Le Tour de France 2018 Stage 18 Race Preview

Le Tour de France 2018 – Stage 18 Preview

Course:

The almost annual visit to Pau appears on Stage 18 this year, serving as the finish line to a 171km run from Trie-Sur-Baïse, potentially offering the remaining sprinters a penultimate opportunity of victory before the peloton arrives at the Champs Élysées on Sunday. There is little in the way of climbing, especially after yesterday’s monumental stage, with fatigue a key factor which could benefit the breakaway in their hopes of striking gold by the end of the day. With a technical conclusion once again for the sprinters, those who have anything left resembling a leadout train will be at a definite advantage compared to their rivals.

Le Tour de France 2018 Stage 18 Race Preview

Contenders:

Alexander Kristoff shall certainly fancy his chances of winning today after rival Peter Sagan fell heavily during yesterday’s stage and is now likely to be focused on simply making it to Paris in good shape. The Norwegian’s team has worked hard for teammate Dan Martin, though should still be able to offer him a degree of protection and assistance during Stage 18, keeping him fresh for the finish in Pau.

John Degenkolb found great form earlier in the race during his triumph upon the cobblestones and will now be confident of picking up a late win at Le Tour as the attritional nature of the race sees him rise to the top of the favourites. As one of the only riders still in possession of a convincing leadout train, Trek-Segafredo will prove an immense asset during the technical finale, likely to be the deciding factor in Degenkolb’s ambitions to double on victory in the final week.

Magnus Cort has history of picking up stage wins late in a grand tour, looks fresh and is certainly one of the fastest remaining in the peloton. However, the finale is not ideal and his team are unlikely to offer much which can rival the likes of Groupama-FDJ or Trek-Segafredo in terms of a leadout. Instead, Cort could find success in a late breakaway move on the final climb of the day, knowing that those likely to join him will struggle to better him in a sprint.

Arnaud Démare should really have several wins under his belt at this year’s Tour de France, yet has continually made costly errors in the final moments of stages, leaving himself and the team without any glory at their native grand tour. Despite being the fastest sprinter present, and supported by a team which exists only to help him win, the feeling is that Démare will struggle once again to make his presence felt when it matters most. He has suffered in the mountains quite noticeably and is surely now past his best at this race.

Outcome:

1st John Degenkolb 2nd Alexander Kristoff 3rd Arnaud Démare

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La-Vuelta-A-España-2015-Stage-18

La Vuelta a España – Stage 18 Preview

Course:

After the drama of yesterday’s individual time trial shook up the general classification, Stage 18 returns to the riders to the open roads and offers up a day likely to instigate typical Vuelta a España style late drama. From the departure in Roa, the route takes the peloton over three categorised climbs during the 204km journey to the finish in Riaza, though the opening two Category 3 ascents should prove to be simple enough ‘bread and butter’ riding for the pack. It is instead the Category 1 Puerto de la Quesera which will catch the eye as the point many will expect the day’s outcome to pivot upon, an ascent tough enough to form an elite group which can launch itself over the other side and into the finish at Riaza; assuming a breakaway is not already an unreachable distance ahead.

Having completed the first 25km of Stage 18, the bunch will be aware of a slight upwards drag which begins pulling them closer to the opening double salvo of categorised climbs. Alto de Santibañez de Ayllón (7.8km avg 4%) comes as the first of these two climbs and is swiftly followed by the Alto del Campanario (6.5km avg 3.9%). From here they drop down and tackle an extended section of acutely rolling terrain, which continually builds towards the base of the day’s final climb. Only a little over 20km shall separate the peloton from the finish as the riders begin climbing the Category 1 Puerto de la Quesera which stands before them. The 10km climb will allow plenty to find their rhythm while ascending thanks to a favourably even gradient, opening with almost 4km of easy slopes which spend most of their time in and around 2%-3% before reaching a kilometre section of 5%. The remaining passage to the top is tilted predominately at 7%, though it softens nearer the summit to resemble a gradient closer to 6% than 7%.

