Tour de France Stage 18 Preview

Like Wordsworth leaving the Alps, there’s always a moment of melancholy when the Tour de France turns its back on the mountains, even if Saturday’s Vosges stage holds out a last hurrah on the way to Paris.

Winners and Loze-rs: a big battle to get into a breakaway and all sorts of tactics and plans at work on multiple levels. No sooner could you spot what cards were being played the move had been caught and another surged clear. Tadej Pogačar crashed early on the Col des Saisies but he and Jonas Vingegaard both bridged across to the breakaway later on the same climb suggesting the injuries were to pride.

A move of 33 riders got away on the lower parts of the Cormet de Roselend. Giulio Ciccone was there to collect points for the mountains competition, UAE and Jumbo-Visma placed riders up front, there were stage-hunters galore and also 7th-10th overall in Pello Bilbao, Simon Yates, David Gaudu and Felix Gall. Jumbo-Visma chased, even if they had riders up ahead they were applying the pressure again like a scrap yard car compactor. Starting the Col de la Loze at Saint-Bon-Tarentaise the break had got three minutes thanks to several riders toiling on the front like Nans Peters for Ag2r Citroën, no cushion at all for such a fearsome climb. But Jack Haig, Chris Harper and Ben O’Connor were pulling hard to help keep the move clear, the latter doing a big job to shred the breakaway down to a handful of contenders, among which his de facto leader Felix Gall. Gall attacked relatively early on the Col de la Loze’s cycle path section and Simon Yates, Harper and Rafał Majka were left chasing.

Behind Pogačar cracked in Méribel, the easy streets before the wild parts of the climb to come and it meant he was in for a tortuous 15km. L’Equipe’s Alex Roos has described Pogačar as boyish face of a Kinder chocolate surprise. Now he looked older and worn out, as if he’d discovered Santa Claus didn’t exist by finding maths textbook under the Christmas tree instead of a Playstation. One of the small innovations for TV coverage has been the use of team race radios and it’s probably done plenty to counter the perception of riders as radio-controlled pawns given most of the output is “great job guys, conserve energy, eat and drink“, but this time we could hear Pogačar announcing the sporting obituary of this summer.

In no time the yellow jersey group was down to Vingegaard alone, he’d ditched everyone else and from the helicopter shots looked he like a Pacman gobbling up riders ahead of him on the cycle path. Could he ride down everyone for the stage win, you’d think not but after his TT in Combloux? But no, he wasn’t going that fast.

Instead the tension was up front as Felix Gall lead Simon Yates by 20s, the Briton’s a crafty rider and it looked likely he would pick his moment to close the gap on the rider he could see just in front of him. But he couldn’t, Gall resisted, weaving his way up the final slopes of the runaway in Courchevel for a stage win much to the delight of his team who now have four years of at least a stage win. Gall was due to ride the Giro after a decent Tour of the Alps but was held back for the Tour in support of O’Connor, then the roles reversed and now wins the Queen Stage. Still 25 and improving throughout this Tour, he’s making a name for himself.

Further back Vingegaard was clear but ended up weaving on the final ramps to the line. He looked rinsed but if that was bad, Pogačar was almost six minutes further back. Two stages ago only ten seconds separated Vingegaard and Pogačar, now they’re more than seven minutes apart but this feels like a gap measured in more than time, it’ll send UAE back to the drawing board for this year and next before we’ve reached Paris.

Embed from Getty Images

The Route: 184.9km and 1,200m of vertical gain, this is a route out of the mountains and passing by many tempting detours and sidetracks but sticks to the flattest route possible, a pity as another baroudeur stage could provide a bit more sport than a sprint stage… but with so many teams in the hunt for an elusive stage win we might see things stirred up a bit today. It’s not totally flat today but the course has few obstacles, and if there’s a bump on the profile for Ceyzériat towards the finish it’s gradual.

The Finish: flat and around the ring roads of Bourg-en-Bresse, big wide roads and wide radius roundabouts.

