Stage 18: Pau - Hautacam
Category: High Mountains
Highest point: 2,115m
If the green jersey competition is looking tight, sprinters equipped with decent climbing skills might be able to earn some extra points by hauling themselves over the two early third category climbs of Côte de Bénéjacq and Côte de Loucrup (56km) for the intermediate sprint in Trébons.
It's the last day in the mountains, with big points in the KoM competition at stake and a last chance for climbers to take a stage win. Once again the mighty HC-ranked Tourmalet, the Tour's most used mountain, looms into view. The peloton tackle the Tourmalet on the slightly easier east-west ascent through Campan and La Mongie before it maxes out at 2,115m beside the Jacques Goddet memorial. Race planners hope the desperate and the courageous among the overall contenders will launch attacks on the 17.4km climb that will set up a battle royal later on. But who will have the energy? The fast, open descent means excellent descending skills won't be as useful today unless it's wet – just power and exceptional pain management.
The finale is the Hautacam, a 13.6km HC climb with some devilishly steep gradients at around kilometres 7 and 9. It was first used in the Tour 20 years ago and has been used four times. It'll be the last chance for the strong climbers such as Vincenzo Nibali and Andy Schleck to grab some minutes and seconds before the TT in two days' time.
Haimar Zubeldia says... "The Tourmalet is very hard and between there and Hautacam is a valley where the team of the leader needs to pull. Many teams will attack on the Tourmalet to put the yellow jersey under stress and reduce his team to make their race harder."
In 1914, Firmin Lambot won the stage over the Tourmalet. For the next four years, racing was on hold because of World War 1. Nevertheless, the Belgian stuck at it and in 1919 won the Tour outright. Then, in 1922, he won the Tour a second time, aged 36, making him the oldest rider to win a grand tour. His record stood for 91 years until 41-year-old Chris Horner took the Vuelta a España in 2013.
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