, harsh when it’s deep into the third week of a grand tour.

The stage starts in Lourdes and after KM0, a narrow road and a spiky little climb before dropping back down to the outskirts of Lourdes to pick up the main road, a wide road alongside a railway. It’s main roads all the way to Laruns at the foot of the Aubisque.

The Col d’Aubisque is a giant climb because of its length and 16km at 7% makes it hard work. Over the top and there’s only a short descent at first before climbing back up to cross the Col du Soulor. Then it’s down the Soulor, a twisting road but with nothing nasty. The road just begins to flatten out when suddenly in Etchartès there’s a right turn.

The Col de Spandelles makes its debut in the Tour de France, proof that in 2022 there are still “new” roads for the race to explore; the race can find more for future years as it takes this one-time forest trail that’s since been tarmacked and upgraded, although only just. Plenty in the peloton will not cheer the novelty, it’s steep from the start, and hard going, the road is wide enough for one car and little more. The descent is more gradual, there’s even a short uphill section, but it’s all on the same narrow backroad.

The Finish: a brief crossing of the valley floor and then the climb of Hautacam begins. Back for the sixth time in the Tour, this is a ski station road that’s wide but not an easy drive up. The second half has some steep parts, it is like a staircase in places when the slope tips up to 10-12%.

The Contenders: can a breakaway form on the plains this time? If so, Michael Woods (Israel-PremierTech), Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo) and Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) have a chance with the latter disappointed with his form but when this happens sometimes he’s on fire the next day.

Otherwise, another duel with Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) and Tadej Pogačar (UAE) awaits. They’re inseparable, Pogačar perhaps the more explosive but Vingegaard might prefer the longer climb and maybe he’s out for a stage win in the maillot jaune?

Plus watch to see if Simon Geschke (Cofidis) can make the breakaway because his finish line today is the Aubisque, if he can take 20 points at the top then he could keep the polka-dot jersey. If not then Vingegaard could take it.

Jonas Vingegaard, Tadej Pogačar
Woods, Pinot, Powless, Jungels, Ciccone

Weather: warming back up, sunny and 28°C.

TV: the stage starts at 1.30pm CEST finish is forecast for 5.30pm Euro time.

76 thoughts on “Tour de France Stage 18 Preview”

    • Too deep perhaps. Jumbo riders were relatively ‘rested’ yesterday… I think UAE will pay for their efforts finding Tadej isolated before the summit of the Spandelles. Jonas to win but not by much. Basically a reversal of yesterday.

        • IMHO McNulty eventually delivered yesterday what he’s capable of. I wonder whether his team intentionally spared him for the last week or he was not feeling well before.
          This guy has a phenomenally huge engine, and he also looks great on a bike.

          I still wonder what their strategy was. They were not believing that they could shake the Iceman by pulling him over those passes, did they?

          • I suspect they became afraid of definitely losing the Tour to Vingegaard one stage too early. When you have a gregario pulling until the very last km, it’s ’cause you don’t feel great legs. Defensive tactics, essentially. Vingegaard accepted that, maybe he thought it was a trap, maybe he couldn’t go any faster, maybe he preferred to save energies until this very last mountain stage.

          • McNulty — “phenomenally huge engine”
            I remember McNulty as a 16 yr old in a local crit (not flat course, had some modest undulations) — several elite junior teams were also in the race. McNulty rode away in TT mode & won the race.
            With rare exceptions (eg, Roglic?), natural talents often become apparent at an early age.

  1. it cannot be so bad at UAE. after they lost seemingly most of their team, there comes mcnulty who just rides everyone (except two) into the ground.

  2. When the race is over, Inrng’s usual graph of time gains snd losses of the leaders will be interesting. Vingegaard and Pogacar have been mostly inseparable; Thomas only really lost significant time on Pogacar yesterday; but the rest of the top 10 feels like it has been far more fluxional than normal. Quintana, Bardet, Meintjes, Vlasov have all had days of big losses and other days of relatively significant gains to end up in their current position. It certainly feels much more fluid than a “normal” Tour where frequently the top 10 gradually drift apart by the odd 30s or a minute here and there, but the basic heirarchy feels fixed from early on.

