The Tour de France returns to the Col du Portet, where Nairo Quintana was victorious in 2018, for stage 3 of the 2021 race, taking place on the 14th July.
With just under 4,500 metres of climbing crammed into the final portion of the stage, we can expect fireworks with only the very strongest riders rising to the fore. For those struggling, there will be nowhere to hide.
Stage 16 was won in spectacular fashion by Patrick Konrad. After an explosive start to the stage, the Austrian road champion attacked on the Col de la Core, and later on the Col de Portet-d'Aspet to dispatch the rest of the breakaway and arrive in Saint-Gaudens solo. Sonny Colbrelli and Michael Matthews finished second and third respectively to close the gap to Mark Cavendish in the green jersey standings.
Stage 17 profile
Stage 17 features just under 4,500 vertical climbing metres with three categorised ascents. However, the stage is back loaded with climbs, with the first not cropping up until kilometre 116.
The breakaway will form in the first phase of the race after leaving Muret, which is located south of Toulouse. The breaks have dominated the mountains at the Tour this year, but the GC group may have their chance at stage victory here. Unlike in previous mountain stages, they may struggle to build an unassailable buffer back to the peloton with flat terrain dominating the first kilometres.
The intermediate sprint takes place in Bagnères-de-Luchon after 113km. Without any climbs prior to the sprint, this could be a rare chance for Mark Cavendish to limit his losses in the green jersey standings. The Brit holds a sizeable lead over Michael Matthews and Sonny Colbrelli already, however, so may be more concerned with energy conservation to ensure he finishes within the time limit.
The first ascent of the day is the first category Col de Peyresourde, which is 13.2km long and averages 7%. The mountain is a regular feature at the Tour de France and was used as recently as last year — it was the final climb on stage 8, which was won by Nans Peters. Tadej Pogačar will have good memories of the climb too — he attacked and clawed himself back into contention after losing time in the crosswinds earlier in the race.
A descent carries the riders to Loudenvielle — where stage 8 concluded last year — before continuing to the Col de Val Louron-Azet. The second first category ascent of the stage. However, at 7.4km it is substantially shorter than the Peyresourde. Any riders feeling uber confident on this climb may attack, though most will opt to save their legs for the alarming final ascent.
Col du Portet profile
The Col de Portet is one of the most challenging mountains that will be tackled at the 2021 Tour de France. The hors catégorie ascent is 16km long and 8.7% on average. The climb is both long and steep, there are almost no sections of respite bar a few hundred metres at lower percentages around 7km in. Otherwise, the gradient is consistently challenging with multiple sections over 10%, including the final kilometre.
Nairo Quintana was the stage winner when the Tour de France last ascended the Col du Portet in 2018. The top 20 finishers were separated by well over five minutes that day; we can expect a similarly decimated peloton this year.
Image credit: Tim de Waele/Getty Images
The mountain stages have been dominated by the breakaway so far at the 2021 Tour de France. Sepp Kuss, Wout van Aert, Dylan Teuns, Patrick Konrad and Ben O’Connor are some of the riders that have won in the high ground. This could be the GC favourite’s best chance yet at snagging a stage victory at the Tour de France.
With no real climbing in the first 120km, the breakaway group could be more straightforward to control. UAE Team Emirates may be left alone to control the gap, but Mikkel Bjerg and Vegard Stake Laengen are two very strong riders on the flat and can do the lion's share of the work. UAE may receive assistance from other teams that miss the early breakaway too.
These factors contribute to making Tadej Pogačar the pre-stage favourite. The defending champion has already won four Tour de France stages over his blossoming career, but he has never done so in the yellow jersey. If the Slovenian is motivated by the prospect of stage victory atop the Col du Portet whilst wearing the maillot jaune (and who wouldn't be?) there are few riders that have a chance of stopping him.
One of those riders is Jonas Vingegaard. The Dane is two years Pogačar’s senior, yet he is one of the breakout riders of the 2021 Tour de France. Vingegaard has stepped into the mighty shoes left by Primož Roglič and now has a great shot at the podium. He is also the only rider to have dropped Pogačar at the race this year — he did so on the second ascent of Mont Ventoux on stage 11. If Vingegaard can re-find those legs, he could win his first Grand Tour stage.
Enric Mas had a poor day on Mont Ventoux, but returned to his usual form when the Tour visited Andorra prior to the final rest day. Mas was fifth at the Tour and Vuelta last season and due to his three-week pedigree, his rivals cannot write him off. We can expect his performances to improve as the race goes on.
Richard Carapaz and Rigoberto Urán are the other two GC riders that have been the strongest on a consistent basis throughout the Tour to this point. They both have powerful mountain teams too, particularly in Carapaz' case, so may opt to take the race to the other contenders before the Col du Portet begins.
Wilco Kelderman, Ben O’Connor and Alexey Lutsenko are the other riders to keep an eye on in the general classification.
The breakaway may be able to resist the chasing peloton, in which case Nairo Quintana, Mike Woods, David Gaudu, Sergio Higuita and Wout Poels are among the favourites.
Although the breakaway have dominated the mountain stages so far, we think this could be the first chance for the GC group to reach the finish first. With that in mind, Tadej Pogačar is our pick to win stage 17 of the 2021 Tour de France. The Slovene superstar already has four Tour stage wins on his palmarès, but he has never won in the yellow jersey. That could be set to change on the Col du Portet.
Cover image: A.S.O./Pauline Ballet