A total of 13km will remain by this point, though this quick descent will only last for about 9km before returning to the flat for a 6km run to the line, of which the second half is essentially poker straight.

 

La-Vuelta-A-España-2015-Stage-18

Contenders:

Alejandro Valverde is likely to be a name we shall find ourselves repeating during the final stages of this year’s La Vuelta a España, the swashbuckling Spaniard is well suited to these concluding days and will certainly fancy securing another stage win before Madrid. Today does offer such an opportunity to do this, Valverde looked strong in yesterday’s individual time trial and should not struggle to make it over the top of the Puerto de la Quesera in a good enough position to make the most of the following descent and contest the win.

Gianluca Brambilla has looked good enough to challenge for a stage win on several occasions during this year’s Vuelta a España and he could be up for today’s battle too. The Italian is still surprisingly well placed on the general classification and may decide to keep his energy in reserve, rather than join a move, and utilise it later in the week to cement his place in the standings. Brambilla certainly has the required skills to make the most of the fast descent and would be one of the quickest men present in an elite group which comes to the line

Giovanni Visconti will be another fantastic alternative for Movistar to back on a day which will provide the breakaway with a convincing chance of going all the way. Visconti has a great talent for joining an effective move and will not be deterred on a day which is rolling throughout and contains a Category 1 ascent only 2okm from the line. However, the biggest attribute which marks him out as a favourite to win from a break is the Italian’s fantastic turn of pace, a potent sprint which will be difficult to better for many rivals.

Daniel Navarro‘s race thus far has been surpassingly quiet, but the Spaniard still has a good chance of stamping his authority on a stage finale such as this. On a good day, Navarro has the strength to make it over the final climb and could certainly slip off the front of the peloton during the descent, catching the riders napping and soloing to victory.

Simon Gerrans has endured a torrid season of bad luck and injuries, but he states that his focus is still primarily centred upon that of the Richmond World Championship Road Race in Virginia. Stage 18 could be a good day to test the legs before the end of the Vuelta, though the final climb and run into home do not quite suit him as ideally as he would like.

José Joaquín Rojas will be one of the fastest riders in a bunch gallop should an elite group tackle the final kilometres together and is yet another possibility for team Movistar on Stage 18. Rojas is one of the better climbers in regards to the quick men and will find the even gradients of the Puerto de la Quesera simple enough, if the peloton do not strike an intense tempo during the ascent. Much like several names mentioned here, Rojas could even be part of a move which fractures late on in the race and contests the outcome amongst themselves. Ultimately, if the Spaniard is present during a sprint finish, he could prove difficult to beat.

Stephen Cummings has been enjoying a good year and is still going strong at this year’s La Vuelta a España, demonstrated by yesterday’s top ten placing in the individual time trial; one which did not play to his strengths. Breakaways are a well documented penchant of the British rider and Stage 18 fits the bill as another platform for him to strut his stuff and try to bring yet further glory to his team MTN-Qhubeka. Combining his rouleur capabilities with time trial pacing skills, Cummings should make it over Puerto de la Quesera in good condition and attempt to treat the final kilometre of flat riding as a solo prologue ride to the line.

Niki Terpstra looked fantastic in the opening week of La Vuelta, but has surprisingly remained lacking of a stage win up to this point in the race. Either functioning in a breakaway or attempting a late attack on the descent (or even closer to the finish), Terpstra will go into time trial mode and set a difficult tempo in order to bring him back to the group.

Nicolas Roche might prove to be the best man to back for Team Sky, in order to reduce their requirements at the front go the peloton during the day. He has been the most active rider in the roster so far, making it into various moves and appears to have exited the three day run of mountain stages in good enough condition to feature here.

