Start location: Les Gets les portes du Soleil
Finish location: Saint-Gervais Mont-Blanc
Start time: 13:05 CEST
Finish time (approx): 18:00 CEST
Mont Blanc is the great summit that towers over even the other giants of the Alps. Not only is it the highest peak in the mountain range, but also in all Western Europe, and thus has a mystical, foreboding aura to it. It’s been seen a summit to conquer since the 18th century, by scientists seeking knowledge of what kind of ecosystem existed at such high altitude, and then by intrepid explorers eager to climb simply as a personal challenge to push themselves to the limit.
These days going down its many surrounding peaks is the most popular leisure activity rather than going up, as ski resorts have popped up all over the place, two of which mark the beginning (Les Gets) and end (Le Bettex) of today’s stage. (It says a lot about the name recognition of Mont Blanc that the organisers have labelled the finish ‘Saint-Gervais-Mont-Blanc’, despite the fact that the actual finish in Le Bettex is some 10 kilometres away.) And in between these two ski resorts the riders will spend much of the day similarly high in the sky, with a total of four summits to be tackled before the finish at Le Bettex. With two successive days of Alpine climbing already in their legs going into today, this is going to be a truly punishing stage.
Stage 15 profile sourced via ASO
Though there are more brutal mountain stages in the final week, this is the last of the Tour de France’s four mountain top finishes, and, as well as being the longest at 179km, also features the most amount of climbing prior to the finishing climbs. Those climbs are properly hard too: the first two, Col de la Forclaz de Montmin and Col de la Croix Fry, are both ranked category one, each averaging over 7%, and the latter lasting for 11.3km.
A very brief descent follows the Col de la Croix Fry before the riders start climbing again, up the Col des Aravis (4.4km at 5.8%). After that comes some rest before the final climb to the finish, but the downhill roads leading to its base present their own challenge and opportunity. It was on these descents that all the drama occurred during the Tour’s last visit here in 2016. In wet conditions, the riders first and second on GC, Chris Froome and Bauke Mollema, went down — Froome was OK and managed to defend his yellow jersey, but Mollema was affected badly enough to slide down all the way to 10th on GC. Romain Bardet took his spot on the podium with a bold attack to take the stage win, using the steep 11% ramps of the Côte des Amerands that come before the start of the official climb to gain a gap. His success shows there’s scope here for riders to use both descending and ascending skills to gain time.
After Saturday's stage over the Joux Plane saw Jumbo-Visma nullify any chance of a breakaway, it's hard to envisage the same scenario happening. Jonas Vingegaard will almost certainly want to eliminate the bonus seconds available on the line given the narrow gap between he and Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates), so could allow a large break to escape. But this Tour has been anything but predictable and there's every chance we could see the top two battling it out for victory in the race's final pure summit finish.
Given the start is immediately uphill too, there's a good chance for the climbers to break clear of the GC contenders from the off. Most of them would have ridden the last half of stage 14 well within their limits after being dropped by the rampaging Jumbo-Visma train, so may enter stage 15 with something in the tank.
Winner on Puy de Dôme, Michael Woods (Israel-Premier Tech) tried his luck on Saturday and will almost certainly eye another breakaway win. He's also made some inroads in the king of the mountains competition, and with the amount of climbs on offer en route to the finish it's an ample opportunity to make gains in the polka-dot jersey competition.
Giulio Ciccone (Lidl-Trek) will also want to feature in the break for that very reason, and looks recovered from his crash last week. His teammates Juan Pedro López and Matthias Skjelmose are also possibilities should a breakaway succeed.
Neilson Powless (EF Education-EasyPost) will want to be in the breakaway to try and regain his polka-dot jersey after losing it Vingegaard, but the American has looked far off being in contention for victory on a mountain top stage win like this so far. His compatriot Matteo Jorgenson (Movistar) has looked in much finer fettle, and will no doubt want to try again after two close calls so far.
Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers) suffered badly on stage 14 after being dropped by the other GC contenders and now sits almost 10 minutes back on third place, meaning he should be awarded some freedom to get in an escape. Already a winner on Alpe d'Huez last year, it's not a dissimilar amount of climbing at the end here to the stage he won, so could offer chance for three consecutive stage wins by the Ineos Grenadiers.
Tobias Halland Johannessen (Uno-X) has been an almost constant presence in breakaways recently, while Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) has dropped from the GC once and for all after stage 14.
Julian Alaphilippe will no doubt try again to save Soudal-Quick-Step's blushes after a winless Tour so far, but the final climb is perhaps too difficult for him given his current form.
The riders at Team DSM-Firmenich will now have freedom to chase stage wins after Romain Bardet crashed out on Saturday, and Chris Hamilton looks like the pick of the bunch.
Elsewhere, Pierre Latour (TotalEnergies), Alexey Lutsenko (Astana), Warren Barguil (Arkéa-Samsic), Maxim Van Gils (Lotto-Dstny), Mikel Landa (Bahrain-Victorious), and Georg Zimmerman (Intermarché-Circus-Wanty), are all adept climbers capable of winning from the breakaway.
Yet again we're banking on the breakaway staying away, and we'll say Giulio Ciccone will win stage 15.