Tour de France Stage 18 Preview: The First & Hardest Day in the Alps

The final battle for the yellow jersey starts here.

Whit Yost |

Stage 18 brings the 2019 Tour into the heart of the Alps with the longest mountain course this year. Beginning in Embrun, the race heads south along Lake Serre-Ponçon, going over the Category 3 Côte des Demoiselles Coiffées before turning inland toward the Intermediate Sprint in Les Thuiles.

Things should start fast, with riders fighting to join the breakaway in an attempt to win the stage—and, with so many King of the Mountains points up for grabs, perhaps launch a serious bid to steal the polka dot jersey from Tim Wellens.

Then the real climbing begins. The Category 1 Col de Vars (9.3K at 7.5 percent), the hors catégorie Col d’Izoard (14.1K at 7.3 percent), and the hors catégorie Col du Galibier (23K at 5.1 percent) come in relatively quick succession. A 19K descent takes riders from the top of the Galibier to the finish in Valloire, with wind in the valley possibly dictating the extent to which things regroup on the run-in to line.

The distance, altitude, and heat will make this one of, if not the, hardest stage of the 2019 Tour. It will test everyone, though sprinters will have to work especially hard to avoid elimination by the day’s time cut. And while a stage contender will likely win from the break, the battle for overall victory will rage behind him.

Deceuninck–Quick Step will have its hands full defending Julian Alaphilippe’s yellow jersey. The Frenchman was isolated early on Stage 15, the last day in the Pyrenees, and he’ll have few teammates who can survive all the way up and over the Izoard, let alone the Galibier. His best-case scenario would see teams like Ineos, Jumbo–Visma, and Groupama–FDJ ride a steady tempo until the final climb, giving Alaphilippe a chance to treat the Galibier summit as his own personal finish line.

If he reaches the top without having lost too much time, he might live to fight another day in yellow. And if he’s dropped, he’ll need to ride within himself, chasing at a steady pace rather than accelerating to close the gap all at once (as he tried at the end of Stage 15). He only needs to stay within about 90 seconds of his immediate General Classification rivals to keep the jersey. Plus, he has a long descent to the finish working in his favor.

Riders to Watch

This is a day for pure climbers, perhaps some pre-race favourites whose Tours haven’t gone as well as planned. Adam Yates, Vincenzo Nibali, and Romain Bardet are good bets for riders trying to salvage their races. The chance to become a contender for the polka dot jersey is an added bonus, especially with two more days of climbing still to come.

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