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Tour de France Stage 18 Preview: Breakaway Looks Likely

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Le-tour_mediumTomorrow, the Tour de France heads back into the flatlands. That's right, the Tour has exited the mountains for this year. Do you picture little men running around and rolling up the roads like so many stage sets? I'll tell you a secret. Next week, the mountains will still be there! Crazy, right?

On Friday, the stage runs from Blagnac to Brive-la-Gaillarde over bumpy terrain. It's not totally flat, but it's not especially hilly. There are four categorized climbs, but none of them rate over a three. That's not much for the climbers to get excited about or the sprinters to fear on this one.

The Pyrénées did not do much to alter the order of things in this Tour. Bradley Wiggins still holds the yellow jersey followed by his teammate Chris Froome. Vincenzo Nibali sits third with little chance over overtaking either of the riders from Team Sky.

On the subject of the two riders from Team Sky, what even was that finish on Thursday? When they reached the final climb, Wiggins began riding on the front, then stopped. Froome took over, while Valverde dangled up the road tantalizingly close. Wiggins and Froome, they could have caught Valverde had they chosen to do so, but the team lashed Froome to Wiggins like Odysseus to the mast. Froome sped, looked behind him, slowed down. Speed up, slow down.

It was all pretty farcical to watch. Italian television speculated about a deal between Team Sky and Movistar, who with no previous stage victories in the race must have been a bit desperate. Maybe so, but the absurd interplay between Wiggins and Froome only served to make Froome look stronger than his team captain. You'd like to think that the strongest rider won the bike race, but the tight leash Wiggins insisted on putting around Froome's ambitions made him look weak rather than worthy.

Tomorrow, there should be no such shenigans. Though the terrain is not too difficult for the sprinters, tactical considerations make it likely that a break will go all the way tomorrow. The green jersey competition is done and sealed, so there are not teams looking to force a sprint to chase points. The general classification teams have the time trial, all 53 ever-loving kilometers of it, on their minds. No one really wants a hard bike race the day before a long time trial. And throughout this Tour, the sprinters' teams have been pretty noncommittal about the chasing. Lotto and Orica-GreenEdge have the most reason to chase, but they may choose not to get into it.

So, I'll call it a breakaway stage. It's a stage for the likes of Pierrick Fédrigo, though he probably will not be allowed to go up the road again after already taking stage victory last week. Ah, Vande Velde, that was a rough one, wasn't it? Maybe Dries Devenyns will try again. I'm just making up names here now. Because really, breakaways, they're pretty hard to predict.

Here's the current general classification. Counting down to Paris!