• Rúben Silva

Tour de France Stage 18 Preview

As expected it was a day fully for the breakaway to battle between themselves as ever in Gap and it was an exciting finish. A fast start saw a group of over 30 riders escape early on, one that included sprinters, climber, puncheurs and everything inbetween. The decisive move came around 30 kilometers to go when Trentin, alongside a group including the likes of Asgreen and van Avermaet distanced themselves from the main group, and before the climb started the Italian went solo and seemingly easily he rode over the climb and descended into Gap with a confortable lead to win his third career stage win at the Tour, ahead of Asgreen who had attacked from the chasing group and Greg van Avermaet, who finished with a group including Mollema, Teuns and Gorka Izagirre. The peloton arrived 20 minutes later after an easy day with no moves.

Positive: Mitchelton have compensated already the loss of their GC rider, they take their fourth win in the race and all of them came from breakaways, Trentin looked dominant as he was the main force behind the moves and when he went solo it was game over for everyone else. No other real winners from the day, there wasn't much in stake, Xandro Meurisse took the right day to be in front and came up to a very good 13th in the GC, with Mollema and Herrada infiltrating the Top20 and Trek moving into the Team's classification lead.

Negative: There were several teams with multiple riders in front, the most noticeable though was UAE with 4 riders, all of them good riders and could only manage 14th in a group of 33.

The Route

Stage 18 sees the true entrance in the Alps and features one of the most iconic climb combos of the race, with the Izoard and the Galibier set to make it a very important day in the overall. It's the first of the 3 final days, the start allows the climbers to make it to the front, the Col de Vars will be at tempo likely but in the Izoard something can be done.

It's not unknown, a big presence in the Tour and the Izoard will be climbed through the Casse Desserte and is where Andy Schleck launched himself to an epic victory back in 2011, where Waren Barguil won the queen stage in 2017 after an amazing attack.

It will lead to the Col du Galibier, via Lautaret it's a deadly valley road leading to the summit of one of the highest roads in the Alps, this isn't the Galibier's hardest side but it has brutal ramps in the final kilometer and the altitude will be hard to deal with, specially after such a long grind up the Lautaret. The climb summits with 19Km to go and descends all the way to Valloire for the finish, opposite of 2017 when the Galibier was climbed through the other side and finish was in Serre-Chevalier.

The Weather

The wind won't play a big role, it will be rather weak throughout the day, mostly from the south but with some variaton, the most important section may be up to the Lautaret where it will likely come as a tailwind which can favour some attacks in the Izoard.

As for the heat it will be positive news aswell as the temperatures shouldn't go above around 25 degrees in the valley roads, up in the top of the Galibier for example there's a maximum of 22 so there shouldn't be majour problems, there's even a slight possibility of rain in the final descent but nothing big.

The Favourites

Tough day to say break or nay. Today the big guns all saved themselves and quite rightly as the decisive set of days will begin tomorrow. In here we have a stage that has has a similar finale to the 2011 Tour stage won by Andy Schleck in amazing fashion, it's the first time since that day the Galibier will be climbed from this side and it will come after the Izoard exactly, it's a stage that should fall to the GC riders if there is another hard day of attacking Alaphillipe which someone like Pinot should, he's shown great legs so far and he can't afford to waist any opportunity if the legs are there.

I mention Pinot and rightly so, FDJ have looked very strong, and they fit perfectly in the last mountain stage I would assume they are planning on doing similar, Gaudu has been a perfect henchmen, and having Molard/Reichenbach in front will both allow the teammates to rest and will give an opportunity to bridge across to them. I expect in fact similar moves to those in Foix, Mikel Landa is in a position where he has pretty much nothing to loose, he is as strong as the men fighting for the win but he's down in seventh, in front of his teammate Valverde, Uran and Porte who haven't shown legs anyway similar to him. He only has to gain with a far away attack, he should be the one targeting it the most, specially as Movistar, as a team, are looking very strong and having Amador (and in that case Soler) in front was a perfect scenario, just as they played out in the Giro. Alongside them I stand with Barguil to also want to move, in the Izoard where he won two years ago he will be motivated to put on something, he's been one of the most agressive GC riders and is in a similar stance to Landa where he will hardly loose anything if it goes wrong.

Buchmann and Alaphillipe will remain jokers, I assume Alaphillipe will try to race more conservatively, he has rivals through which he can rely on their work still, from Kruisjwijk and Thomas he could've found the perfect alliance in Foix but he went too all-out too early instead of measuring his efforts, if he does so he can have allies as to this point FDJ's target is still to gain time on the INEOS riders and Kruisjwijk, and both of them have very good support, INEOS is lacking Kwiatkowski's presence which is usually there in the climbs, but Wout Poels has came into form and should be very important to both Thomas and Bernal. Bernal, he should follow Pinot, that's his strategy, he surely won't be working for Thomas unless he feels very good, as a similar rider to Pinot and as explosive he should cover the moves, the high altitude these days won't favour the Colombian as much but it still something worthy to think about, he seems to have the consistency necessary to deal with the final week.

As for far-out attacks or breakaway presences it's not to discard a win, I don't know if Simon Yates is up for the task once again but between him, Adam and Jack Haig I see good value, they've all saved themselves today and should all thrive in tomorrow's terrain, well Adam is yet to see but I believe he has the possibility to show his best level yet in the Tour. Bahrain also went easy today, Nibali and Caruso are two men fitted for tomorrow and Nibali has very good reasoning has he was coming around in stage 14, their form is on the uprising. Besides them, Romain Bardet, Daniel Martin and the Astana team should be the ones wanting it the most, Pello Bilbao and Alexey Lutsenko mainly, I think it's too much for Lutsenko but he can climb very well, Bilbao is more of a pure climber and a perfect rider for the final week as he showed in the Giro. There are more riders with the quality but team duties should hold them back, Gaudu/Bennett/De Plus/Muhlberger are perfect examples of it.

Prediction Time

Pinot, Landa, Bernal

Thomas, Bilbao, Buchmann, Nibali

Kruisjwijk, S.Yates, A.Yates, Alaphillipe, Barguil, Bardet, Valverde

The long climbs and the final week are something that suit Landa to the bone, his confidence is high and he really has no reason not to attack, he knows he can have the freedom to go but he can too form alliances, with riders who will want to move up as him and take advantage of his and his team's current form.

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