The Contenders: Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Deceuninck) is the easy pick, four stage wins so far, several riders have left the race and as he can climb marginally better than other sprinters he might be fresher after the Alps too. So far so obvious but a win is far from guaranteed. Dylan Groenewegen (Jayco-Al Ula) is probably the second fastest on paper, Biniam Girmay is lacking a bit of top end speed, Mads Pedersen (Lidl-Trek) would like a hillier route and a rise to the line, ditto Bryan Coquard (Cofidis), Alexander Kristoff (Uno-X) would like a hurricane to shred the peloton. Sam Welsford (DSM) is good but struggling to break into the top-10 so far. Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) has gone home can have a go and if he’s there, could Mathieu van der Poel sprint as well or is he still reserved for lead out duties? Intrigue for the final five minutes.

There’s the chance more can happen. Only ten teams have a stage win so far so that means 12 are left hunting a win and it’s not going to fall from the sky, they have to provoke a move. Easier said than done but this can work on a flat stage late into a grand tour when most are tired and those with anything left can barge away. But the other ingredient is a more tiring course, tomorrow’s stage might be better. A cancelling factor is several teams will still back their house sprinter, it might look like they’re sacrificing offerings on the altar of Jasper Philipsen but percentage wise a sprint can still work out better for many teams.

Girmay, Pedersen, Van Aert, MvdP

Weather: a sunny day, 25°C and a light NW breeze of 10km/h, a headwind but thing more cooling breeze than anything more opposing.

TV: KM0 is at 1.35pm and the finish is forecast for 5.40pm CEST.

Tastes like chicken: Bourg-en-Bresse is famous among gourmets as the home of poulet de Bresse, “Bresse chicken”. A particular breed of chicken is raised free range outdoors in this area, and within strictly defined confines. These birds get a strict diet among which various types of cereal which must to be grown locally within a stipulated radius, it’s all part of the AOC regime. All this means that poulet de Bresse sells for a hefty premium. Whether diners can taste the difference is subjective but if you do visit and want to try the taste test, you’re at least supporting high food standards.

70 thoughts on “Tour de France Stage 18 Preview”

  1. I suppose it’s fitting that the King was crowned on the Queen Stage.
    3rd week fatigue, illness, the crash, or a combination of all – what was behind Pogacar’s bonking I suppose we only know in the distant future.
    Glad for Gall & AG2R – a win for one of the poorer teams.
    Today, it looks like a Philipsen win, although that depends on the quality of the break. There’s still a chance for glory before Paris.

  2. With multiple sprinter dropouts it’s hard to see who, beyond Jayco and Alpecin, will ride hard to control the breakaway. That should encourage the breakaway where enough teams will be represented to have a chance of success. To date the mountain breaks have been spectacular while the sprint stages have been limited to a handful of forlorn no-hopers. Hoping that changes today.

      • But then if it comes to a sprint, they’d miss his lead out and Sinkeldam’s gone home already too. Still, I think it is best to let MdvP or SKA go in the break, because I think only Jayco will probably help controlling the break and they will want to protect Yates too, so it might just be too hard.

  3. On race radios, knowing that the messages might be made public is bound to influence the content and that the instructions/encouragement we have had transmitted this year might be different from those in previous years. They sound more bland and polite than I would have expected. Despite that, the experiment has been worthwhile.

    • Obviously there’s delay on the radio messages and there is someone who checks the content and decided what’s broadcast. Teams are being paid 5000 euros to allow the messages to be broadcast. 5 teams opted not to allow their messages to be broadcast :Alpecin-Deceuninck, Cofidis, Groupama-FDJ, Jayco AlUla and Movistar.

    • I think it’s a trial-and-error process. In the beginning they were too cautious, making the added value close to zero. I guess there’s been some discussion between ASO and the teams, because the last few days we’ve gotten more interesting ones.

  4. A few thoughts on the events of the past couple of days.

    Perhaps Tadej Pogacer has a health issue whether a virus (doesnt have to be covid) or a bacterial infection. We saw at the Giro how a rider can be affected for a few days before it becomes clear they are ill. If so he might not make Paris.

    If no health issue then this must effect Tadej Pogacer’s approach to racing in the future perhaps he will change his style of all action scrapping which undoubtedly uses up energy best saved for more crucial moments (presumably not popular with those who found the Team Sky approach “boring”). It must create an element of doubt in his mind. He looked in a bad place at the finish yesterday.

    Jonas Vingegaard’s success must help JV to replace Jumbo as a sponsor (does seem an odd moment for them to leave though fits with change of ownership). Presumably the team will be seen as a more desirable option. Might we see Saudi Arabia v UAE at the Tour next year?

