Tour de France 2023 stage six preview - Who can survive the Tourmalet?

A second mountain stage will really test the legs of the riders with several unrelenting climbs

Distance: 144.9km
Start location: Tarbes
Finish location: Cauterets-Cambasque
Start time: 13:10 CEST
Finish time (approx): 17:08 CEST 

It’s impossible to imagine the Tour de France without the Pyrenees. Think of the race, and the first image that springs to mind is likely to be a cyclist struggling up a climb against the humbling backdrop of the high mountains, surrounded by crowds of roaring spectators. It’s an image that has been captured over the years via everything from crystal clear modern digital photography, colour television, grainy black and white coverage, and even simple monochrome stills, as visiting the Pyrenees is one of the longest traditions of the Tour, predating the Parisian finale, the inclusion of the Alps, and even the yellow jersey.

It all began in 1910, when eccentric founder of the Tour de France Henri Desgrange realised his dream of sending his race to the mountains for the first time. The story of these first forays into the Pyrenees have become part of cycling folklore, from the outraged cry of ‘assassins!’ directed at the organisers by indignant stage winner Octave Lapize for expecting them to ride up such impossible climbs, to the misleading telegram sent by Desgrange’s colleague Alphonse Steinès after having nearly collapsed in the freezing snow while scouting the safety of the Pyrenean roads: ‘perfectly passable’. From these controversial beginnings, the Pyrenees have become emblematic of everything the Tour would become as the ultimate test of sporting endeavour. 

Stage six profile sourced via ASO

Two of the so-called ‘Circle of Death’ mountains featured in that infamous first Pyrenean stage are on the menu today, the Col d’Aspin and Col du Tourmalet, and both remain intimidating obstacles to overcome despite all the technological advancements and improved infrastructure that has come with the professionalisation of the sport. The Tourmalet in particular is monstrous, unreasonably long at 17km, and with a relentlessly steep gradient that barely dips below 9% for its entire second half.

With a long descent taking the riders from the peak of the Tourmalet to the start of the final climb to Cauterets, the Tourmalet is, however, unlikely to have too big an impact in the GC race. No team will want to make the same mistake as Astana did during a stage of the 2015 Tour that had the same three final climbs, when, having pushed hard on the Tourmalet in an attempt to set up their leader Vincenzo Nibali for the final climb, the Italian was instead dropped near the finish. 

On that occasion, the peloton was reduced to about fifteen riders by the top of the Tourmalet, with a few more riders being dropped on the Côte de Cauterets, while Rafał Majka held off Dan Martin to claim the stage win from the breakaway up ahead. This year, there’s likely to be much more damage on the final climb, as the riders will continue climbing from Côte de Cauterets up to the peak of Le Cambasque, where the gradient dramatically ramps up to average double-digit gradients for most of the final 5km. There will be gaps between the favourites, and even at this early phase of the race, we’ll get a real idea of who the frontrunners for overall victory are.


After an eventful stage five, where Jai Hindley of Bora-Hansgrohe took a commanding lead of 47 seconds overall as well as the stage win, the other prominent contenders in the GC will be eager to close the gap on this former Giro d'Italia winner. So with stage five really shaking up the GC standings, stage six looks to be another nail-biting day in the battle for yellow. 

Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) made a strong statement on stage five with a powerful attack which left Tadej Poagčar (UAE Team Emirates) for dust on the stage’s penultimate climb. With a notable gap of 53 seconds now separating the two riders, Pogačar will be determined to find an opportunity to minimise the time lost to the Danish cyclist. But Vingegaard will be keen to extend his lead as much as possible and could look to make a similar move as he did on stage five.

Tom Pidcock (Ineos Grenadiers) will be a rider to keep an eye on in stage six. His exceptional descending skills were showcased last year on the Alpe d’Huez stage, which he went on to win. If Pidcock can be among the first riders to conquer the Col du Tourmalet, he can take full advantage of his expertise on the descent, which extends over 20 kilometres. Pidcock has his sights set on the GC this year and is currently sitting in 13th. This stage could provide an opportunity for him to surpass some of his rivals. 

Neilson Powless (EF Education-EasyPost) missed his chance to get in the breakaway in stage five, relinquishing the polka dot jersey. The American has looked strong so far this Tour, getting in the break on most stages, excluding the one where he had a potential opportunity for victory. If he can get into a breakaway that manages to keep away, he could be a strong contender for the stage. 

Tour de Suisse winner Mattias Skjelmose (Lidl-Trek) is steadily climbing up the GC rankings and is now positioned just inside the top 10. With a sprint stage following today, this stage presents a prime opportunity for Skjelmose to gain time on other GC contenders. If not having to work for his team’s GC, Lidl-Trek could send Giulio Ciccone up the road again in the hopes of him securing a stage win for the team. Other riders who may join him in the break are Pello Bilbao (Bahrain-Victorious) and Felix Gall (AG2R Citroën), who both were behind Vingegaard in stage five. 

Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) shares a special connection with the Tourmalet, having claimed victory on this legendary climb in 2019 when it served as the stage’s summit finish. As this is Pinot’s final Tour, the French rider will be eager to seize any opportunity to secure one last stage win, and what better place to achieve it than on a stage which includes one of the country’s most revered climbs.


We think Mattias Skjelmose will reign on stage six. He's looked strong so far, and with only 16 seconds between himself and Pogačar, we think he'll take the opportunity to move up the rankings. 

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