Outcome:

1st Stephen Cummings 2nd Nicolas Roche 3rd Giovanni Visconti

Outsider: Gianluca Brambilla

Le-Tour-de-France-2015-Stage-18-Preview-

Le Tour de France – Stage 18 Preview

Course:

With one Alpine stage under their belt already, the peloton are offered no respite as they are sent immediately into another mountainous stage encompassing seven categorised climb throughout the day. Despite its broad range of uphill challenges, the general classification favourites are likely to remain relatively sedate due to a finale which will not be decide upon a summit finish.

Stage 18 takes the riders on an 186.5km journey from the familiar town of Gap, to Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne which is nestled within an Alpine valley like a Swiss chocolate box village. The longest of these remaining days in the mountains should be decided by a breakaway or late move which strikes out for glory if everything is back together late on in the race. From the off it is an upwards affair, the opening slopes of the Category 2 Col Bayard appear immediately from exiting Gap and cover a total of 6.3km worth of climbing at an average gradient of 7%. A tough way to open the account for the day and something which could send a fair amount of riders out the back straight away.

The terrain lessens in severity for a while after this, approaching the first of three consecutive Category 3 climbs in the space of 35km of racing. First comes Rampe du Motty (2.3km, avg 8.3%), then the Cote de la Mure (2.7km, avg 7.5%) and finally the Col de Malissol (2km, avg 8.7%). This run of three climbs starts with a gradual drop down in altitude before finishing by placing the riders above the altitude of the day’s opening Category 2 climb by 70.5km. All of these ascents are actually rather steep and will contribute to forming a large grupetto earlier than we have seen on the preceding mountain stages this year.

The second of the day’s three Category 2 climbs then follows in the shape of the Col de la Morte, a similarly short affair at 3.1km, it is still demanding given the average gradient of 8.4%. From the climb’s summit at 85km, a 15km descent drops the riders down into the valley once again rapidly, tackling a rather difficult intermediate sprint some kilometres later. Rising steadily onwards, the road builds in severity as it becomes evident to the riders that they have turned onto the opening slopes of the day’s main attraction; the Col du Glandon. This HC climb is certainly a beast, 21.7km in total length and averaging a misleading average of 5.1% due to the presence of two considerably easier sections which drop downwards during the climb. It will crack the legs primarily due to its irregular nature, providing little opportunity to find a rhythm with the gradients fluctuating regularly from 8% to 10% throughout the climb; remaining close to 9% in the final kilometre to the summit.

Having completed the Col du Glandon, less than 40km will then remain to their finishing location of Saint-Jean-De-Maurienne, a large part of which is formed by the subsequent descent from the summit. The peloton will reach level ground again briefly with 20km left to race, but soon begin building skywards again as they approach the brutal Lacets de Montvernier; a 3.4km climb which bolsters 18 hairpin bends and an average of 8.2% gradient. The ascent is relentless, which could be considered a blessing by some, allowing riders to settle into a rhythm as they try to hoist themselves to the top as quickly as possible.

Just 10km will then be left as they tip over the summit, a descent which traces its way through several tight hairpin bends and hits a small incline to the line in the concluding kilometres.

Le-Tour-de-France-2015-Stage-18-Preview-

Contenders:

Another open day in the Alps offers up an unpredictable stage, though those who sit in around the best climbers at this year’s Tour de France are likely to feature on the doubleheader of Col du Glandon and Lacets de Montvernier. 

Pierre Rolland is still in the hunt for a stage win at this year’s tour and showed a great level of form during the earlier Pyrenean stages, but it is not clear whether he has maintained this form into the Alps. He has a good chance of making it into the successful break of the day and could benefit from the tough final climb which leads into the easier finale. The Frenchman is running out of days to find victory at his home tour and will surely view Stage 18 as one of the best remaining chances to do just that.