    • It would be awful to see another human rights abuser (plus much more … sawed up body …thx MBS) supporting more cycling teams. PLEASE NO SAUDI ARABIA

      • I concur. On of the most unpleasant states / regimes out there, clearly much worse than UAE and Bahrain. Also a state based on a pretty unsavoury political ideology which has real impact on the wider Arab / Muslim world. (In case of Bahrain it’s actualy SA who helps keeping the Sunni rulling dynasty in power and helped to suppress the Arab spring protests.)

      • Absolutely agree. But I fear this is the grim future pro cycling is staring into. Middle Eastern regimes and business men sport washing their countries and bending reality to their liking. Sooner or later cyclo cross and gravel will be sanctuaries for the unspoiled cycling.

    • It’s a subject to return to by itself but it could well be that the Saudis back the Jumbo team, maybe Visma gets well out and pairs up with Uno-X? The Saudis are making a push into sport but so far it’s been via an investment fund and they’ve wanted to buy assets, so funding a cycling team is different from this. But it’s really buying a different kind of asset, a big marketing presence. Like many it’d be better if there was a Dutch company willing to back the team but whatever a company can spend on marketing hoping for a planned return in market metrics, a country (or a billionaire etc) can outbid on a vanity project.

      • They are buying assets, but I’d say their investment into the global sport entertainment industry is actualy rather a device of establishing a soft power foothold – which helps building real assets which petrol states want to build their economic transformation on. Such as the Neom folly. (An example – the economic potential of Newcastle United must be surely much smaller than that of footballing brands established in global / nodal cities.)

        • Footballing ‘brands’, as you quaintly call them, are rarely based in the biggest cities, more often representing significant provincial cities (Manchester, Liverpool, Munich, Marseille, Milano, Torino, Barcelona etc,) than the capitals of their nations, tying together local patriotism with global regard for their historic achievements. Remember, Newcastle United is a considerably older and more storied institution than Saudi Arabia itself, and might well outlast it. Cycling teams simply do not compare. If Saudi really wanted to invest in the sport, they’d buy ASO.

          • Oh, you conveniently don’t mention Madrid, Milan clubs being based in commercial capital and most important city of Italy, Amsterdam, Lisbon and obviously London, pretty big caveat. 🙂

            Also, let’s not compare global beta or gamma cities such as Barcelona, Manchester and Munich (the base of Allianz etc.) with Newcastle, shall we? And even if you compare Bilbao (still much bigger city) to Newcastle, one is traditional footballing powerhouse (with actual club, not a brand, mind) while the other has a “club” historically stating upwards to the likes of Sunderland. 😉

            Sure, Nufc is a part of the football’s superleague, and has large fanbase hating certain sport equipment stores while generating viral pieces with Asprilla, Keegan losing it on air or Tiote’s goal, but don’t pretend it’s commercialy interesting club. No. Also, note that club’s owners spent probably more on year’s wages of the likes of Messi (ambassador), Ronaldo and Benzema than they invested while obtaining Eddie Howe’s playground.

          • I didn’t say it was a hard and fast rule, but that smaller cities are just as likely to produce giants as capitals. London, having several big teams but not a dominant one, is an obvious exception. Paris, Berlin, Rome, Moscow are more typical. Smaller capitals like Amsterdam and Lisbon unsurprisingly dominate their smaller markets. And who gives a toss if an insurance company is based in Munich? I haven’t seen Frankfurt pulling up many trees over the years and the place is packed with money jugglers.
            Bilbao and Newcastle are so similar in size (City, 300, 000, conurbation, round a million) and layout and post-industrial decline and culture-led recovery I’m surprised they’re not officially twinned, and yes, they both have disproportionately large stadia in their city centres. Presumably you’ve never visited the North East of England. The similarities, physical and historical, are striking.
            And neither of them has ever won the ECC or CL or whatever it’s called now but Newcastle are more likely to. I’m confused about one thing though- which is the ‘traditional footballing powerhouse’? Athletic or Toon? The proper answer is probably neither, but it’s not clear.

    • Jumbo’s sponsoring ends by the of 2024, I believe. So next year we’ll still see the JV vs UAE battle.

      I agree with you, Pogacar has looked sick in the last stages, dark circles under his eyes and less smiling than usual. I do hope he finishes.

