So, after 18 stages and almost 3000km of racing, today is the last chance for the climbers to make their mark. As the Tour de France bids a final, dramatic farewell to the Pyrenees, join The Roar for live coverage of Stage 19 from 9pm (AEST) onwards.
Although this is the area where the decisive time trial will be raced come Saturday, today, all eyes will be focused on the high mountains of the Pyrenees.
Today will be an excruciating day for the riders with the only consolation being the lack of a summit finish.
Several classic Tour climbs line the route of today’s stage, but despite the inclusion of the Col d’Aspin and the Col du Tourmalet, it is the monstrous triple ascent of the Col des Borderes, the Col du Soulor and the Col d’Aubisque which will have the riders sweating.
The race starts off innocuously enough with only two category 4 climbs in the first 66km of racing to warm up the legs.
We then head to the intermediate sprint in Sarrancolin, but this sleepy little village situated at the foot of the Aspin (12km at 6.5 per cent) will be the last we will see of about half the peloton.
From there on, the next 110km are almost exclusively the domain of the climbers, with the long descent down the steeper side of the Tourmalet (17.1km at 7.3 per cent) being the only real respite here
Finally, after a stretch of valley road, we hit the triple whammy of the Borderes, (8.6km at 5.8 per cent) followed by the the Soulor and the Aubisque (measured as one climb at 16.6km at 4.9 per cent but this figure includes a slight descent/flat section between the two, so both are steeper than they appear).
After this, it’s a mad 20km descent (down 1300m in altitude) to the finish in Laruns.
This will be the last chance for the climbers to increase their overall position on the overall standings so expect teams like Movistar and LottoNL-Jumbo to launch long range attacks from the Aspin and the Tourmalet.
Movistar, in particular, has nothing to lose with Nairo Quintana (5th), Mikel Landa (7th) and Alejandro Valverde (11th) all high on the overall standings.
All these riders have been here before and will have no desire to just sit back and finish anonymously in the peloton, so we should see some fireworks from them.
For the Dutch team Lotto, Steven Kruijswijk will be the more aggressive rider today. His teammate, the surprise packet of this year’s race, Primoz Roglic, is sitting in fourth place on GC and will be looking to try and conserve as much energy as he can for the final Time-trial, a discipline in which he excels.
If he feels up to it, however, former ski-jumper Roglic may try and gap Chris Froome on the final climb and hold him off on the descent in a bid to make up the sixteen seconds he needs for an improbable podium finish.
In terms of the battle for victory, Tom Dumoulin has also stated that he believes he needs to narrow the gap to Geraint Thomas to stand any chance of catching the Welshman on Saturday’s decisive time-trial in the Aquitaine region.
Tonight though, all of Wales will be holding their collective breath, as Thomas seeks to go one step closer to creating history. If he can defend his lead tonight and take two minutes into tomorrow’s time-trial, he’ll be the likely victor on the Champs-Elysee come Sunday.
When ASO (the organisers of the Tour de France) designed this stage, they clearly had one man in mind: Romain Bardet.
Ideally, this stage would have been a place for Bardet to gain some time before attempting to hold on to a high GC position in the time trial.
However, with a podium spot now out of the question, the Frenchman will be going all out on today’s stage for the consolation prize of a stage win.
If the break is caught before the final climb, expect Bardet to launch an attack over the Aubisque before using his descending skills to solo to victory.
On the GC, expect to see changes on the overall standings today. Chris Froome, in particular, looks vulnerable and it appears as if the effort of winning an almost unprecedented three Grand Tours in a row has finally caught up with the champion.
However, although he’s never made it all the way through a Grand Tour as team leader, Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas has looked rock-solid and, barring a dramatic collapse (a la Simon Yates in this year’s Giro), will likely remain in the race lead come the end of the stage.
The question will be, by how much.