Like Carlos Betancur at a buffet after a few bong hits, this stage is short, high, and capable of licking all of the riders’ plates clean. But before we look at what’s coming up, let’s review what happened on Stage 18.
Stage 18 Recap
For a stage that really didn’t have much action and featured Jonathan Castroviejo and Dylan van Baarle of all riders setting the pace at the head of the chemical train, it was still quite exciting and just goes to show you what a difference having a competitive GC competition makes. As expected, a big break formed early with a number of slumming former GC riders— including Adam Yates, Romain Bardet, and Nairo Quintana. Quintana started the day in 12th at 9:30 behind yellow and you have to wonder if Luke Rowe and Tony Martin were still in the race would that move have been shut down. Nonetheless, Quintana put in an attack on the Galibier, distancing both Bardet and Alexey Lutsenko, and won the stage and the competition for best placed Movistar rider. He’s now 3:54 behind Alaphilippe and 2:24 behind Bernal and could be a dangerous rider in the upcoming stages with Landa positioned in 8th behind him.
In the race behind, as mentioned above, the Frackers were up to their old tricks with first Castroviejo and then Van Baarle suppressing any attacks by setting a pace at the front on the Galibier. The pace, though, did not seem too oppressive, as Quintana was gaining time on the yellow jersey group after being in the break all day. Pinot, Kruijswijk and company may have been playing it a little too conservative with two more hard days in the Alps coming.
As Van Baarle’s engine started to sputter, Bernal put in an attack near the summit of the Galibier. He quickly gained an advantage of some 30 seconds over the group. Then, in a moment that had me cheering because of the fracker-on-fracker violence, Thomas was the first rider to attack out of the group to try to bridge to Bernal. Maybe an argument could be made that this move was somehow strategic, but it had shades of the 1986 Tour and the Hinault-Lemond internecine battle. In any event, with the two frackers up the road, the remaining group had to up the pace, with Pinot eventually making contact with Thomas. The result, though, was Alaphilippe losing contact. By the summit of the Galibier, Alaphilippe was about 20 to 30 seconds in arrears. However, in another fist pumping moment, he used his superior descending skills to not only latch onto the group of main contenders, which now included Thomas and Pinot, but to go by them and open up a gap. Bernal, in the meantime, was able to maintain the gap that he established on the climb and crossed the finish line 32 seconds ahead of the group containing Alaphilippe, Thomas, Kruijswijk, Buchmann, Pinot, Landa, Uran, and Porte.
Thus, by the end of the stage, besides Bernal moving up to second and Quintana regaining a position within striking distance, not much changed. Alaphilippe still has a minute and a half and the yellow jersey and there’s still a logjam of riders separated by seconds with Movistar gathering for an attack in the distance.
As we look ahead to the next two stages, I’m now thinking that the Val Thorens stage will be the epilogue. I believe we’re going to see the decisive battle in Stage 19.
The race heads over the highest paved pass in the Alps, the Col de l’Iseran, on the way to a summit finish on the Montee de Tignes. Besides the 17 kilometers between the summit of the Col de l’Iseran and the start of the Montee de Tignes, there is very little respite on this stage, as it’s all uphill. Before even reaching the start of the l’Iseran, the riders will face the category 3 Cote de Saint-Andre (3.1 km at 7.1%), the category 2 Montee d’Aussois (6.5 km at 6.1%), and the category 3 Col de la Madeleine (3.8 km at 6.9%).
The Col de l’Iseran begins with about 50 kilometers remaining in the stage. It’s officially 12.9 km at 7.5%, but as can be seen by the profile below, it has a steep beginning, steep middle, and steep end. The summit comes at the highest point of the Alps and in this Tour at 2,770 meters.
From the top of the Col de l’Iseran, there are about 37 kilometers left in the stage and 28 kilometers to the start of the final climb. As Will mentions in his mountains preview, both the ascent and descent of the l’Iseran will involve lots of helicopter-shot porn.
Surprisingly, the Col de l’Iseran has only been used on 7 prior occasions by the Tour and only 3 times in the past 55 years, last being included in the 2007 edition. That year, the riders started climbing l’Iseran from kilometer 0 and finished with an ascent and descent of the Galibier, so the result has almost no bearing on this year’s stage (Juan Mauricio Soler won, followed by the favorites group separated by small gaps). In 1992, Claudio Chiappucci won, but the l’Iseran featured as one of multiple, stupidly-hard climbs over a 254 kilometer stage.
Montee de Tignes has only been used once in the Tour previously— on Stage 8 of the 2007 Tour and as the finishing climb as it’s being used tomorrow. It’s hard to draw conclusions by comparison to rides of previous eras, particularly where the winning rider was likely pumped full of steroid-infused thoroughbred blood, but on that day Michael Rasmussen won by close to three minutes.
It’s a good climb for an attack, but any attack will need to come early. The first part of the climb is the steepest and on narrow, windy roads through forest and a village. The second part of the climb will be for maintaining any gap as the road becomes more typical of the Alps— wider, with expansive views, and not as steep. The last kilometer of the stage is flat.
I’ll turn it over to Amy to be our sommelier for the next stage. I’m wondering if white or red pairs best with a nail-biting Tour?
Amy’s Wine of the Day
The wine: Domaine Dupasquier savoie gamay
I’ve used this one before, but I’m just a fan. From the importer: The Dupasquier vineyards are located in a southwestern lobe of the Savoie, close to the Rhône Valley. One drives through a large mountain called “Le Dent du Chat” to arrive at the domaine, and the terroir seems almost instantly to become more Rhône-ish on the western side of this tunnel. The town is called Aimavigne, and its most prestigious vineyard is the incredibly steep “Marestel” Cru (pronounced “mah-reh-tehl” no “s”). The vines benefit from steep, sun-drenched slopes, primarily limestone soil, and the cooling effects of Lake Bourget.
Romain Bardet took the polka dots from Tim Wellens and has 86 points. Wellens is still in second with 74 points and Damiano Caruso in third with 60 points. This should be Bardet’s jersey to lose. Look for him to try to get in the break again to take double points over the Col de l’Iseran.
The big question that everyone now needs to start taking much more seriously is whether Alaphilippe can hold onto the yellow into Paris. After his gutsy performance and swagger on Stage 18, it’s hard not to be cheering for him. If the race goes balls-out and explodes on the slopes of the Col de l’Iseran, he’ll lose yellow tomorrow. However, if we see a repeat of today’s stage with a slow-speed Ineos freight train employed on the l’Iseran, he should be able to limit his losses on the final climb, which suits him much better, and have it all to play for on Stage 20.
The only thing I can predict with any sense of certainty is that tomorrow should be a day for the GC riders. I think that whoever wins the stage tomorrow will be the winner of the Tour. Quintana and Bernal today proved that there is definitely an advantage to having been born in the thin air in Colombia when a race goes above 2,000 meters. Unless Thomas pulls a Tonya Harding on him tonight at the hotel, I think Bernal takes the stage and the Tour tomorrow.