The final day in the Pyrenees is a day of last chances. The last chance for those GC hopefuls without a good time trial in them to gain some vital time on their rivals. (I’m looking at you, Romain Bardet and Thibaut Pinot). The last chance to win some big points in the king of the mountains competition. The last chance for a climber to take a stage win.
Thursday, 24th July: Stage 18 – Pau to Hautacam, high mountains, 145.5km
Of course it’s also the last chance for someone to mount a serious bid to grab the yellow jersey from Vincenzo Nibali (Astana). But, with the form he’s in and his dominant advantage, I just don’t see this happening. What I do see, however, is the mother of all battles for the second and third steps on the podium in Paris.
After a couple of leg-loosening cat 3 climbs, the first battle proper will be waged on the 17.1km ascent of the beloved HC Col du Tourmalet. There is a reason why this climb features so often in Le Tour – it’s not the longest, it doesn’t feature the steepest gradients, but it is super hard, particularly in the final week. The average gradient of 7.3% masks the steeper 10% sections towards the top.
Any breakaway that arrives at the climb with a decent time advantage will have to work hard to keep it, as inevitable attacks will be going on behind them. Expect to see attacks from GC teams as they try to put the yellow jersey – or more realistically their close rivals – under pressure.
The long 30km-plus descent from the summit can be taken at speed, but shouldn’t cause too many problems unless it is wet. However, the valley between the Col du Tourmalet and the final climb of Hautacam is tough and it will be nothing but hard riding from the peloton.
Then we come to the summit finish on the Hautacam itself, a spectacular finishing arena for what will be an all-out battle royale. Anyone who has any energy left will have to leave it all on the road for this punishing 13.6km ascent, where the gradient goes up and down so you can’t get a rhythm as you climb. Settle into the sofa, and wince in sympathy as you watch.
Link: Official website
Header image: Col du Tourmalet