Romain Bardet is in a similar position and was a surprise to see performing so poorly on the previous day’s climbs, but later put this down to poor management of blood sugars. If he manages to avoid bonking today, then the Frenchman does stand a chance of winning, if allowed to go clear by others placed around the top ten on the general classification. With so much of Stage 18 built upon short, hard climbs and plenty of descending, Bardet has the talents to perform well enough on paper to contest the win.

Some were suggesting that Joaquim Rodriguez had started to falter since his earlier stage winning double, but the previous day proved that he has instead been actively recovering and tried to join the right move. It seems likely that he will try this once again on Stage 18, short climbs with harsh gradients being his favoured terrain, while Lacets de Montvernier is the sort of finale you would expect to see him strut his stuff upon.

Further French interest might be represented by Christophe Riblon, the AG2R rider appearing to be in good form currently and is eager to smuggle himself aboard a winning break at last. Stage 16 did not quite work out as well as Riblon had hoped, predominantly due to the presence of Peter Sagan and the Frenchman’s lack of tactical nous to attack before the descent.

Steven Kruijswijk is beginning to demonstrate fragments of the form which allowed him to shine so fiercely at the Giro d’Italia earlier in the year. If he finds a well functioning move which places him as the best climber, then he possesses a solid chance of winning Stage 18. However, he is certainly not on top form right now and could become exposed in a frantic finale with stronger climbers.

Considering the amount of mountains classification points available on the road to Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne, it seems likely that Jakub Fuglsang will be lured out and into action. He has tried to make it into a move for the last couple of days and will view today as a crucial stage if he wishes to keep any hope of walking away with the polka dots alive.

Another rider possibly tempted into action by the mountains classification is MTN-Qhubeka’s Serge Pauwels, he is having a great Tour de France heading into Stage 18 and knows that the polka dot jersey is still a feasible target. Should he manage to make it into a breakaway which contests the majority of today’s mountains without Joaquim Rodriguez or Jakub Fuglsang alongside him, then he should take the jersey off tour leader Chris Froome.

Both Adam Yates and Simon Yates are likely to be active during the day if feeling good; the twins having both circled the Alps as the best hunting ground for stage success. A big outsider for the day is Peter Sagan, who appears to be discovering new depths to his talents at the Tour de France, meaning he just cannot be excluded from pulling off an incredible win. The finale could click really well with his attributes, but the Col du Glandon will be the biggest test if he wishes to have a shot at winning here. Sagan is climbing better than ever before and if he paces it well, there is no reason he could not recoup any losses with another barnstorming descent.

Outcome:

1st Serge Pauwels 2nd Jakub Fuglsang 3rd Joaquim Rodriguez

Giro-d'Italia-Stage-18-Spokenforks-Preview-2015

Giro d’Italia – Stage 18 Preview

The sprinters finally had their day once again in the spotlight and got the chance to contest the conclusion of Stage 17 having scuppered the earlier breakaway. Sacha Modolo proved himself the fastest man at the finish, taking his second stage win at this year’s Giro d’Italia. Today’s ride from Melide to Verbania is based around a testing finale which should see a diverse mix of riders rise to the top in pursuit of an elusive stage win. It suits the talents of a well drilled breakaway, but we have learnt on several occasions at this year’s Giro, that no stage is protected from the unexpected influence of a general classification battle.

Course:

Running 170km from the Swiss start in Melide, the day’s racing only takes in one solitary climb, but it is one which is set to have a huge impact upon which riders shall remain in contention as they approach the finish in Verbania. Opening with almost 125km of easy riding, this will allow the majority of riders to roll their legs over nicely without too much effort, preparing themselves for the brute of a climb which is set to decide the winner in Verbania. The Category 1 climb of Monte Ologno is where the battle for victory shall be ignited, a 10.4km ascent which demands huge efforts over its average gradient of 9%; kicking up to 13% in some places. The climb itself is a relentlessly gruelling affair which offers little in the way of respite until the riders reach the summit and head beyond Alpe Segletta. From here it is a sharp and technical descent almost right down to the finish line, the final kilometres acting as a contrast with a simplistic outlay which eventually turns onto a finishing straight of 200m.

