It’s D-Day at the Tour de France, with Stage 18 being the last chance for the climbers to wrench time off of Chris Froome before the final Time Trial. Join The Roar for live coverage and updates from 9pm (AEST).
In the closest Tour de France in the last five years, today’s 180-kilometre trek from Briancon to Izoard plays host to the races final mountain stage and what will be a decisive summit finish up the Col D’Izoard.
With tomorrow’s essentially flat stage, it’s the last chance for Fabio Aru and Roman Bardet to gain time on Chris Froome and Rigoberto Uran before Stage 20’s ITT, which heavily fancies the later riders.
The day will start out with the peloton heading south out of Briacon and while bumpy and including the Category 3 Côte des Demoiselles Coiffées, it won’t hit any steep roads until the route loops back, heading north towards the Izoard just after the intermediate sprint point 90 kilometres in.
The route gradually climbs skywards and at the 129kilometres mark the race will hit the Category 1 climb up the Col de Vars.
At an average gradient of 7.5 per cent for 9.3 kilometres, it is unlikely to dislodge any of the favourites but likely to play host to some opening salvos from Aru and Bardet who will be desperate to wear out the legs of Froome’s domestiques before the decisive final climb.
An 18 kilometres descent will set the table for the final summit finish of the Tour, the Col D’Izoard, a climb that has launched victories to legendary names such as Fausto Coppi, Louison Bobet and Eddy Merckx.
The 14-kilometre brute has an average gradient of 7.3 per cent but while it starts out slowly, barring a very short dip 4km from the finish, from the halfway point onwards it averages in the 9-10 per cent range.
The steepest point comes at just after halfway and with 6km to go it could be where Aru or Bardet launch the race winning move.
At the end of the day it will boil down to how much time Aru or Bardet can take from Froome and Uran who on their day are both world class time trialists and capable of taking over a minute back.
Bardet, Aru and Uran have looked in supreme climbing form all tour while Froome has varied between comfortable and completely cracked at different points. Yet he still found a way to hold the lead and has for most of the race.
Of course we cannot forget Sky’s joker in the pack Mikel Landa, who has consistently looked to be one of the strongest climbers in the Tour and only sits a minute back from his Sky teammate Froome.
Barring something extraordinary the breakaway has no chance today. Sky are going to set a hellish pace on the front all day to try and deaden the explosiveness of the other climbers.
It is unlikely any of the contenders will be able to escape on the Col de Vars, but the Izoard will be another story.
Aru and Bardet have no choice but to attack and they may ally together to try and crack Froome as they were able to on Stage 12.
Bardet looked the strongest of the two yesterday and has been the most aggressive rider in the General Classification so I predict he will throw the kitchen sink at Sky while riding to the stage win and perhaps momentarily take the race lead, but will not gain the necessary time to ride to Paris in the yellow jersey.
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