Stage 18: Gap - Saint Jean de Maurienne 186.5 km
Act 1 of the three act Col de la Croix de Fer orgy in this Tour is the quirky one, the only high mountain stage in this TdF that doesn't end on a climb.
About Sain Jean de Maurienne
Located in the Maurienne Valley, frequently referred to as the climbing cyclists Mecca by our mountain expert Will, the town not surprisingly markets itself as a destination for cyclotourists. More interestingly perhaps it's also the birthplace of one major knife manufacturers in France, Opinel. Knife production is otherwise centered around Thiers in the Puy de Dome region, also classic TdF terrain, where among others the famous Sabatier knives originated. In the 1890s Joseph Opinel designed and optimized the manufacture of the perfect pocket knife in Saint Jean and over the years the business grew in size as the knives became sought after all over France.
Eventually as the scale of production and range of knives grew the company moved to nearby Chambery but it is still very much a local product. There is even an Opinel museum in Saint Jean de Maurienne to visit, an opportunity most of the riders will almost certainly avail themselves of after the days stage. Right after podium ceremonies, doping control, interviews, warm-down, massage, and dinner. It's open past midnight, right?
AmyBC's food and drink pairings:
Wine: Hey, wait, we've seen this one before, but an earlier vintage: Danilo Thomain Enfer D'Avier 2013
From the importer: The vineyards of the Enfer d’Arvier appellation are situated in an amphitheater-shaped site on steep slopes in a high-altitude valley, which receives ample sun. The shape of this "bowl" of vineyards effectively concentrates the heat of the sun, thus giving birth to the "hell of Arvier" moniker. Danilo Thomain is the only independent vigneron working this tiny appellation only five hectares in size. The Thomain family works one hectare of vineyards here in the shadow of Mont Blanc.
A traditional wine made from the Petit Rouge grape and vinified in cuve, it has a compelling rusticity with a wild berry impression and a lively freshness on the palate. Production at the Thomain estate is approximately 2500 bottles per year, approximately two-thirds of which is shipped to us for the US market!
Food: You might have noticed that there has been a lot of cheese during this Tour. So why not fondue? Our "recipe" is much the same as the one I wrote about many years ago, though I've subbed the local cheeses for the mix.
This could make for one of the better mountains stages in the race since it has an alternate finale. The first half offers plenty of climbing to make the establishment of the break another brutal affair. Only the strongest and the guys going for the Polkadots need apply at this point. After that we make our first acquaintance with the Croix de Fer and perhaps most crucially the descent down into the Maurienne valley. The first kilometers especially are super tricky and all the pieces are in place for anyone wanting to challenge from far out. We'll see the riders climbing up this same route on the next stage and then those same kilometers near the top of Col de Glandon (Glandon/Croix de Fer are twin cols as you can see in our Mountains Preview) will be equally challenging but then mostly because of their evil steepness.
Once down in the valley the riders come to one of the most highly anticipated bits of his year's Tour, the Lacets de Montvernier.These silly fun-looking hairpins clung to the rockwall on the opposite side of the valley will take the riders up 3,5 kilometers at roughly 8% on a tiny narrow road before they once again descend into the finish in Saint Jean de Maurienne. This descent is supposedly pretty straightforward and non-technical and there is about 10 km from the top of the Lacets to the finishline, roughly half of it on the flat. Hard to see anything but a solo winner here frankly but you never know.
Perhaps the most challenging stage for Sky to defend themselves on even if (or because ?) it doesn't offer the toughest climbing. This is a day that the opponents have to make use of to shake Froome. Unless they continue working mostly to position themselves for second place.
The intermediate is before the big climb of the day so theoretically someone who wants to pretend he can beat Sagan could go for those points I suppose?
King of the Mountains
The people with designs on this jersey almost certainly have to keep collecting points seriously today if they are to have any chance, slim as they may be, to wrest it off the shoulders of Chris Froome. Expect a few candidates to get in the break from the start today. J-Rod, Fuglsang and Pauwels seem the obvious serious possibilities at this point but J-rod looked a shadow of himself on the the way to Pra Loup.
At this point the best chance for anyone else is probably that Nairo has a sudden growth spurt and suddenly ages 2 years overnight making him ineligible.
This is the kind of day we would be looking out for the more adventurous riders to take the fight to Froome perhaps. Nibali, Contador, Bardet etc. Also if Movistar have any plans of deploying Valverde as a tactical piece to put Froome under pressure, today might be a good opportunity.