    • Pogacar had a cold sore on his lips last days, so he has had a minor herpes flare up. Whether that could affect performance itself, or whether that is simply an effect of something else running down his body a bit, who knows.

  5. Hopefully a rider of TD’s quality will not be ground into dust chasing the big yellow jersey season after season. It has crushed the life from riders in the past.

  6. I can see today’s stage being one of them days where everyone just trundles along and we have a couple of poor souls up the road getting TV time. Anyone know the average speed so far this year and how it compares to recent years? This year’s tour seems to have been races at a brutal pace.

  7. That really was a spectacular stage. I feel like some of the “queen” stages in recent grand tours end up being so hard that they’re a bit of a damp squib but this one just seemed to work out, entertainment-wise. The strength of the breakaway really made it all possible (GC guys with super strong team mates) and Gall with an amazing ride – the end was mail biting, with Yates and Vingegaard hunting him down. Even the mountains competition is still thoroughly alive and kicking.

    I guess the disappointment was Pogacar cracking, which meant no showdown for the yellow jersey but I think that battle was sewn up already. We’ll never know what might have happened had Pog not broken his wrist (he might have another monument at the very least) but my impression is that Vingegaard is just a cut above in the high mountains – I really hope he takes a shot at the Giro soon and doesn’t just focus on the Tour to the exclusion of all else.

    • 7 minutes and it does mean minds are thinking about plans for next year. I think UAE will just want to win the Tour first and foremost, it’s the big prize their sponsors/backers crave so he’s going to be doing the Tour next summer unless they feel Ayuso is better suited.

      It’s difficult for Pogačar, we can see he likes to have fun on the bike and so he’ll want to try new races, find fresh challenges rather than going back to altitude camps again and again.

        • I think the other underlying issue was his inability to have a laser focus on Tour preparation due to his injury. So possibly all the early attacks were TP trying to gain as much time as possible while he physically could (and in the best way he could for his condition) before hoping it was enough of a buffer before the inevitable impact of a lack of preparation hit.

          • Surely we can also say Pogacar himself might not have all the answers nor his team?

            Form is quite ephemeral, I can imagine he made those attacks thinking the race would come down to seconds and not knowing what his form might do… using it as a smokescreen for bad form seems far less likely than Pog just not knowing.

            I doubt he or his team also can say whether the wrist was the culprit or over exertion in classics… the answers are just not clear cut.

            Like others here though, I want to see a full Vin/Pog rematch where Pog has skipped early year goals and gone full monk-cyclist prepping to take down Vin.

            I personally think the management at UAE have recruited poorly and struggle to properly manage and restrain Pog’s natural exuberance so doubt they will start to do so next season. Personally I feel like if his wrist and body recover Pog should ride Vuelta as a stage hunter so he’s shattered by the end of the year but ends relatively in shape so he’s forced to properly rest over winter and pass over any early season action.

            Froome often said riding the Vuelta set him up well for the following season and I have a feeling it can do the same for Pog.

          • @Dave. I’m pretty sure that an injury to at takes six weeks or more to heal that happened 6-8 weeks before the Tour (can’t remember exact timings) is pretty clear cut when it comes to his Tour preparations being badly hampered!

  8. After believing the race could still be open until the penultimate day it seems unlikely now. Simon Yates brilliant yesterday and a good Tour, Felix Gall a stellar performance. Can the brothers get 2 and 3? Now that would be a story. Unlikely but not impossible.

    • Three and four feels quite possible with S Yates only requiring 18 seconds to oust Rodriguez from fourth – a reasonable possibility on Saturday’s Markstein climb.

      And hoping the Pogacar can stabilise his morale and restore his health and energy over the easier next two stages. It’s never enjoyable seeing a great rider struggle so.

  9. The stage definitely worked and I don’t think I’ve seen a top 10 battle unfold as thrillingly in recent years. Overall, the parcours worked, but given JV dominance I don’t think we’ll see this next year (despite a punchy start). A longer flatter TT and perhaps some rough stuff. UAE will have an extra Ayuso card to play and Remco should be in the mix, and maybe with a different coloured jersey on the start line.

  10. Felt sorry for Pog. Cracking publicly like that must be galling in the extreme. I hope he recovers physically and mentally from this.

    I can thoroughly recommend ‘poulet de Bresse à la crème’, a dish I enjoyed with French friends in Bourg many years ago.

