The last week. Some may say it’s all over but I would say it is wide open for the taking. If you liked what you saw on stage 11, I tell you we will have the same thing can happen on stage 18. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Stage 16 has 3153 climbing meters, when has tipped me towards the chances of the breakaway.
Starting off with where the breakaway is likely to form, the first 43 km. Mostly flat, but there are a few hills here that increase the chances of a good climber getting in the morning breakaway. I would say it mainly suits the rouleurs but in the third week of a Grand Tour it will be the legs speaking.
Following is a long flat section, all the way to two cat-1 climbs of the day. With the KOM classification being wide open, you can bet a lot of riders in that competition will fight for the jersey and making the pace very high on the two climbs.
The first is Port de Lers. It begins with 65 km left and marks the beginning of the stage finale.
From what I can see on Google Maps, the way down from Port de l’Hers is not that simple. A lot of quick corners on a small road without the best road surface. It does not look like much from above, but it is not as easy as it looks.
At the bottom of the descent, they start the next and the last climb of the day. Mur de Peyregudes. A climb you can divide into two sections.
The first easy half, 5.7 km at 5.4%.
The leg-killing second half, 3.5 km at 11.8%.
Expect fireworks in the breakaway and the GC group at the second section of the climb.
From the top, there is still 27.3 km left of the stage. The descent is not that steep which means you still need to push the pedals. I would not call it easy but there are a few places where you can’t really see how long or tight the corner is.
It flattens out with about 8 km left, give or take, still sometimes dropping all the way to the finish making it a very fast finish.
The riders will have a strong cross-tailwind at the start in Carcassonne making it easier for the break to form on the few hills mentioned at the start with speeds up to 24 km/h and gusts up to 44 km/h. Echelons? It would be very early. But it also means if the breakaway forms in the first 11.5 km or so, it favors the rouleurs. That would be surprisingly early. The GC teams will also be worried and be at the front to not get caught out. If it forms after 11.5 km left, we have the climbs and the tailwind which is better for the climbers. I think it is more realistic.
After that, it looks like the wind speed just drops to almost nothing once they get closer to the mountains. Once again, it will be a very, very hot day.
How will the stage unfold?
Let’s start by looking at the chances of the breakaway. We are in the last week so that normally means this is where the riders with a lot of quality take the big wins. We have a few very strong teams who should all have the numbers and strength to be up the road tomorrow; Bora-Hansgrohe, EF-Education, Bahrain-Victorious and Groupama-FDJ. The question is if it will be a breakaway from the breakaway winning (fuga de la fuga) or the last wall on Peyregudes is too demanding and the hardest climb will win.
I think we should look at the numbers these teams have, and that is easier done with an xPless visualization but we will get to that.
The GC is not over, not by any means. We have a Bardet waiting before the big mountains – he knows he need time on Thomas if he wants a spot on the podium. INEOS to do a hail-mary with Adam Yates? How big a threat is he really. Is it someone to who Pogacar and Vingegaard will respond too? They have two cards, they better play their hand well because they are not winning the Tour de France at the moment – and they have the strongest team.
A few teams with a lot of numbers, mainly Bora-Hansgrohe, Trek-Segafredo and Bahrain-Victorious. As I mentioned, numerical advantages are good but they don’t matter on the last 3.5 km of Peyregudes.
Bora – Hansgrohe – a big list of riders who can all potentially win the stage. Looking at the stage, I think it is a very good stage for Konrad and Schachmann. I think Kämna has used a bunch of energy already and Grossschartner did poorly on Mende. If they manage to sneak Vlasov in the breakaway, not something JV have been keen to let happen, he has a good chance too.
Bahrain – Victorious – as we have two big climbs, Caruso and Teuns are the ones who should have the best shot from the team. Caruso was never really a big part of the GC competition but he has stayed in the race for a reason, to hunt for a stage win. He has been consistent this season and I do not doubt for a second he will be fighting for a stage win this week. If Teuns find his good climbing legs again, the gradients on Peyregudes suit him very, very much.
Trek-Segafredo – I think the two routined breakaway specialists, Mollema and Ciccone will come flying out in the last week. Mollema was in the breakaway on stage 15, but did not look 100%. Ciccone should get better and better after battling illness for the first 10 days or so. Ciccone to hunt the KOM points will likely limit his chances of winning.
Schultz – climbing very well right now, he was the strongest on stage 14. I fear the climbs may be just a bit too hard for him but he has finished 6th on Jebel Jais. He has good legs and that get you far in the last week.
Bettiol – flying, just flying. He can climb well when he is in this shape and we saw on Montée Jalabert just how well he can handle steep gradients. He worked for his team the whole day only to be the strongest of them all. I doubt they will have him do that again tomorrow making him one of the biggest favorites for tomorrow.
Pinot – I fear the Frenchman would love a harder day. On stage 15, crosswinds and the flat sections killed him. It has to go either up or down the whole town, like the finale tomorrow. I hope they will send Madouas, Storer or Küng with him up the road.
Woods – a few hills in the opening is good for him but he has not looked 100%, otherwise, he would have won the stage in Mende. The amount of descending is not very good news for him either. If he happens to be with the front group at the bottom of Peyregudes and he has rested well, he will fight for the stage win.
Verona / Jorgensen – similar riders, big diesels who need to play the fuga de la fuga game.
Who will win?
I stage win for Konrad. They have the numbers.