With a long time trial on the horizon, this is not the last chance for GC riders to move up the standings. However, the best climbers will be desperate to make an impression.
The infamous Col du Tourmalet and Luz Ardiden make up most of the stage’s 3,500 meters of vertical drop.
Tour de France 2021 Guide
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Stage 18 profile
The stage begins in Pau, which is on the Tour de France for an incredible 73rd opportunity. Stage 9 of the 2020 Tour de France started in Pau, where the races were held non-stop from the moment the flag was lowered. Marc Hirschi started solo early and was only caught by the favorites in the general classification a few kilometers from the end, where his now teammate Tadej Pogacar sprinted to the first Tour stage victory of his career. If this year’s stage is as dramatic as this, you won’t find us complaining.
Two categorized climbs are present in the first 55 km, although they are both fourth category and less than 3 km in length. The “real” climbing begins with one of the most famous climbs of the Tour de France: the Col du Tourmalet. Culminating at an altitude of over 2,100 meters, the Tourmalet is a brute.
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Col du Tourmalet profile
It is over 17 km long and has an average of over 7% overall. The Tourmalet was one of the first mountains to be used in the Tour de France in the early 1900s. More recently it was climbed in 2019, where Thibaut Pinot climbed to the top first.
Thibaut Pinot winner at the top of the Col du Tourmalet in 2019 (Image credit: ASO / Pauline BALLET)
But this year, the stage does not stop at Tourmalet. Instead, the riders will descend to the last mountain of the Tour de France 2021: Luz Ardiden. The climb is 13.3 km long and has an average gradient of 7.4%. The mountain has been used in the Tour de France before, but nowhere near as often as the previous Tourmalet. Samuel Sánchez was the last winner when the Tour visited the climb in 2011.
Ardiden Light Profile
Both mountains are out of category, which means there are a lot of points available in the King of the Mountain competition. Wout Poels currently owns the polka dot jersey, but Wout van Aert, Mike Woods and Nairo Quintana have all expressed a keen interest in the jersey and will follow Poels closely.
In the general classification, this is the last chance for the contenders to mark the spirits in the mountains. This will encourage some riders, especially those who are less confident against the clock, to ride aggressively and attack early. We can hope, and almost expect fireworks in the Pyrenees.
Image Credit: THOMAS SAMSON / AFP via Getty Images
Thaddée Pogacar remains in the lead of the Tour de France with a huge margin in hand. This means that he doesn’t need to be aggressive and instead can follow the wheels of his rivals to avoid wasting time. This dynamic means that the UAE Team Emirates will be left in control of the tempo of the peloton. Yes Pogacar feels strong enough to win, there’s a chance he can put his team up front to keep the breakaway in check. After all, the United Arab Emirates are one of the only teams with the eight riders who started the Tour still present.
Unlike UAE, Jumbo-Visma are severely depleted after losing Primož Roglič, Robert Gesink and Tony Martin. however, Wout van Aert and Blacksmith Kuss a won stages while Jonas Vingegaard poses a big challenge for the podium. Even though Vingegaard is strong enough to win the stage, he doesn’t have the team at his disposal to control the breakaway. Their best tactic may be to send people like Kuss and Van Aert into the break, where Van Aert can chase the polka dot jersey and Kuss can be used as a satellite runner, returning late in the stage to help Vingegaard.
The Ineos Grenadiers must remain aggressive to aim for a stage victory. Even if Richard Carapaz is difficult for a podium, the British team would have hoped for more before leaving Brest. Nonetheless, they still have a strong squad with only Luke Rowe dropping out at this point. They can choose to use the likes of Richie Porte, Geraint Thomas and Michal Kwiatkowski increase the tempo in the peloton to blow things up. Alternatively, they could cram the breakaway with as many runners as possible, where they could benefit Carapaz after his attacks rather than before. And knowing Richard Carapaz, he will attack at some point.
Although he is only 26 years old, Enric Mas already has three top 5 Grand Tours to its credit. On these three occasions, he never lost a place in the GC in the last week, where he is able to show his strength. Due to Mas’ strong three week record, he can never be struck off by his rivals until the race is over. Keep an eye out for Movistar, which has some prominent teammates in Alejandro Valverde and Miguel Angel Lopez to support Mas, who will not be satisfied with a place in the top 10.
Other GC runners to watch are Wilco Kelderman, Ben O’Connor and Rigoberto Uranium.
With so many King of the Mountains points available and at least four riders with a chance of winning the jersey, the battle for the breakaway will be fierce. The wearer of the polka dot jersey Wout Poels will be challenged by Mike Woods, Nairo Quintana and Wout van Aert. By joining the breakaway, the four riders would also have a chance to win the stage.
Other riders with a chance in the breakaway group include Ion Izagirre, Sergio Higuita, David Gaudu and Esteban Chaves.
Cover image: ASO / Pauline Ballet