Giro-d'Italia-Stage-18-Spokenforks-Preview-2015

Giro-d'Italia-Stage-18-Spokenforks-Preview-2015

Contenders:

A day such as this which sits in the final week of a grand tour is notoriously difficult to forecast the outcome of, let alone who are to be the likely protagonists and possible stage winners. With its long opening flat section, steady Category 1 ascent and fast downhill run to the line, Trek Factory Racing are likely to back the hopes of Fabio Felline having already demonstrated some formidable performances at this year’s Giro d’Italia. He appears to be one of the strongest riders in this final week of the Giro and has the option of either contributing to a breakaway or hoping everything comes back together on the climb and win the sprint after the run into town. On Stage 3 he was only edged out by the indomitable Michael Matthews on a similar descent to the line and with the Australian now having abandoned the race, Felline stands a great chance of winning in Verbania.

Somehow Carlos Betancur is still bereft of a victory at this edition of the Giro d’Italia and he could fancy his chances yet again to take a win; this time on Stage 18. The Colombian seems to be riding himself into ever increasing form during the race and there is little to suggest he could not win here on ability alone. Making the correct move is the biggest challenge for Betancur and he will struggle to ensure his efforts to snatch victory are not wasted during the day. Monte Ologno should offer no great difficulty for the AG2R La Mondiale captain and the rapid descent down to the finish line plays to his strengths, possibly setting the conclusion up for him to decide it with his potent sprint.

Movistar have been banging their heads against the wall when it comes to Giovanni Visconti, a man who has found himself in some encouraging positions thus far, but always unfortunate when it comes to staying the course and fighting for the win. He has a great ability to pick the right breakaway and a move on the Monte Ologno is likely to include Visconti if he feels up to the challenge when the moment strikes. Much like Fabio Felline, his prowess at climbing, descending and sprinting make him a strong contender for a day which should play to his strengths nicely. The question for the Movistar rider is whether or not his attack will go without reaction from a peloton still eager to shore up the general classification with only several days left.

Franco Pellizotti is another man who has invested much into this grand tour and has so far walked away with so little in return. A likely protagonist when it comes to forming a decisive breakaway, the Italian will seek to make a move before the descent, hoping to find a well organised group which takes him to the finish line. Possessing a quick finish will make Pellizotti a threat in any group’s bid for the win and he is sure to do his upmost to be part of it.

Away from these clear cut names, we are bound to witness a variety of riders who view this as their last real chance of a stage win before the mountains start diminishing their odds of taking a stage win at 2015’s Giro d’Italia. Once such man could be IAM Cycling’s Sylvain Chavanel who seems to have measured his efforts as of late and could finally burst forth with ambition as he hopes to drive a breakaway over the Monte Ologno climb and win from a select bunch.

Philippe Gilbert is still in great shape and really should have more than his solo stage win as we approach the finale of this grand tour, so he deserves a mention on a day where he could feature late on. Though the climb might be too difficult for him, the descent could provide him with enough momentum to bridge back to the lead group and contest the sprint as one of the fastest men.

Team Sky are having a bit of a nightmare as of late, yesterday saw them relinquish their grip on the red jersey as Elia Viviani failed to even finish in the top ten on Stage 17, meaning their pursuit of glory elsewhere is likely to increase. When it comes to long breakaways which feature both extended flat and draining climbs, Vasil Kiryienka could be their best option for placing a man in a race winning move. His performances over some of the big mountains so far have been extremely impressive and an ability to churn a huge gear could easily see him solo away from a group and take the win unchallenged.

The likes of Damiano CunegoDavid de la CruzIon IzagirrePieter Weening and Damiano Caruso all warrant a mention as men likely to either participate in the day’s breakaway or strike for home after the day’s sole climb is conquered.