  3. 2012, last time the tour went to hautacam. Pinot (who made podium that year) and Bardet were still the french hope for the future. Majka made polka-dot and nibali had his dominant tour-win as defending champion froome crashed out in a pave stage(he woould come back to dominate for the coming years). Seems today like another era, yet a surprisingly high portion of the main personnel rides the tour 22, now just in the later or last days of their careers.

  4. The Col de Spandelles was not tarmacked recently. I climbed it from the other side in 2018, and it looked pretty old then. Here’s something I found on France Bleu’s website noting that it was done a long time ago:

    “Le col de Spandelles, c’est le seul col qui n’avait jamais été monté par le Tour de France” précise Thierry Gouvenou, le directeur technique du Tour. Bien que goudronné depuis longtemps, le col était impraticable jusqu’à il y a encore quelques années en descente en course, mais le département des Hautes-Pyrénées a fait des travaux d’aménagement.

    • Relatively recently, apparently only tarmacked over the top in the 1990s. It’s history is as a “route forestière”, made to enable logging from 1950 onwards. The big difference is that it became a “route départmentale” in 2020 which led to more works and ironically trees being cut to keep the road clear.

  5. During a week’s cycling in the Pyrenees in June this year, I climbed most of the big name cols around Argeles-Gazost, including the Aubisque, Soulor, Spandelles, Hautacam, Tourmalet & Luz Ardiden. Col de Spandelles was quite possibly the hardest climb of the week, it could be this lesser-known challenge that makes a big difference today. The km signs often indicated a steeper average gradient than the Tour’s official profile shows, plenty of 9.5 and 10% as I recall. It feels harsh and relentless as it twists and turns through the trees, I can imagine many will really struggle if a strong pace is set. As INRNG says, it’s extremely narrow, so support cars won’t be able to get to riders. In June the descent down towards Hautacam was converted in loose gravel, let’s hope it’s bedded in to the tarmac now…

    • Sounds like team mates will be worth gold going up Col de Spandelles and if UAE’s mechanical problems strike there, Pogacar could be in real trouble.

      • Pogacar was trying to exploit Vingegaard’s lack of support yesterday. That sprint attack at the top of Col dAzet was made so nobody could hand anything up, when Pogacar had just been fed from roadside slightly lower down.
        Mind you, Vingegaard refused service later as they turned on to the Peyresourde, so what do I know?

        • Some explanation for the place of this attack. But they already had a gap big enough for team cars to follow, right?
          I also noticed how the Iceman was apparently the most “comfortable” of the three, and probably of the whole race. Refused to grab stuff from two soigneurs on the roadside when he would have been able to without problems.

    • Totally agree re. Spandelles. Rode it last year (albeit in the opposite direction to today’s route) – very narrow and twisty (although I think more so on what will be their ascent).

      A tough day for the riders, but at a much shorter one for the bus drivers to get to the finish!

      • 100% agree re Spandelles, it is a lot tougher than Hautacam. I rode it in 2016, it was pretty beat up then, does anyone know if it has been resurfaced for the tour?

        • Yes, but not lavishly. More the “pour some tar, tip some gravel on top and don’t bother with the heavy iron roller, let passing vehicles do the job” in places. It’s got a new sign at the top with an “official” Tour de France and Strava segment sign.

          • They paved over the sections which were exposed gravel I think.

            Also rode it from the opposite way years ago , and was expecting it to be easy as the avg gradient was listed at something like 6%. But that average was calculated from the sections of 2% then 7, then 10, then 5, then a wall of 18, then 9… beautiful but brutal and I never found my rhythm.

  6. What the heck did Berg and McNulty have for breakfast? Whatever it was, someone could make a fortune selling it. Jumbo had strange or over eager tactics which left Vingegaard all on his lonesome, but I’d expect the same will not happen today unless Pogacar goes nuts early on. The fact that Pogacar could only attack right at the end of the last climb showed how much he was suffering (which makes McNulty pulling on the front seem defensive rather then setting up Pogacar for an attack). Ineos have been bluffing with Yates & Martinez as both have been sub-par for nearly the whole tour. Yates had gone down with the “Solers” (as did Felline yesterday) according to the team. DS Cummings hopes of a new look Ineos were obviously dashed by that, unless sending Van Baarle up the road is somehow “ground breaking”. 4th to 8th on GC is pretty much still up for grabs if someone has a good day or we could see a TT with 5 guys battling it out for 4th spot. Anybody with energy left will try for the break, and I don’t expect UAE or Jumbo will try to get in it (but WvA is a law unto himself) then it’s deja vu all over again when the climbing starts. Last chance for the bad TT-ers to get some time on rivals so should be some top 10 guys in the break.

