Lourdes > Hautacam 143.1km
Today we had a huge day in the mountains, are you ready for another one? It’s another short stage, this time it’s 143km in length. The climbing in this stage is harder, we have three huge climbs for the riders to deal with. The battle for yellow is still on, as is the battle for the polka dot jersey. The final 84km of the stage contains 3250m of climbing, that’s bordering on the ridiculous.
The high temperatures are back, it’s over 30 degrees again. The wind is light, but it is a headwind on the climbs.
First up is the Aubisque, long and difficult.
Col de Spandelles is the second climb of the day and it’s the first time it’s ever appeared in the race. It is a very difficult mountain, the hardest climb of the day.
Hautacam is back in the Tour for the first time since 2014, when Nibali took the win. Will Pogačar be able to crack Vingegaard?
Today we witnessed something special, a Tour de France stage ripped apart by just two riders. Bjerg and McNulty did the work of a whole team, but there is no guarantee they can do the same in this stage. Both will have dug deep into their resources to set up a brilliant win for Pogačar but doing the same again will require an even bigger effort.
The day begins with an unclassified climb of 5km at 3.6%. It doesn’t sound much, but it could be long enough for the break to form, just like what happened on Tuesday. If you want to be in the move, I suggest a good position in the neutral zone. The break really need the move to go early, today it went late and never managed to get a big enough gap to survive. If it goes on that first climb, they’ll have almost 60km to build the advantage, especially as Jumbo-Visma are likely to go relatively easy. UAE managed to catch the break today, but as the climbs are harder in this stage, I think it swings the advantage to the break.
At this point in the Tour de France, the break will be full of the strongest riders, it doesn’t really matter what type of rider you are. Given the difficulty of the climbs, the winner of the stage will be an exceptional climber, but the break will have to go full as they cannot rely on the peloton gifting the stage win. We all know that the attacks will come, and the GC group will ride the last two climbs at breakneck speed, so the break needs a big advantage to ensure victory.
Pogačar now sits 2:18 behind yellow, that’s a big gap. He only attacked once today, something that surprised most watching. I expect to see more attacks in this stage, he needs to try everything he’s got to put Vingegaard under pressure. So far, the Dane has looked exceptional, but there are no guarantees in this stage. This is the 18th stage of a full gas tour, and with the heat the riders have had to endure, no one is safe from cracking. I get the feeling we’ll all be on the edge of our seats until the very end.
Alexey Lutsenko – he looks to eventually have found his legs. 2022 has been a big disappointment for Luts, but he has every right to feel positive about this stage. Today, he used up a lot of energy attacking with Pinot, and he was still able to finish 5th. He now sits 11th on GC and is more than likely to move into the top 10 at the end of this stage, but he wants a stage win. His team are weak, he won’t have much help, but this stage should be about the legs, not tactics. When at his best, Lutsenko is capable of incredible feats, I sense he’s about to peak.
Thibaut Pinot – went with Lutsenko, struggled on the descent, then blew up on the climb. As temperatures will be in the 30s for tomorrow’s stage, he’s likely to struggle a little. He’s one of the riders who has a chance of winning the polka dot jersey, expect to see him in the break.
Michael Woods – didn’t make the break today, it looked like he used up too much energy in the early stages. Given the way he was climbing on Tuesday, he must be one of the favourites for this stage. It’s been a disappointing Tour for the Canadian, but one win will turn all of that around.
Romain Bardet – no one expected him to bounce back the way he did today, it was classic Bardet. He’s now 6th on GC, which means he won’t get as much freedom in this stage, as he’s a threat to the top 5 places of Gaudu and Quintana. If marked, he’ll have to ride in the GC group, where he won’t be able to take the stage win.
Valentin Madouas – he’s spent much of the race working tirelessly for David Gaudu, and now he sits 13th on GC. It would be good to see him jumping in the break, just like he did on Tuesday, but the climbs in this stage are very close to his limit.
Enric Mas – he’s wanted to roll the dice this week, expect to see him going for the morning break. As the climb is very close to the Spanish border, a win here would be huge for Mas and Movistar.
Nick Schultz – he continues to impress with his climbing displays. I never had the Australian down as someone who could cope in the high mountains, but he’s looked very strong in the last two stages, managing to stay with the GC group for a very long time. With form like that, I hope to see him in the break, he would have a good chance of taking the win.
I think a big break will disappear up the road and take the stage win. Given the way he climbed today, I’ll take a win for Alexey Lutsenko. Back in the GC group, UAE will make it hard on the Spandelles climb and see what happens. Pogačar must attack from distance, he needs to take over 1 minute on Vingegaard to put him under pressure in the time trial. He’ll try, but after all his efforts, Vingegaard will put more time into him and secure his first yellow jersey.