Tour de France Stage 17 Preview: Get Ready for the Toughest Summit Finish

THE FIRST OF BACK-TO-BACK SUMMIT FINISHES IN THE PYRENEES, STAGE 17 COULD DECIDE THE WINNER OF THE 2021 TOUR DE FRANCE.


By Whit Yost |

Stage 17 – Muret to Saint-Lary-Soulan/Col du Portet – 178.4km – Wednesday, July 14

The first of back-to-back Pyrenean summit finishes, Stage 17 could decide the winner of the 2021 Tour de France. The stage begins gently in Muret with about 115km of gradually rising roads as the race heads southwest towards the mountains.

But once riders are through the Intermediate Sprint in Luchon, things get hard—really hard—as the race follows the route of Stage 17 from the 2018 Tour de France, a super-short stage of 65km that tackled three categorised summits. (The stage was so short that the organisers used a Formula One-style starting grid to begin the race.)

WHO IS WINNING THE TOUR?

The climbing begins with the Category 1 Col de Peyresourde (13.2km at 7 percent), which should prompt attacks from out-of-contention stage-hunters and riders who still have a chance of winning the polka-dot jersey as the Tour’s King of the Mountains. Look for INEOS, Jumbo-Visma, and EF Education-Nippo to put a rider up the road to help their GC captains later in the stage. UAE Team Emirates will again be forced to choose between placing riders in the breakaway or staying close to race-leader Tadej Pogačar.

Next comes the shorter—but steeper—Category 1 Col de Val Louron-Azet (7.4km at 8.3 percent). The KOM points here should also go to a rider from the breakaway, but with what’s still to come, the break might not last much longer.

The stage ends with perhaps the toughest single climb in this year’s Tour: the Hors Categorie Col du Portet (16km at 8.7 percent). Long, steep, and with a high-altitude finish, it’s here where the stage will be decided. If the break contains the right mix of riders when it forms, one of its strongest members could hold-on to win. But if the group of GC contenders keeps it close, we could see one of the Tour’s top 10 riders win the day.

With an advantage of more than five minutes over the next-best rider on the Tour’s General Classification, Pogačar can afford to play it safe, following attacks from Colombia’s Rigoberto Uran (EF Education-Nippo), Denmark’s Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma), and Ecuador’s Richard Carapaz (INEOS-Grenadiers) as they attempt to drop both the yellow jersey and one another.

After all, a top-3 overall finish in the Tour de France is a career achievement, and each of these three riders would be thrilled to stand alongside Pogačar on the final podium in Paris—especially Vingegaard, who was supposed to be riding on behalf of Primož Roglič but found himself leading the team himself after the Slovenian abandoned the race after Stage 8.

The longer Pogačar follows the accelerations of his challengers, the sooner they’ll stop worrying about the yellow jersey and start trying to attack one another, a situation that could effectively concede the Tour de France to the Slovenian. And given Pogačar’s penchant for attacking himself, that’s the moment he could drop them all to add to his own advantage—and perhaps win the stage himself.

This will also be a crucial day for Great Britain’s Mark Cavendish (Deceuninck-Quick Step), who sits one stage win away from taking the record for the most stage victories in Tour history. He’ll need to make the time cut in order to keep his challenge alive. He and his team have done a terrific job of measuring their efforts to make sure Cavendish finishes each mountain stage on time, but these two days are the hardest they’ve faced yet in this year’s Tour.

Luckily, the riders won’t have to deal with the intense heat that often greets them in the Pyrenees. Instead, another rainy morning is forecast, with cloudy skies and highs in the low-70s expected in the afternoon.

Stage 17 – Riders to Watch

Colombia’s Nairo Quintana (Arkea-Samsic) won the stage for Movistar in 2018, attacking near the bottom of the Col du Portet and sweeping up everyone on the road ahead of him to win his first stage in five years. Look for Quintana to go on the attack early this year in an attempt to earn KOM points and win the stage. It’s also another day for Canada’s Michael Woods (Israel Start-Up Nation), who’s only eight points behind the Netherland’s Wout Poels (Bahrain-Victorious) in the King of the Mountains classification. A notoriously bad descender, Woods will love the fact that Stage 17 finishes uphill.

It’s also Bastille Day, which means the roads will be lined with partying fans—and the French will be très eager to win the stage. Guillaume Martin (Cofidis) is riding well and sits more than nine minutes behind Pogačar. That should be enough of a disadvantage to buy the Frenchman some freedom to try and win the stage—even if he starts the climb with the Tour’s GC contenders. And if he’s recovered from his efforts off the front on Stage 16, David Gaudu (Groupama-FDJ) is a rider to watch as well. Pierre Rolland (B&B Hotels p/b KTM) won a summit finish atop Alpe d’Huez late in the 2011 Tour de France, perhaps he can work some magic nearly ten years after that breakthrough victory.

When to Watch

The final 65km of the stage contain three categorised summits, so if you have the time you won’t be disappointed. (Tune-in around 15h00) Otherwise, wait until the final climb to the finish atop the Col du Portet, which should produce some of the most dramatic racing of the entire 2021 Tour de France. Average estimates have the leaders starting the climb around 16h30, with the stage finishing about 40 minutes later.

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