Stage 17: Last Chance for Pogačar?

Can we even expect more action in stage 17, after that unbelievable time trial? You bet we can... it's the last chance, really, for Pogačar.

By Whit Yost |

Stage 17 – Saint-Gervais Mont-Blanc to Courchevel (165.7km) – Wednesday, July 19

Stage 17 brings the Tour’s final day in the Alps, and it’s a doozie with over 5,000m of elevation and four categorised climbs: the Category 1 Col des Saisies, the Category 1 Cormet de Roselend, the Category 2 Côte de Longefoy, and the Hors Categorie Col de la Loze.

The stage begins in Saint-Gervais Mont-Blanc, at the base of the final climb of Stage 15, then heads down a valley to the base of the day’s first ascent: the Category 1 Col des Saisies (13.4km at 5.1 percent). A large group should escape between the start of the stage and the base of this climb, and you can bet it will include Italy’s Giulio Ciccone (Lidl-Trek) and American Neilson Powless (EF Education-EasyPost), who currently sit first and second on the Tour’s King of the Mountains Classification and will do everything within their power to hold-off Denmark’s Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) and Slovenia’s Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) by scoring as many points as possible on the first three climbs of the stage.

Tour de France 2023 Stage 17The break–which should also include a few out-of-contention GC contenders–should stay away over the the Category 1 Cormet de Roselend (19.9km at 6 percent) and the Category 2 Côte de Longefoy (6.6km at 7.5 percent), but they’ll need a fairly sizeable advantage if they’re to make it over the day’s biggest challenge–the Hors Categorie Col de la Loze (28.1km at 6 percent)–ahead of the GC contenders and survive to win the stage.

Originally a climb to the Méribel ski resort, the Tour famously came here in 1973 when Frenchman Bernard Thévenet won the stage but was unable to gain significant time on Spain’s Luis Ocaña, who had taken the yellow jersey during a stage earlier in the morning (and went on to win the race overall).

The race didn’t return until 2020, when the construction of a new cyclists-only roadway from the ski resort to the 2,304-meter summit of the nearby Col de la Loze gave the organisers a good reason to. The new roadway adds seven steep kilometres to the original climb, with average gradients that hover around 10 percent and one pitch that hits 24 percent! One of the highest paved roads in the Alps, the first rider to the top takes home the Souvenir Henri Desgrange cash prize for winning the highest summit in the 2023 Tour. And just for good measure, there are 8, 5 and 2 bonus seconds available at the summit as well.

In 2020, the stage ended at the summit, but this year’s Tour has an added challenge: a short, treacherous descent to Courchevel (the organisers are using downhill ski racing mattresses to keep the riders safe in the event of crashes) followed by a steep ramp to the finish line–that tops out at 18 percent. Without a doubt, this is the most breath-taking finish (literally and figuratively) of the 2023 Tour de France.

Riders to watch

After crushing the Tour’s only individual time trial on Tuesday’s Stage 16, Vingegaard enters Stage 17 firmly in the Tour’s driver’s seat, with an advantage of 1:48 over Pogačar. Assuming the Dane recovers from his potentially Tour-winning effort, he can race defensively while the Slovenian does everything he can to gain back some time–even if it means taking huge risks on the descent between the summit of the Col de la Loze and the finish in Courchevel. And if Vingegaard is able to cover Pogačar’s attacks, don’t be surprised if he tries to win the stage himself, which would certainly be a huge mental blow to Pogačar.

The Tour’s closest GC battle is now for third-place overall, with Great Britain’s Adam Yates (UAE Team Emirates) overtaking Spain’s Carlos Rodríguez (INEOS-Grenadiers) in Tuesday’s time trial and now leading the Spaniard by just five seconds in the race for third. At some point, UAE might have to choose between Pogačar winning the Tour and Yates finishing third, a tricky proposition that could backfire if they don’t get it just right. Frankly, we think Yates has a better chance of winning the stage–and cementing third-place overall–than Pogačar does of winning the stage and the Tour.

When to Watch

There’s a lot to love about this stage including the early fight to make the breakaway and the impending duel between Ciccone and Powless to try and win the polka dot jersey. But in the end it’s all about the Col de la Loze, specifically those seven “new” kilometers between Méribel to the summit–and the death-defying plunge down to Courchevel and its cruel uphill sprint to the finish line. Tune-in around around 16h30 to watch all the action as it unfolds.

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