Tour de France Stage 18: A Tricky Final D-Day for the Yellow Jersey
Méribel to La Roche-sur-Foron
Primož Roglič looks pretty secure in the race lead, but Thursday’s Stage 18 of the 2020 Tour de France presents an opportunity for a final attempt to cut into his advantage ahead of Saturday’s individual time trial.
Roglič’s Jumbo-Visma team has proved out the prerace expectations that it would be the strongest team in the race, but Stage 18 could be a difficult challenge for them, with five categorized climbs and two smaller unranked ascents followed by a descent to the finish, which invites attacks. Paradoxically, climbing stages that end on a descent are harder to control than summit finishes, because team horsepower is less useful chasing attackers on downhills, where pedaling isn’t a major factor.
A skilled bike handler who gets a gap over the summit of the final climb can often hold or even widen an advantage on the chase. And Roglič will likely not descend at the limit of his capabilities, because of the asymmetry of risks: he can afford to lose 10 or so seconds, while the consequences of a crash are too severe to justify a full-flight chase. Advantage: attackers.
So Thursday could be a chaotic stage, for four primary reasons:
(1) Green jersey leader Sam Bennett (Deceuninck-Quick Step) did a fine job on Stage 17 to nick rival Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) in the intermediate sprint and has a 47-point lead in that competition. But on today’s stage, the intermediate sprint comes very early, just 14km in, after a stretch of false flat with a short and steep—but uncategorized—spike in the profile that offers more than 100 meters of elevation gain. It’s an opportunity for Sagan to drop Bennett and score maximum points (20) without committing to a major breakaway, while DQS will do everything it can to prevent that. If Sagan tries to get away over that hump, expect a wicked pace in the opening kilometers, which means an early start to Jumbo’s work day.
(2) Stage hunters will be on the prowl again. Stage 17 saw only a small breakaway as most riders saw clearly that the length and difficulty of the final climb meant it was a day for the GC battle. But Stage 16 saw a big move of more than 20 riders, and the Stage 18 profile suggests a similarly large break. Those big breakaways are tougher for the leading team to control, because so many teams are represented that they’re invested in the break’s success and won’t help chase. Jumbo may blunt that by putting a rider in the move themselves and giving the break a relatively long leash. But they still have to do the work.
(3) The KoM competition will heat up after a day off. Tadej Pogačar (UAE-Emirates) now leads those standings, and the top three are all GC contenders, which means this isn’t their main objective. But it is for riders like Benoit Cosnefroy (Ag2r la Mondiale) and Pierre Rolland (B&B Hotels-Vital Concept) and there are a bunch of points on offer across those five climbs, in particular the opening Category 1 ascent of the Cormet de Roselend, and the HC-rated Montée du plateau des Glières.
(4) There will likely be attacks from Roglič’s rivals, and the Glières climb is a possible spot from which to go. It comes late in the stage, and is short enough (6km) and steep enough (11 percent) that it’s an ideal launch point for a rider hoping to get on the final Tour podium and/or win a stage (if the break is within reach). Just after the summit proper is a 2km stretch of unpaved false flat across a saddle to a second high point. Again, that gives the advantage to a solo attacker because it’s harder to keep a steady paceline on gravel. Then, the course is mostly descending, with one final (unranked) climb just 10km from the finish and a drop on twisty roads to the 1km to go mark before a slight rise to the line in La Roche-sur-Foron.
That all adds up to a potentially stressful day of technical racing. It remains to be seen how aggressive the GC contenders are, but if all the pieces fall into place, it could be more exciting than Wednesday’s queen stage.
Who will deliver the final blows?
We’d expect to see Cosnefroy and Rolland in the breakaway, as well as INEOS Grenadiers, who are motivated for stage wins now that leader Egan Bernal had to drop out with back pain. Richard Carapaz has come close two days in a row now. If he has the legs, he’ll go again, or look for teammates Pavel Sivakov or Michal Kwiatkowski, who’s well suited to the course. Sunweb will look for its third stage win of the Tour, possibly with Marc Hirschi or Tiesj Benoot.
Only eight teams of 22 have won stages so far this Tour, so it’s a pick ’em of other motivated attackers. On GC, Pogačar and Stage 17 winner Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) may try to cut into Roglič’s lead ahead of Saturday’s individual time trial, while Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo) and Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) could try to put themselves in reach of the podium.