        • Longer practice and deeper knowledge pay great dividends when opposed to just trying and taking a substance (I’m exaggerating a little bit on the latter, but not that much…). That’s how sport science works since the good ol’ 90s (the 80s were more like those seasons when ketones were proprietary tech and hence exclusive).

        • Ketones do not turn riders from being dropped early into able to drop everybody but a few on a long climb. Either they planned brilliantly and took the risk to have them rest and not be with Pogi, or we are seeing a simultaneous return to form from a sickness or something, paired with an ‘all or nothing’ mindset. Whatever it was, it coincided with Kuss not having his best day.

          (I am amazed not to find a lot of doping accusations here. You guys behaved! Or did inrng finally decide to start moderating..?)

          • The best I can say about yesterday’s performances from two UAE riders, and being aware that an investigation of the team is underway, was that it raised my eyebrows and bought back memeries of earlier Tour’s !

          • @bc
            Who is investigating UAE? Presumably for some sort of doping? I’m aware of the long running ‘investigation’ into Bahrain, but I hadn’t seen anything about UAE.

          • So you’re suggesting JV and UAE are pumped full of painkilling opiates while Sky used psychotropic mood alterers. Interesting analogy. Possibly accurate

          • Inrng has never really moderated but he’s been very clear to all of us to keep it within the fences over the years. Even the days when the forum blows up he often just closes it early, so it encourages us to keep our shirts on.

            We’re all very grateful for this forum and for the amazing blog posts – it really is one of the best parts of the racing season.

            About UAE – it was 100% case of them giving everything they had at the end. Jumbo Visma was torching themselves in the breaks and on the flats and UAE could keep sheltered. Also, don’t forget that McNulty was nowhere to be seen early on in the Tour so likely his powder was drier than Visma’s climbers.

            At this point, I almost don’t care about the doping – it is clearly cleaner than it was from late 80’s to 2010… so let’s accept these results for what they are. All of the protagonists this year appear to be believable.

    • Earlier in the stages they did send Pidcock up the road and on a couple of stages Yates did try and get into a break but JV and UAE were not allowing it probably. Not ground breaking but it was something.

      A long range move is hard when the domestiques are so strong nobody can hang on let alone get away. Of course with irony that is the old sky / ineos tactic they now find themselves unable to fend off.

    • Why do people only ask about “breakfast” if a UAE rider shows strength?
      I never see questions about what some Dane or Sepp Kuss had for breakfast if they drop dozens of other climbers, fellow countryean McNulty: you can hear eyebrows rising. And there are never questions what’s inside Wout’s body if he never ever show a sign of being tired and storming high mountains amongst way better climbers after sitting on a bike and racing for 365 days per year.
      I’m so sick of this more than slightly biased “questions”

  7. after yesterdays stage who could possibly want to bet on what would happen.
    A frequent complaint about short stages is that they are not hard enough but i suspect yesterdays stage has left far more sore legs than the longer type which normally only comes alive at the end because they are to long for a full gas ride. So in today’s stage absolutely any one could suddenly break.
    If you had told me before yesterday that those 2 UAE riders would suddenly be strong enough to drop essentially the entire field. And that McNulty after doing a ride up a mountain (Azet) at way over his best ever performance (lantern rouge has a graph of his best ever estimated climbs) and better than his leader has done in this tour and then be so strong he would also do the the final mountain so strong that Pogacar would only be able to just hang on i would have laughed and asked what he would need to be on. Quite the form reversal.

    • What are you talking about? McNulty barely hit the front all Tour so far and he’s pulled off some really strong rides in his very short career. Plus, every other GC rider and Jumbo Visma’s support are 100% shelled at this point in the race.

      McNulty’s ride seems very believable to me.

