Stage 18, the Tour’s final day in the mountains, features two of the most famous climbs in the Pyrenees: the Col du Tourmalet and the climb to the ski station at Luz Ardiden. Like Stage 17, the serious climbing comes at the end of the day, but with the final outcome of the 2021 Tour de France pretty much decided, the breakaway should have an easier time surviving to take the win.
Starting in Pau, the first half of the stage offers two Category 4 climbs, one after only 10.6km and the other before the Intermediate Sprint in Pouzac, 54.6km into the stage. Expect to see Australia’s Michael Matthews (Team BikeExchange) in the day’s early move in an effort to win the sprint. Unwilling to concede the Tour’s green jersey to Great Britain’s Mark Cavendish (Deceuninck-Quick Step), Matthews has been doing his best to score maximum points at mid-stage Intermediate Sprints through the Pyrenees. By doing so, he’s clawed himself back into contention and would assume leadership of the Tour’s Points Classification if Cav fails to finish the Tour.
For Cavendish, Stage 18 is just about survival. If he makes the time cut, he’ll have two chances to try and break the record for the most stage wins in Tour de France history. And if he does that, he’ll likely win the green jersey competition as well.
Once through the Intermediate Sprint it’s about 25km to the base of the day’s first major challenge: the Hors Categorie Col du Tourmalet (17.1km at 7.3 percent). Tackled from the east in Sainte-Marie-de-Campan, this is the longer, but steadier road to the summit (the western approach starts easier but gets much steeper toward the top). The first rider to the summit wins the Souvenir Jacques Goddet award, and a cash prize of 5 000 Euro.
A long descent to the valley offers the riders a chance to catch their breath and refuel, which they’ll need for the Tour’s final summit finish: the Hors Categorie climb to Luz Ardiden (13.3km at 7.4 percent), a ski resort in the high Pyrenees.
Riders left from the day’s breakaway will need several minutes in order to have a chance of holding-off the remaining GC contenders, but with Slovenia’s Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) winning yesterday’s stage and extending his overall lead, we think they’ll have enough of a gap to do it.
This is a short, intense stage, but Pogačar should have no trouble defending his yellow jersey. With such a huge lead—and the battle to see which two riders will join him on the Tour’s final podium seemingly settled as well—there’s little for Pogačar to worry about.
Stage 18 – Riders to Watch
Judging from his efforts to win Wednesday’s Stage 17 while wearing the yellow jersey, Pogačar will likely be happy to let a breakaway fight for the stage win, with the usual suspects doing their best to end the Tour on a high note.
Israel Start-Up Nation worked hard to set-up Michael Woods for the stage win on Stage 17, but the Canadian was unable to follow the accelerations once the Tour’s GC contenders began to play their cards. Woods has been one of the Tour’s most consistently aggressive riders and assuming he was able to recover a bit once he was dropped at the end of the Stage 17, we expect to see him give it another go on Thursday.
Bahrain-Victorious should also be active in an attempt to defend Dutch rider Wout Poels’ lead in the Tour’s King of the Mountains competition. Poels is only 11 points ahead of Pogačar, and 12 ahead of Woods and Colombia’s Nairo Quintana (Arkea-Samsic)—who’s also a good pick to win the stage. With 20 points available at the top of the Tourmalet and at the finish in Luz Ardiden, this competition is far from over.
And last but not least … the French. They’ve endured a terrible Tour de France so far and, while we won’t bore you with the laundry list of French riders with a chance to win (Martin, Gaudu, Latour, etc.), expect to see them all doing their best to save some face before the end of the Tour.
When to Watch
We’re not ones to pass up a chance to see the Tour de France peloton climb the Col du Tourmalet, which means we’ll be tuning-in live at about 3pm to see the leaders hit the base of the climb. But it’s a Thursday, and you might have other work to do. If that’s the case, tune in about an hour later as the riders begin the climb to the finish in Luz Ardiden, where we expect see an exciting fight to take the last mountain stage win of the 2021 Tour de France.