  11. Saturday might be intriguing. Ineos will be all in for Rodriguez to try and get him on the podium so will Pogacar work for Yates?

  12. I wonder if Pog will start. He looked sick yesterday, not just tired, but feverish. If he is, I hope wounded pride ( his or the team’s) doesn’t force him onto the bike. I suppose it’s an ‘easy’ day today, but even so…..

        • Apparently Pogacar’s girlfriend spoke to him after stage 5 when she had crashed herself at the Giro Donne –
          “He called me after the stage to ask me how it went. I told him it wasn’t over. Then he asked me why not, he knows I never quit a race,” Zigart said in an interview with NOS. “So he got worried right away. He said: I want to go home. So I told him: you are not going home, this is the Tour.”

  13. My views on today’s sprint are that the normal poulet de Bresse’s special taste tends to get buried in the traditonal Bressanne cream and morel mushroom sauce, even more if you add Vin Jaune. With regard to positioning, I’ll admit that Bresse “volaille” becomes more interesting if it’s a fattened sort as capon or poularde or when it’s guinea fowl.

  14. Broken wrist, delayed training.
    Losing over a minute early showed TP wasnt in top form.
    Sprinting at the top of many mountains for bonus seconds drained energy.
    Stage 14 unwise Sprinting 3.7km from the top burned a matched on the same stage as the moto interference.
    TP’s TT looked tired for TP, not a 1:38 more tired.
    For the second year in a row TP bonks, this time badly. Nutrition and recovery needs to improve, it looks like this is where he lost 2 tours.

    JV: is he doing legal supplemetaion with creatine, ketones, etc? Or on new under the radar dope?

    • Don’t think climbers would take creatine, least not in season. It leads to increased water retention, increasing weight – negative effect on W/kg. Perhaps in off-season there might be a benefit to training, but… would it make sense to train with a supplement you have to discontinue in season? You’d need several seasons of data to figure out if it was a positive or negative.

      • I find taking one low dose, 1g, creatine daily for only 2-3 days, it improves my recovery and energy. After 3 days it makes me tired and muscles slightly bigger. Having tried traditional loading creatine a few times, limited low dose creatine works for me.

        Anyone have any experience good or bad with ketones?

        • Brief targeted use of creatine for recovery sounds like a good idea actually. Could be useful in competition too. Must try that, thanks. 🙂

      • Feel like these chats and accusations quickly slide into things no one here knows either way and we should be more careful to caveat.

        Ketones are legal so surely that’s end of that discussion till powers that be decide otherwise?

        No one here can answer whether a rider is going beyond what’s legal with any kind of proof so it’s not worth speculating.

    • I’ve not followed the sport long enough – but did more riders climb ”like” Contador before him?

      I am under the impression he was pretty much the only rider who would climb for 20mins continuously out the saddle.

      I miss seeing him do that. He always seemed game for an attack.

      • Good question that I can’t answer but I imagine that lot of them were standing on the pedals before all of the modern gearing was introduced.

        • This question is very easy to answer isn’t it?

          People stood previously because bigger gears were used.

          The transition then came in the 90s/00s where smaller gears became possible and you had some riders like Pantini climbing out of the saddle but soon the accepted wisdom was that sitting and spinning damaged your leg muscles less over three weeks than standing so people like Froome learnt to develop that skill while Contador was an outlier.

          Now you also have to factor in the growth in turbo and particularly zwift as both encourage spinning which likely makes it even more then dominant style for everyone aside from when they attack or sprint.

      • Bernard Hinault used to climb out of the saddle for extended periods, albeit at far lower cadences than the riders today can manage with the lower gears they have now.

        Climbing out of the saddle for extended periods when you could do it in the saddle is very inefficient and burns more energy.

  15. So nothing new ! As I predicted The dreaded “pájara” came and sentenced the race for one of them. This is nothing new and has happened many times before and will continue to happen. so It’s funny when people say I feel sorry for this or that. Don’t feel sorry. It’s the essence of the sport. Beautiful!!

  16. It’s unsurprising that Jumbo Visma are quite happy for Van Aert to go home now Vingegaard has such a huge lead but I wonder if they would have been quite so willing to let Van Aert go if there were still only 10 seconds between Vingegaard & Pogacar!

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