Stage 18 Recap - A very busy beginning but not much happened after the break of five - so strong that they could be called a Justice League of their own - went early and fought until physical blocking from Sky, FDJ and Mitchelton-Scott meant they got a gap.
That five were Luke Durbridge (Mitchelton-Scott), Thomas Boudat (Direct Energie), Matt Hayman (Mitchelton-Scott) , Niki Terpstra (Quick-Step) and Guillaume Van Keirsbulck (Wonty-Groupe Gobert). They were never given much more than 90 seconds of a gap as FDJ chased hard for Arnaud Demare and UAE-Emirates did for Alexander Kristoff.
The break were brought back on the Cote d'Anos and counter attacks came, but generally it was too fast to attack and into the last 10 kilometres FDJ led.
They battled tooth and nail to lead into the last turn and it all came off, with Arnaud Demare put in the perfect position to outsprint Christophe Laporte of Cofidis. It was a huge win for the team that did the most from start to finish and that banked big on a Demare through the Tour including making sure he finished in the time cut each day. He now has his win and can relax in a metaphorical sense because there’s one more mountain stage and a time trial left. So too can FDJ for that reason.
Of the rest, Kristoff was third for UAE-Emirates and Boasson Hagen was fourth for Dimension Data with Colbrelli fifth, all good results whilst Sagan made it.
Haha you thought I’d write something serious in this didn’t you?
Stage 19: Lourdes to Laruns, 200.5km
The last chance for any climbers to make gains before the time trial on Saturday, and the last chance for many teams to take a stage win – and there are still plenty who need to.
There’s a rolling start which should light up many breakaway attempts. Early on we have the Côte de Loucrup, which is a 1.8 kilometre climb at 7.2% that tops out with just 7 kilometres gone. Nearly 30 kilometres later, it’s time for The Côte de Capvern-les-Bais, which is 3.4 kilometres at 5.1%.
There’s 26 more kilometres to go until the first proper mountains of the day. The Col d’Aspin. The 12 kilometres climb averages 6.5%. On good roads with gentle turns, it is a preparation for what’s to come later and likely to be taken at a moderate pace. They then descend past the Lac de Payolle.
The legendary Col du Tourmalet has been in all of the tours for the last decade bar 2013 and 2017 and we once again climb its mythical slopes here. 17.1 kilometres at 7.4%. There aren’t the many hairpins of the Alps here as this is a climb full of long straights and ramps, and there’s also plenty of tunnels to boot. The start is fast – there aren’t really any gradients over 5%, before the rest is 12km at no less than 7%. This will begin to put the hurt on for the riders after the d’Aspin, but there is still half the stage to go.
At the summit the riders go past the memorial to Jacques Goddet and then the ski resort of Super-Barèges, down to Luz-Saint-Sauveur, and then valley roads, taking the D103 to Estaing. There aren’t many valley roads until we reach the last significant block of climbing for the Tour de France.
The triple header of the Col des Bordères (8.6km at 5.8%), Col du Soulor (Uncategorised, 7km at 8%), & Col d'Aubisque (Hors Catgeorie, incorporates the Solour and is 16.4km at 4.6%) closes the climbing of the tour and brings three last big challenges.
The Borderes starts with the D13 over Saint-Savin village and through Arcizans-Avant, hitting percentages of 5% before winding its way up to a kilometre at 8% and then going down again back to the original percentages. The climb is irregular but towards the end is extremely hard at 10%.
The Col du Soulor is part of the Col d'Aubisque but a hard climb in its own right and the hardest part of the closing kilometres. The climb is irregular from the start on narrow and winding roads that are perfect for putting others – or yourself – into the red. The road surface might be rough and regular but the gradient is unceasing, 8% at a minimum and for 7 kilometres. Attackers have the help of a descent and then some easier roads before the end of the 'Aubisque proper with a couple of kilometres of false flat and a couple more at less than 5% before a stinging finish.
The descent down into Laruns is fast and open, a danger in itself and not particularly advantageous to either chaser or attacker and terrible when it rains, see below:
The finish is actually slightly downhill, which will suit the fastest sprinter from a group.
Surely another one for the breakaway? There are battles raging to win a stage and several teams still don’t have one. Let’s start with Bahrain Merida, who have the Izagirre brothers and Domenico Pozzovivo as options. The team classification looks a stretch at the time of writing but all three have the abilities to climb with the best, descend or sprint.
BMC have animated plenty but Damiano Caruso has claimed very strongly and can go for long range attacks whilst he’s strong enough to get away early too. Tejay Van Garderen is another option for them to put in the break.
Direct Energie have animated each stage and it is clear that Lilan Calmejane is their best bet, but does he have the legs, and can he use them properly through the stage? He’s gone early on a few occasions. Astana have two stage wins and Omar Fraile can climb very well whilst Tanel Kangert was brilliant on Wednesday’s short stage and is perhaps their best option to try again.
Orica haven’t had the Tour they wanted, but Adam Yates had his climbing legs on Tuesday but slipped and crashed when leading, gifting the race to Julian Alaphilippe, but a repeat of that performance would give him strong claims whilst Mikel Nieve so nearly won on La Rosiere. Both are big contenders but Yates can sprint better than Nieve who will need a gap.
Trek have Bauke Mollema for another strong bid whilst Lotto-Jumbo can send Robert Gesink up the road as they have done and don’t forget Rafal Majka for Bora, strong in the second and third week but just finding others a little better.
Julian Alaphilippe again? If he gets into the right break he’s got the best likely sprint left and his climbing legs are great – it would be a brave man to bet against him taking another mountain stage.
If it’s a GC day – which looks unlikely – then the best sprint could well come from Geraint Thomas, or Tom Dumoulin if they are all bunched as one over the top.