Outcome:

Ultimately the day has an equal chance of being fought for from a breakaway as much as it does being decided by a sprint finish of elite riders. The former situation could be won by an array of riders, only a few of which have been outlined in the preview above. On the other hand, if a bunch plummets down the descent and ends up fighting for the finish amongst themselves, a rider such as Fabio Felline could come out on top judging by his recent performances in regards to both climbing and featuring in the breakaway. The Colombian Carlos Betancur once again remains in hot pursuit of a stage win and could target this day in particular due to a mixture of attributes which tick all the boxes for the AG2R La Mondiale rider. The reasonably constant gradient of Monte Ologno, twinned with its descent, suits him well and when it comes down to it; Betancur can produce a solid sprint finish.

1st Fabio Felline 2nd Carlos Betancur 3rd Philippe Gilbert

Outsider: Vasil Kiryienka 

A Kick In The Tail – Vuelta a España Stage 18

The rest offered to the riders on Stage 17 was brief and predominately hectic as desperation to bring things back to a sprint finish, swept through the bunch with only 3km left. Today will be stressful once more for those needing to stay well positioned as they attack another summit finish on Stage 18. A pair of Category 2 climbs (the same ascent twice) are the main feature of the 157km trip from A Estrada to the outskirts of Meis, with the uphill approach of Monte Castrove being our race to the summit on the second attempt. The majority of the day will be spent riding parallel to the coast once again, meaning the big GC riders will want to stay at the front of affairs in case any echelons begin to form. 

Vuelta-a-Espana-Stage-18-Preview-Spokenforks

Course:

As other remaining days are expected to have a greater impact on the GC than today, it could be a good opportunity for those who fancy a day in the break. The terrain is rolling throughout as it approaches the first of the two ascents, so it could be fertile ground for a good sized and well organised break to gain a healthy lead. No doubt this will be the recipe for a frantic start to the day’s racing, possibly resulting in a large group getting away due to little interest from the sprinters and mild concern from the GC leaders. Regardless of who makes it to the last 5km banner first, they will need to have the traits of a puncheur in order to benefit the most in the final few kilometres of this 7% climb. 

Vuelta-a-Espana-Stage-18-Preview-Spokenforks

 

Contenders:

Today makes for an incredibly tactical stage of racing, as the mechanics of time bonuses and their effect upon the general classification, may create some interesting moves. In regards to this, Alejandro Valverde is the man to watch should he have the opportunity to take the stage win on the second approach and summit finish of Monte Castrove. While openly eager to take another win for himself and Movistar since Nairo Quintana’s abandonment, the real incentive of winning for Valverde is the 10 second time bonus which his success would also be rewarded with as he looks to distance himself from Chris Froome. Joaquim Rodriguez is certainly aware of just how much this finale suits him, a man renowned for his sharp accelerations over these moderate gradients, he could be the one to beat as Katusha have the depth of support to set him up perfectly for the win. Rodriguez knows he is likely to bear the brunt of the remaining mountain days amongst the favourites, so will identify the day as a possible victory and a few seconds to soften the blow too. Chris Froome and Alberto Contador are going to be keeping a close eye on the afore mentioned duo, unlikely to contest the win, they will however not be dropped greatly on such a short and gentle climb despite accelerations. If he feels like it, Chris Froome could put in an unexpected dig, as it would be interesting to see the other podium hopefuls interpret the chance of the Sky man staying away in the short downhill run to home.

Joaquim-Rodriguez-Vuelta-Stage-18-Preview

‘Purito’ is likely to deliver a similar punch here as he did to Philip Deignan’s bottom lip.