  8. I thought i read or heard that one of the descents today was technical in nature. Not so much going by your description but if it is even slightly Jonas Vingegard may have the advantage. He looks really good on the descents compared to Pogacar and has some super descender’s on his team as well like WVA. But really he does not have to risk an attack on a downhill and would probably be better off just holding back if he is feeling confident. But a better descender does tend to conserve more energy.

    • Pogacar in theory is a better descender, or a more priven one at least, but maybe Vingegaard looks better because he feels fresher when they get at the top, or because he’s following wheels, or because Pogacar is taking risk or unusual trajectories to force a mistake.

      • I’ve never seen Vingegaard have any problems following Pogacar downhill , I guess we haven’t seen as much of Vingegaard but it doesn’t look like a weakness for him anyway.

        • Yes, of course, but we haven’t seen him gaining advantage on a selected group downhill, either, unlike Pogacar.
          The thing with Vingegaard is that we really saw him gaining terrain by his own so few times, yet, that is, he’s still an unknown from many POVs. He climbs and timetrials damn fast, no doubt, with the latter being even more relevant, in a sense, given his build and that it didn’t ever look a solid skill he had, not at all, until 2021 when he was suddenly quite on the top of that game, too.
          But many of his skills are simply not-proven-yet because the sample of him racing at peak is so small.

  9. Is Jonas getting enough credit? Strikes me that this low-profile Scandi is a superstar. He has not put a foot or pedal wrong in 17 days of racing. We’ve been talking up Pog, rightly, for 2 or 3 years, but this chap is his equal. Of course, it may go wrong at the TT but I think we need to annoint this guy to the very top tier of the sport.

    • He’s benefited from a strong team and he would have lost a chunk of time on the pave stage were it not for van Aert but, yes, he’s boldly gone where no other GC contenders can go; wheel to wheel with Pogacar.

    • Jonas had clearly improved at lot in the last year plus he would be training now for GC not as a helper for Roglic . I would have said Jonas is better than Pogacar on the long climbs but Pogacar is better on short climbs and has a better finish and may take some seconds at the end of stages.
      Considering that Pogacar has the better TT history i would have given given the advantage to Pogacar but not by much.
      The other things to consider were Pogacar had the weaker team but it was 100% dedicated to him and yellow against Jonas having the better team but 3 team leaders which might leave him short at crucial times.

    • Pogi’s been talked about for at least double the time you hint at, since his teen years. That’s one difference with Vingegaard, about whom there’s the feeling you’d still need to confirm his exact overall value under a variety of circumstances and through more seasons, and races – Pogacar also entered many more races with the intention and/or capacity to win them, unlike Vingegaard. Besides, Vingegaard looks generally more timid or prudent, when you consider the firepower he’s got both at his team and in his legs. Same last year and in other races, too. Right now, the watts to be among the best climbers ever are there, no doubt, but the sport sometimes goes far beyond the watts.

      • Agree that Vingegaard deserves way more credit than he gets. Yesterday’s pressure from Pogacar with McNulty and no Kuss was immense, yet he just let Pogacar try and try again to no effect.
        Had he got on to two riders that were ahead of his attack on Mont Ventoux last year, his descending breakaway would have taken him into yellow and we would all rate him more highly.

        • +1
          The only race situation in which he seems to struggle when compared to Pogi is really bad weather. Pogi apparently loves those conditions, and he has quite a few kilos more than the really slender Iceman. Which of course not only helps for climbing but is also a good predisposition for doing well in the heat.

          • We also don’t know (he could go for it today) if he’s capable of long solo rides at the front, which Pogi thrives in.
            But at this TDF Pogacar couldn’t put himself in that situation while Vingegard really needn’t.

      • I slightly think the above might be over analysing and no one is over or under hyping anyone?

        We saw V was close to P’s level and even a fraction above on long climbs last year.
        That has just continued this year, compounded by a hunger knock on the Grandon for Pog? Everyone can see if V wins he has been the superior rider and deserves to win this year.

        At the same time, everyone is also aware Pog’s all around ability in one day races, reduced sprints, bike handling, cobbles etc etc marks him out as potentially one of the greatest riders ever – so even if Vinny wins on Sunday, most will still view Pog as superior and it’ll take more than just this tour before that changes.

