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Stage 17 - Lourdes to Hautacam - 143.2km - Thursday, July 21
The final mountain stage of the 2022 Tour de France, Stage 18 offers a last chance for climbers hoping to win a mountain stage or improve their places on the Tour’s General Classification before Saturday’s 40km individual time trial.
The stage begins in Lourdes and immediately begins to climb–not significantly, but enough that riders looking to join the breakaway might be warming-up on trainers at the start. After leaving town, the route heads west and then south, heading through the Pyrenean foothills as it wraps its way toward the Intermediate Sprint in Laruns.
The first of the day’s three categorized summits begins soon after the sprint: the Hors Catégorie Col d’Aubisque (16.4km @7.1%). Considered “beyond categorization,” Hors Catégorie climbs are the toughest in each year’s Tour–and this stage has two of them.
The Aubisque is a brute. It begins gently, but the steepness increases to a steady 8% average grade, with a few pitches that hit 9-10%. The summit sits at 1709 meters above sea level and offers a stunning panorama of the high Pyrenees. But with a long (23km), hair-raising descent back down to the valley, the riders won’t have time to enjoy the view.
The next climb, the Category 1 Col de Spandelles (10.3km @ 8.3%), begins as soon as the riders hit the valley. Shorter but steeper than the Aubisque, the Col de Spandelles might serve as the perfect place for riders planning long-range attacks to either win the stage or gain time on GC–were it not for the fact that its summits sits 19km from the base of the day’s final climb, the Hors Catégorie ascent to the finish line at the Hautacam ski resort. After two hard days of climbing, we doubt anyone has the legs to force a selection and then hold it all the way to the line without being caught.
The climb to Hautacam (13.6km @ 7.8%) has been the site of some exciting battles since making its debut on Stage 11 of the 1994 Tour de France. And it’s a bit of a fortune-teller: four of the five riders who have worn the yellow jersey at its summit have gone on to win the Tour. Will Denmark’s Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) be the fifth?
For Slovenia’s Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates), who sits 2:18 behind Vingegaard on the Tour’s General Classification, it’s the last chance to crack the Dane before Saturday’s time trial. Doing so might give Pogačar a fighting chance of overhauling the Dane to win the Tour–similar to the way he overtook Slovenia’s Primož Roglič to win the Tour in 2020.
For Vingegaard, the task is simple: stay glued to Pogačar’s wheel, attacking only if he’s convinced the Slovenian is about to crack, or, like he did at the end of Stage 17, to score bonus seconds at the stage finish.
Riders To Watch
It’s unlikely that Jumbo-Visma, UAE Team Emirates, and INEOS Grenadiers, whose riders occupy the top-3 spots on the Tour’s General Classification, will be concerned with a breakaway escaping and building up a large advantage, which means this is a perfect for one of the Tour’s out-of-contention GC contenders to try and salvage their Tour with a stage win.
So keep an eye on many of the riders who went on the attack during Stage 17: France’s Romain Bardet (Team DSM), Russia’s Aleksandr Vlasov (BORA-hansgrohe), Colombia’s Rigoberto Uran (EF Education-EasyPost), and Kazakhstan’s Alexey Lutsenko (Astana).
We’re also eager to see the fight to win the polka dot jersey as the Tour’s King of the Mountains. Germany’s Simon Geschke (Cofidis) still leads the competition, but Vingegaard and Pogačar are getting close. The German will need to go on the attack early to try and score points on the Aubisque and then hope that other riders stay away to the finish, scooping up the rest of the points before Vingegaard and Pogačar have a chance to do so.
When to Watch
We’re suckers for a stage through the high Pyrenees, so we’ll likely start watching early: at about 9:30 a.m. EDT as the riders start the Col d’Aubisque. If that’s too early for you, tune-in around 11:00 a.m. EDT as the race hits the base of the climb to Hautacam. It should take about 35 minutes for the leaders to make the ascent.
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