The final week of the Tour de France begins with a medium mountain stage in the Pyrenees, with stage 16 on Tuesday 13th July. The road to Saint-Gaudens is unlikely to be decisive in the general classification, but the favourites must be aware in case any of their rivals are feeling especially strong and decide to blow up the race. A rider from the breakaway is likely to claim stage victory.
Stage 16 profile
Departing from Pas de la Casa, stage 16 begins with 35km of descending. Typically, this makes the formation of the breakaway a more challenging task as the terrain doesn’t allow for the strongest, most aggressive riders to make a sizeable difference.
If the breakaway doesn’t form early on, the Col de Port is the perfect launchpad. The second category ascent is 11.4km in length and averages just over 5%. There is a plateau section around 3km in, meaning it's notably steeper when the road does go uphill. The climb is crested 54km into the stage.
The next point of note is the intermediate sprint in Vic d’Oust which occurs at kilometre 84. As the sprint takes place after the Col de Port, this is a good opportunity for Michael Matthews and Sonny Colbrelli to move closer to Mark Cavendish in the green jersey standings.
This leads into the most strenuous ascent of the stage, the Col de la Core. More than 13km in length and averaging 6.6%, the climb is where we could see the race explode. Those looking to move up in the GC could send their team-mates to the front to increase the rhythm, whilst the weaker riders in the breakaway will suffer.
A long descent followed by a false flat section will carry the riders to the next test: the Col de Portet-d'Aspet. Officially, the climb takes place over 5.4km and averages just over 7%. This may be misleading however, as the riders will have travelled uphill for almost 20 kilometres when they eventually crest the climb. The Col de Portet-d'Aspet also steepens as it goes on, making this a good opportunity for the strongest riders to attack.
Next, a long descent which flattens slowly sends the riders to the final categorised test. The Côte d'Aspret-Sarrat differs greatly from the other climbs — it is just 800 metres long. Nonetheless, a single KOM point is offered at its peak and it averages a leg-sapping 8.4%.
Following a short descent, just 5km lie before the finish line. The finish in Saint-Gaudens isn’t overly technical with only a few roundabouts in the final three kilometres. If a single rider arrives into town solo, they can begin to consider their celebration before crossing the line.
Image credit: A.S.O./Pauline Ballet
Exiting the second rest day, Tadej Pogačar remains in complete control of the Tour de France. The defending champion leads Rigoberto Urán by over five minutes. This means that UAE Team Emirates need to watch carefully as early attacks move into the breakaway, ensuring that no one dangerous in the general classification slips into the move. If the GC group compete for stage victory, Pogačar is the quickest sprinter and will be the heavy stage favourite. However, the Slovenian’s overall lead means the breakaway has a great chance of winning again.
Jumbo-Visma were criticised by some when they placed Steven Kruijswijk, Sepp Kuss and Wout van Aert in the stage 15 breakaway, meaning GC-hopeful Jonas Vingegaard was left feeling lonely in the bunch with only Mike Teunissen available for immediate assistance. However, the Dutch outfit proved any doubters wrong when Kuss won the stage solo in Andorra whilst Van Aert picked up a plethora of king of the mountains points. Van Aert was also used as a satellite rider, dropping back to assist Vingegaard in the final kilometres. They could employ a similar tactic here, though the stage suits Van Aert best.
Ineos Grenadiers have had a problematic Tour de France so far. Although Richard Carapaz is fourth in the GC, the team has failed to win a stage so far and aren’t posing a legitimate threat to Pogačar’s yellow jersey. They must continue to support Carapaz, but also give some of their side a chance to grab a stage win. Michał Kwiatkowski is a rider for all terrains. Based on his performance on Mont Ventoux, he won't suffer on the longer climbs and could escape on the short Côte d'Aspret-Sarrat.
Movistar are another team that haven’t experienced their dream Tour de France to this point, but can revive their race with a stage victory. 41-year-old Alejandro Valverde was a close second on stage 15, he was the only rider to finish within one minute of Kuss. The Spanish veteran has another chance here. Iván Garcia Cortina demonstrated strong legs prior to the rest day and if he can resist on the climbs, he would be one of the fastest riders left at the finish.
Astana - Premier Tech are another team still searching for their first stage victory at the Tour de France this year. They have a range of potentially dangerous stage hunters in their ranks, including Ion Izagirre, Jakob Fuglsang, Alex Aranburu and Omar Fraile. Their goal should be to fill the breakaway where they’d have multiple options — Aranburu and Fraile are good finishers, whilst Izagirre and Fuglsang are stronger climbers.
EF Education - Nippo are enjoying a successful Tour de France with Rigoberto Urán on track to match his best Tour de France finish — second overall. They have had some good chances to win a stage but have failed to do so to this point. Sergio Higuita, Ruben Guerreiro and Magnus Cort are their three best options.
Other riders with a chance from the breakaway include Julian Alaphilippe, Matej Mohorič, Mike Woods, Wout Poels, Valentin Madouas and Aurélien Paret-Peintre.
A range of riders could win this from the breakaway, but we are going with Michał Kwiatkowski. After a sublime performance on Mont Ventoux last week, 'Kwiato' has demonstrated that he is in fine form. Ineos must let him off the leash and give him the freedom to join the breakaway if he is to stand a chance. The former World Champion won a stage in the third week of the Tour last year, can he double up in Saint-Gaudens?
Cover image: A.S.O./Pauline Ballet