        If they both stopped racing tomorrow, the debate would never end over who was the better climber as currently we don’t have enough evidence to really say – the only things we know is right now V is a touch better, but Pog is younger and has won more TDF stages than Merckx, Hinault and Mark Cavendish combined at the same age.

        I think we’re lucky to witness them both duking it out this year!
        Currently it’s the best tour since 2011 and if P beats V from here, it’ll leap to being one of the best ever.

        Happy days.

        • I might mire or less agree, and yet what’s your sample of “long climbs” on which V. looked better in TDF 2021? One? Also starting with V.? ^___^
          Because the Portet et al. are long climbs, too, and Pogacar looked stronger, Vingegaard actually looked only slightly above Carapaz.

          Some people go as far as to cite Jebel Jais, but that’s PCS-mania, ignoring how the race really happened, with the Dane already eliminated from GC (and very far back on Jebel Hafeet, not a short climb either, especially if you focus on time rather than space).

          I think that Vingegaard gave a great step up in 2021 and another big one in 2022. Which, after all, is what you’d normally expect from a cyclist between 24 and 26… covid year probably also “helped” in keeping him hidden.

  10. Pogi doesn’t seem the person to settle easily for second place. I assume he will go for an all-or-nothing attack on the Spandelles today but from what we’ve seen up until today that may lead to a similar outcome as yesterday. I’m hoping he will bring the difference back to within a minute and give us a nailbiter TT later.
    In any case I am enjoying the 1 on 1 battle even though it doesn’t look as spectacular because they cannot seem to drop each other the pace at which they are dropping everyone else tells the tale.

  11. Did Thomas come for 2nd or 3rd or is this the day he goes for a breakaway that they will follow no doubt but today is the day he has nothing to lose by going for it.

    • I think he came as a co-leader with ambitions to win. He’s ridden consistently at his limit and 2 riders are stronger. He can’t possibly win but he could lose a podium by trying. That may seem like a loser mentality to you but it seems logical to me.

      • I agree.

        I’ve been desperate for Ineos to do something… anything…

        But realistically all they might have done different is bail on Yates’ chances and win a few more stages with him.

        Geraint is not strong enough and cannot win without a freak occurrence – he won’t be allowed to go in a break, he cannot drop the others, and even if his could Froome only gained 3mins over Dumoulin in his grand 2018 attack, Geraint needs 5mins over far stronger riders AND then needs to hold it in a time trial. There’s just no way.

        It’s hard to see any logic in any kind of attack without something incredibly unexpected.

        Maybe they could have tried something earlier and it’s a shame they’ve done next to nothing as a team but there were also strong reasons to wait till the end and hope they still had Yates/Pidcock as cards to play however unlikely that seemed.

    • Have you missed all the time Thomas hasn’t been able to stay with the top 2 ? Do you think he was bluffing or something ? He will finish 3rd and he’s the 3rd strongest rider in the race

    • It doesn’t really matter what he came for when the legs clearly say third. Go against what the legs are saying (or overestimate yourself), lose time. Ask Pog.

    • Neither Pog nor Vinegaard have shown enough weakness to justify Thomas taking risks. Thomas is stuck in a league of his own, which is probably a bit frustrating for him actually. He could wear 6 gilets on Saturday’s TT and still finish 3rd.

    • It was always a stretch to imagine that 36 yo Thomas could have any chance of winning the tour. I think only one rider older than he was Fermin Lambot (2 months older).

      • It seems to have been a rather uneventful Tour for G, he hasn’t fallen into a ravine, hit a stray bidon, failed to notice/ negotiate a speed hump….I don’t think I have seen him with a ripped jersey or shorts so far . I hope not to have put the curse on him for this, I think he is riding a good race within himself and deserves to be in the podium.

  12. After the “unbelievable” rides from McNulty and Bjerg yesterday I’m fully expecting one from Pogacar today. Ideally he’ll take around 90s from JV to set up a nail biting TT.

    +1 for the fluxation of the top 4-10. It makes for a better race. Love the tenacity of Bardet even though it was a bit embarrassing for him attacking Thomas only to then be dropped.

  13. Wout Van Aert’s performance is unbelievable. Day after day. Whatever Jumbo is doing, it’s working great – you can see it with Vingegaard as well.

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