Stage 18: Pau - Luz Ardiden
Date: July 15, 2021
Stage timing: 13:35 - 17:19 CEDT
Stage type: Mountain
Stage 18 preview video
The final mountain stage looks set to deliver a short, sharp shock. Extending to a mere 129.7km, it features just two major climbs, both super-category classics that should serve up a tasty conclusion to the five days of racing in the Pyrenees.
From the start in the Tour’s second favourite city of Pau, the riders won’t have much to trouble them early on. There’s a fourth-category climb, the Côte de Notre Dame de Piétat, just before Nay, where Victor Fontan, one of the great Tour climbers who came from the Pyrenees is buried.
After passing through Lourdes, there’s another, the Côte de Loucrup, which is soon followed by the intermediate sprint at Pouzac, just before reaching Bagnères-de-Bigorre.
Heading south now, the riders will pass through Campan and continue to Sainte-Marie-de-Campan, site of Eugène Christophe’s forge fettling in the 1913 Tour and the start of the 17.1km ascent of the Col du Tourmalet, the Tour’s favourite pass. From this flank, it begins easily, rises very sharply as it approaches and passes through the ski station of La Mongie, then doesn’t relent much for the final few kilometres to the summit.
Most of the riders will know this fast descent extremely well, and they’ll hurtle down through Barèges and down into Luz-Saint-Sauveur to reach the dramatic Pont du Napoleon bridge that soars across the gorge formed by the Gave de Gavarnie and onto the first slopes of the second consecutive HC-category test, Luz Ardiden, one of the most beautiful climbs in the Pyrenees.
Comparatively straightforward to begin with, the road’s gradient sharpens approaching and passing the village of Grust.
After a slight lull, it kicks up again with 5km remaining, carrying the riders into a magnificent natural arena, tight hairpins piled one on the next, the banks between perfect spectating points especially higher up towards the tiny ski station, where the identity of the strongest racers in the field will be confirmed.
Peter Cossins has written about professional cycling since 1993 and is a contributing editor to Procycling. He is the author of The Monuments: The Grit and the Glory of Cycling's Greatest One-Day Races (Bloomsbury, March 2014) and has translated Christophe Bassons' autobiography, A Clean Break (Bloomsbury, July 2014).
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