When Thursday July 23
Impact on overall: 4/5
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Where are we?
It’s back to Gap for the start of stage 18 — the finish for stage 16, and the city of sleep for however many riders are left in the race by the Tour’s second rest day.
The stage takes a route through no fewer than three départements: the Hautes Alpes, Isère and Savoie — not that the riders will be paying too much attention to their surroundings. By this point it’s all about what’s on the tarmac ahead of you.
We’re in an area rich with bike racing history; over the years, the Alps have provided some of the sport’s most spectacular moments, not just at the Tour, but also at the Alps’ ‘home’ race, the Critérium du Dauphiné. Now owned by Tour organisers ASO, the Dauphiné is often used to ‘test’ new climbs, which might make the grade and make it onto the Tour route a year or two later.
What’s on the route?
It’s another tough start from the gun, as the riders will enjoy an uphill start over the Col Bayard.
After the long, fast descent from the Col Bayard there then follows a number of smaller challenges: the pleasant-sounding Rampe du Motty, the Côte de la Mûre and the Col de Malissol. A stiffer challenge is provided by Tour regular, and more ominous-sounding, Col de la Morte before a breakneck descent to the town of Séchilienne.
It’s here that the Col du Glandon officially starts — all 46.5 kilometres of it. Mercifully, it is a shallow climb for the first 20 kilometres or so.
Allemont — or Allemond, as it’s also spelled — is where the climb gets a little more serious. At this point the riders face a gradient of up to 15 per cent, that ramps up a couple of kilometres from the summit, at 1,924 metres.
Apart from the opening forested kilometres, there’s precious little shade on the Glandon. Such an exposed climb will make it tough on a hot July day, although it’s been known for there to be patches of snow left up here, even well into the summer.
The Tour and Dauphiné often use the Glandon as a stepping stone up to the Col de la Croix de Fer, and while today that’s not the case, that’s exactly where the race is headed on stage 19.
As Alpine stages go, stage 18 may not be the toughest challenge, but there’s little doubt that it will be one of the most spectacular.
The stage-opening climb of the Col Bayard could serve as a springboard for anyone brave enough to go for a long one, and the smaller climbs on the way to the Col de la Morte will sap the legs if the pace is high.
The riders then take on the ‘easier’ side of the Col du Glandon, but then with the Tour’s new addition, the Lacets de Montvernier, coming as late as they do in the day before a downhill sprint to Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne, this could be a very memorable stage. Watching the drama on the Lacets is probably best done on television, as few spectators, if any, will be allowed on the narrow twisty road.
As for the riders it may be difficult for one team to control proceedings as there’s barely a kilometre of flat road along the entire 186.5km route. This is our contender for the ‘dark-horse stage’ of the Tour.