Tour de France 2022 stage 18 preview - The Hellish Hautacam

The final mountain stage of the 2022 Tour is one of the hardest of all, with three major climbs: the Aubisque, Spandelles and finishing climb on Hautacam

Tour de France 2022, stage 18
Distance: 143.2km
Start location: Lourdes

Finish location: Hautacam
Start time: 12.30 BST
Finish time (approx): 16.25 BST

The millions of Catholic pilgrims who visit Lourdes each year are in search of something: redemption, forgiveness, salvation, hope, and even a miracle. The cyclists of the 2022 Tour de France may depart it in much the same spirit. 

Lourdes divides opinion, and the peloton might be incentivised to ride as fast as possible away from the Pyrenean city. Ralph Dutton and Lord Halden, in their book The Land of France, wrote that the iconic Church of the Rosary and Basilica were “mean in conception and hideous from the aesthetic point of view”. Matthew Carr, in The Savage Frontier, described it as a “garish outpost of Catholic kitsch”.

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The city’s economy and atmosphere is entirely based around the pilgrims, who come to pray at the shrine where the Virgin Mary apparently miraculously appeared to Bernadette Soubirous, a miller’s daughter from Lourdes. The spring in the cave where the visions occurred was declared holy, and the locals bottled and blessed it, to sell as a curative for the sick and the desperate. In Lourdes, rows and rows of shops sell candles, bottles of holy water, religious trinkets and flesh-coloured Christs that glow in the dark, and it’s easy to see without looking too far that not much is really sacred.

The peloton’s destination today, via the hors-catégorie Col d’Aubisque and cat-one Col de Spandelles, is Hautacam, a tough climb which has been the scene of a few miracles itself. Bjarne Riis and Lance Armstrong, riders who spent the early parts of their career as mediocre climbers, either won or cemented Tour victories here. In their case, it wasn’t holy water that boosted their constitution, but a variety of banned performance-enhancing substances, along with an attitude to dishonesty that would have landed them with several Our Fathers and Hail Marys at the confession box.

The 2022 peloton may be guilty of fewer sins than their forebears, but they must wonder what they’ve done to deserve the punishment of this final stage. The Col d’Aubisque is over 16km long, while the Spandelles is shorter at 10km but with a steeper average gradient. Hautacam itself is renowned for being a very uneven climb, with steep sections alternating shallower gradients, which make it impossible to maintain any kind of rhythm. The steepest parts come in the final five kilometres. It’s the final mountain stage of the race, and by this point the general classification is looking fairly well set at the top. Perhaps this would be an apt stage for a final hail mary attack from a rider looking for a miracle.

Tour de France 2022 stage 18 map and profile

Stage 18 has a deceiving start with 60 kilometres of flat roads through the Ossau Valley before the climbing begins. This could be terrain which allows a big breakaway group to establish itself, as long as the GC favourites are happy for this to happen. Riders will need to make sure their legs don’t go to sleep in this long run-in to the first climb of the day, as the Col d’Aubisque is a tough, long, hors categorie climb. It will last 16.4 kilometres at an average gradient of 7.1% and is the first of a trio of climbs that are going to decide the eventual stage winner of this savage day out.

After the Aubisque, the riders have 20 kilometres of descending until they reach the second test of the stage: the Col de Spandelles, which is a 10.3 kilometre climb averaging 8.3% gradient. For the strongest climbers who still remain in the group at this point, the final showdown of stage 18 will be the Hautacam, a picturesque climb – though the riders will have little time to enjoy the view – that spans 13.6 kilometres and averages 7.8%.

The second part of the Hautacam is the most difficult with kilometres eight and nine creeping over a 10% gradient. Riders will crest the climb at 1520 metres and this is where the stage winner will be decided, there will be bonus seconds of ten, six and four on the finish line for the top three riders respectively. This is a stage which could cause significant time gaps amongst those still in the fight for the overall GC.

Hautacam profile, Tour de France 2022 stage 18

Tour de France 2022 stage 18 predictions and contenders

As is always the case with big mountain stages in the Tour de France, the outcome of this stage will depend on if the GC riders are prepared to let a big breakaway go to the finish line. Based on the events of stage 18, which saw an enduring fight for the break who were eventually only given around a one minute advantage and brought back still with around 40 kilometres remaining by UAE Team Emirates, today looks like it could be another day for the GC men.

If so, the two men we can expect to see fighting it out at the front are Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) and Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates). The duo have been the strongest climbers by far throughout this race and the long climbs in the final of this trio of Pyrenean stages will suit them both well. 

Both with reduced team rosters, however, there is a chance that a big breakaway will go to the line as Jumbo-Visma and UAE Team Emirates may not have the numbers to chase down a move on the front. Out of the riders who favour a day in the break, Tom Pidcock of the Ineos Grenadiers is a big contender. He won on the stage to Alpe d’Huez and could be going for a second one here. Dani Martinez is another Ineos rider who could perform well on these tough climbs.

Groupama FDJ’s Thibaut Pinot has been searching for a stage win so far in this race and has come up short on two occasions now, finishing third and fourth on stages 14 and nine. He will be keen to get in the break today and secure that elusive stage win. Chris Froome of Israel-Premier Tech finished third on the stage to Alpe d’Huez and could aim to go for the win again today.

Romain Bardet lost time on stage 17 to the rest of the GC contenders so will have enough of a buffer to get in the break today without worrying about the yellow jersey chasing him down. The Team DSM rider enjoys long, steep gradients and will aim to finish his Tour de France on a high. Nairo Quintana of Team Arkéa Samsic is another example of a rider who has lost time on GC and could now be gunning for a stage win instead. Louis Meintjes of Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux has also rode well in this Tour de France and may have enough in the legs to go for the break today.

Rouleur predicts: We don't think that Jonas Vingegaard will want to leave this race without a stage win in the yellow jersey, so we predict him for the win in stage 18.

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