Outcome:

There does still remain a strong possibility that a breakaway could be given the chance to stay out all day and fight amongst themselves for the stage. However, everyone has been made fully aware of just how much Joaquim Rodriguez and Alejandro Valverde want to win here and it seems that we are going to witness the two Spaniards duke it out between them. The lower gradients suit the former better, though he will not like the concluding descent, so will attack early via the efforts of his teammates’ to gain a big enough lead into town, as he will be unable to beat Alejandro Valverde in a sprint. Valverde should be motivated more by the time bonus than another stage win, so will not be an easy pursuer to escape from on Monte Castrove – you could not place a cigarette paper between the two for the win. Due to this summit appearing relatively easier than what the peloton have had to conquer thus far, the likes of Dan Martin might also be seen once more as he strives desperately to take a win at last.

1st Rodriguez 2nd Valverde 3rd Martin

Out With A Bang – Le Tour Stage 18

The last day in the mountains offers the riders quality over quantity in terms of the mountain passes today. After the previous days in the Pyrenees, the early Cat 3 climbs will barely be perceivable by a bunch acclimatised to the unrelating kilometres of sustained climbing followed by taxing descending. Despite the HC summit finish at Hautacam, all eyes are focused upon the legendary Col du Tourmalet where podium contenders may be left short by a pushed tempo from Vincenzo Nibali, though the real battles will come between Alejandro Valverde, Thibaut Pinot and Jean-Christophe Péraud.

Two Big Questions To Be Answered.

Two Big Questions To Be Answered.

The Tourmalet is a deceptive climb, with the road heading skywards before they have barely begun the approach, but these first 5km are not to be trusted as the riders are lured into a comfortable rhythm. It soon becomes apparent after this that Col du Tourmalet is an entirely different beast, by the time they reach the 10km mark its true colours show through with 10% gradients. It will have an impact upon the GC, but it may not become apparent until the peloton turn onto the climb up to the summit finish. Descending will be rapid, offering AG2R another opportunity to expose the supposed weakness of Thibaut Pinot, though he has not appeared to struggle with the downhill so far.

A Legendary Climb.

A Legendary Climb.

Ascending Hautacam is an arduous task of ever-changing gradients and ramps which will leave riders struggling to find the right gear or rhythm the whole way up. Though sections are officially marked as 10% – 11%, the reality of the climb sees parts even in excess of this, meaning the 5% parts will be light relief after double digits. It is a brutal climb which will ask serious questions of those fighting for the win as to when to attack and how hard; whoever wins will require a display of brains as well as brawn.

A Surprise Victor Will Be Crowned.

A Surprise Victor Will Be Crowned.

The Contenders:

In terms of profile, the stage suits a breakaway staying away for the majority of today, before the inevitably diminished group duels for the win atop Hautacam. Col du Tourmalet will have a large impact upon the GC attackers, but given the long descent down into the final climb, its effects will only be felt once the contenders start getting out of the saddle and discover they have been robbed of energy for the last ascent. Other than a Vincenzo Nibali stage win today, it would appear that Rafal Majka has secured the Polka Dots for a team who must have been panicking once Alberto Contador climbed into the team car; he and Joaquim Rodriguez will stay amongst the pack with the ‘dots’ competition over.

Vincenzo Nibali could sit back and watch the fireworks today as Thibaut Pinot, Jéan-Christophe Peraud, Alejandro Valverde and Romain Bardet all test each other’s nerve for the sake of the podium in anticipation of the time-trial. But Nibali seems eager to display his dominance at every opportunity, so it would not come as much of a surprise if he surpasses the in-fighting to sail away towards increasing his time gap even further.

With the Polka Dots finished, Yellow Jersey firmly glued to the little Italian’s shoulders and little chance of movement in the top 20 of GC; it seems like ANYBODY could make the break today. Radioshack, Garmin and Sky could all do with making themselves known in the escapees after below-par and injury ravaged tours. No doubt a French presence will be apparent with Europcar, Cofidis or Bretagne-Séché putting a rider or two up the road in hope of a stage win.

Ultimately, the fireworks amongst the general classification is guaranteed in order to cement podium hopes, but (beyond being clairvoyant) I cannot see anybody managing to pick the day’s victor.