Stage 18 brings the final summit finish—and perhaps the final showdown—of the 2017 Tour de France.
Whit Yost |
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Stage 18 brings the final summit finish—and perhaps the final showdown—of the 2017 Tour de France. – By Whit Yost
The Tour’s last day in the Alps also brings the race’s final summit finish—and it’s a toughy. The Col d’Izoard isn’t as long as Stage 17’s Col du Galibier, but it’s still the second-highest summit of the 2017 Tour de France and has a steeper average gradient. Simply put: it’s a beast!Almost the same length as Stage 17, Stage 18 is a bit more straightforward. The riders will roll along the undulating valley for about 55km before the day’s first climb, the Category 3 Côte des Demoiselles Coiffées, which passes by a rock formation of the same name. (The name literally means “young ladies with fancy hats.”) Once they hit the riders descend down from this little plateau, the road begins to climb gradually, through the day’s intermediate sprint and the feed zone, before finally getting to the base of Izoard’s appetiser, the Category 1 Col de Vars.The Vars is long enough and steep enough to produce some attacks, but most of them will likely come from riders trying to win the stage or from riders lower down the Tour’s General Classification who hope to improve their overall placing. Romain Bardet’s AG2R La Mondiale squad might try and ride a hard tempo to eliminate some of Chris Froome’s teammates, but with the top of Vars coming almost 35km from the base of the Izoard, they might ultimately decide to save themselves for the final climb to the finish—especially if there’s a head wind in the valley between the two summits.
The Izoard begins 14km from the finish line. It starts gently, but as the riders climb higher the road gets steeper and the landscape takes on an eerie, almost desert-like quality. Pillars of exposed rock and fields of scree line the Izoard’s upper slopes, providing a setting that looks as if it were made just for the Tour de France.
For Bardet and Cannondale-Drapac’s Rigoberto Uran, who are currently tied for second-place at 27 seconds behind the yellow jersey, the Izoard is their last chance to take time from Froome before Saturday’s individual time trial. They’ll need at least a minute (Uran) or two (Bardet) if they want to have even the slightest chance of holding-off the Briton. This means they must not wait until the final few kilometres of the climb to attack—and they’ll probably have to coordinate their accelerations if they hope to crack Froome and gain a significant advantage by the finish line
If Froome ends the day in yellow, it’s game over for the rest of the field. As the strongest time trialist of the Tour’s General Classification contenders, if he avoids losing the jersey here, the Tour will be his.