Stage 18 of the 2021 Tour de France takes place on Thursday 15th July and provides the climbers with a final opportunity to attack in the mountains.
With a long time-trial still on the horizon, it’s not the final chance for the GC riders to move up the standings. However, the best climbers will be desperate to make an impression.
The infamous Col du Tourmalet and Luz Ardiden make up most of the 3,500 vertical metres throughout the stage.
Stage 17 was won by Tadej Pogačar atop the Col du Portet. The stage came down to a three-way battle beteween Pogačar, Richard Carapaz and Jonas Vingegaard. After an unsuccessful attack from Carapaz, Pogačar sprinted past the Ecaudorian in the final 150 metres to win his fifth stage at the Tour de France and cement his position at the head of the race.
Stage 18 profile
Stage 18 begins in Pau, which appears on the Tour de France for an incredible 73rd occasion. Stage 9 of the 2020 Tour de France began in Pau, where the racing was non-stop from the moment the flag was dropped. Marc Hirschi went solo early and was only caught by the GC favourites with a few kilometres left, where his now teammate Tadej Pogačar sprinted to the first Tour stage win in his career. If this year’s stage is as dramatic as that, you won’t catch us complaining.
Two categorised climbs are present in the first 55km, though they are both fourth category and less than 3km in length. The ‘real’ climbing begins with one of the most famous Tour de France climbs: the Col du Tourmalet. Peaking at over 2,100 metres above sea level, the Tourmalet is a brute.
Col du Tourmalet profile
It is over 17km long and averages more than 7% throughout. The Tourmalet was one of the first mountains to be used in the Tour de France in the early 1900s. More recently, it was ascended in 2019, where Thibaut Pinot climbed to the top first.
Thibaut Pinot winning atop the Col du Tourmalet in 2019 (Image credit: A.S.O./Pauline BALLET)
This year, however, the stage doesn’t end atop the Tourmalet. Instead, the riders will descend to the final mountain of the 2021 Tour de France: Luz Ardiden. The climb is 13.3km in length and averages a gradient of 7.4%. The mountain has been used at the Tour de France before, but nowhere near as often as the preceding Tourmalet. Samuel Sánchez was the last winner when the Tour visited the climb in 2011.
In the GC, it’s the final chance for the contenders to make an impression in the mountains. This will encourage some riders, particularly those that are less confident time-trialists, to ride aggressively and attack early. We can hope for, and almost expect fireworks in the Pyrenees.
Image credit: THOMAS SAMSON/AFP via Getty Images
Tadej Pogačar remains in the lead of the Tour de France with a huge margin in hand. This means that he doesn’t need to be aggressive and can instead follow his rivals’ wheels to protect against losing time. This dynamic means that UAE Team Emirates will probably be left to control the tempo in the peloton. If Pogačar feels strong enough to win for a second day in a row, there’s a chance he could put his team to the front to keep the breakaway in check. Afterall, UAE are one of the only teams with all eight riders that started the Tour still present.
Unlike UAE, Jumbo-Visma are heavily depleted having lost Primož Roglič, Robert Gesink, Tony Martin and Steven Kruijswijk. However, Wout van Aert and Sepp Kuss have won stages whilst Jonas Vingegaard is posing a strong podium challenge. Even if Vingegaard is strong enough to win the stage, he doesn’t have the team at his disposal to control the breakaway. Their best tactic may be to send the likes of Kuss and Van Aert into the break, where Van Aert can chase the polka-dot jersey and Kuss can be used as a satellite rider, dropping back late in the stage to assist Vingegaard.
The Ineos Grenadiers must remain aggressive to chase a stage victory. Although Richard Carapaz is challenging for a podium, the British outfit would have hoped for more prior to departing Brest. Nonetheless, they still have a strong squad with only Luke Rowe abandoning to this point. They may choose to use the likes of Richie Porte, Geraint Thomas and Michal Kwiatkowski to up the tempo in the peloton to blow things up. Alternatively, they could cram the breakaway with as many riders as possible, where they could be of benefit to Carapaz after he attacks rather than before. And knowing Richard Carapaz, he will attack at some point.
Although he is just 26, Enric Mas already has three top 5 finishes at Grand Tours to his name. On those three ocassions, he has never lost a GC place in the final week, which is where he is able to show his strength. Keep an eye on Movistar, who boast premier teammates in Alejandro Valverde and Miguel Ángel López to support Mas, who won't simply settle for a spot in the top 10.
The other GC riders to keep an eye on are Wilco Kelderman, Ben O’Connor and Rigoberto Urán.
With so many king of the mountains points available and at least five riders in with a chance of winning the jersey, the battle for the breakaway will be fierce. The holder of the polka-dot jersey Wout Poels will be challenged by Mike Woods, Nairo Quintana and Wout van Aert. By virtue of joining the breakaway, all four riders would also have a chance at winning the stage too.
After winning on the Col du Portet, Tadej Pogačar is now in the mix to win a second consecutive polka-dot jersey. It isn't his primary objective, but as he is in such a commanding position overall, Pogačar may turn his head to the polka-dot jersey too.
Other riders with a chance from the breakaway group include Ion Izagirre, Sergio Higuita, David Gaudu and Esteban Chaves.
Pogačar has bagged his stage victory wearing the maillot jaune. After a long day on the front chasing the escapees, UAE may allow the breakaway greater breathing space earlier in the race. With that in mind, we are picking David Gaudu to win stage 18 of the Tour de France.
The Frenchman was ill on Mont Ventoux which all but ended his GC hopes. Since, he has shown signs of being back to his best, notably when he finished fourth place on the Col du Portet, only behind Pogačar, Vingegaard and Carapaz. Gaudu won't be marked by the aforementioned trio which means he is free to attack the race.
Cover image: A.S.O./Pauline Ballet