The Tour de France yellow jersey will once again be decided by a time trial on the penultimate day in 2018, according to regional newspapers in south-west France, which report a race against the clock of around 30 kilometres in the Basque region.
The Sud Ouest newspaper had reported earlier this week that the town of Saint-Pée-sur-Nivelle had been successful in its bid to host a stage start, and on Wednesday it confirmed that it would be a time trial stage – rather than a road stage – on July 28, one day from the traditional finale in Paris. The finish will be in the town of Espelette, with much the same information being reported by the regional arm of France Bleu.
Both sources talk of a rolling course around 30 kilometres in length, without a major climb but with undulating roads that will empty the legs after three weeks of racing.
The route for the 2018 Tour will be unveiled officially next Tuesday, October 17, in Paris. All that has been confirmed so far are the three stages that will form the Grand Départ in the Vendée region of north west France, though local press reports allow for more than a rough outline of the route to be drawn up in advance.
This year, it seems, the race will tackle the Alps ahead of the Pyrenees for the first time since 2014, after heading up into Brittany and across the north of the country for a stage finish in Roubaix. After the Alps, the race would make its way across the south of France for two or three stages in the Pyrenees that would feature the denouement in the fight for the yellow jersey.
Details of the final stages had been scarce, but Sud Ouest and France Bleu appear confident that, after the mountain stages, the riders will be racing the clock for the maillot jaune on the last day of true racing, the final stage into Paris being a largely ceremonial affair.
Both detail a route of around 30 kilometres linking Saint-Pée-sur-Nivelle with Espelette. The two towns are only separated by 15 kilometres from west to east, but the route would head north to Arcangues before heading back down via Souraide. The sting in the tail would seem to be the Col de Pinodieta, a 2-kilometre climb with an average gradient of over six per cent, coming just a couple of kilometres from the finish.
France Bleu describe the potential route as follows: "A true picture postcard parcours, which should delight the television broadcasters, passing by hamlets, woods, fields, and traditional Basque houses.
"A route without a major climb - which won't take in the Col de Saint-Ignace at the foot of the Rhune - but very undulating nonetheless. A leg-sapping route with short inclines, sometimes with severe gradients, that will afford no respite after three weeks of racing."
This year's Tour culminated with a penultimate-day 22.5-kilometre time trial in Marseille, where Chris Froome extended his overall lead to seal a fourth title. Before that, the two previous editions had featured mountain stages on the penultimate day.