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The 2017 Tour de France will have its final stage in the high mountains on Thursday, giving the contenders for the yellow jersey one final chance to make a big move during Stage 18.
With two relatively flat stages and a time trial still to come, Team Sky’s Chris Froome is in the perfect position to defend his yellow jersey. Rigoberto Uran, Romain Bardet and Fabio Aru have no choice but to attack ahead of and on the Col d’Izoard, as Froome is a better time-trialist than all of them.
Here’s a look at the 179.5-kilometre route for Thursday’s stage, courtesy of CyclingnewsTV:
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Sky’s main rivals have ridden too defensively since the first week of La Grande Boucle, and during Wednesday’s ride up the Galibier it cost them. Froome easily stood firm and won bonus seconds over Bardet in the final sprint, while Aru lost even more time.
The group battling Froome is quickly running out of time to make a move before the time trial in Marseille, where the defending champion is expected to dominate. Per La Flamme Rouge, Sky’s tactics are clear:
La Flamme Rouge @laflammerouge16
#TDF2017 – Sky tactics tomorrow: Landa unchained for the stage and podium, Froome follow the rivals. Easy as hell.
Thursday’s ride toward and up the Col d’Izoard will be a serious challenge, however. The stage will finish on the ascent itself, meaning there is no space to make up time in the descent that usually follows.
The climb isn’t remarkably long at roughly 14 kilometres, but it has some very steep sections and peaks at over 2,000 metres, meaning there’s a lot less oxygen in the air. The riders will start the stage with tired legs after Wednesday’s ride―Thursday’s stage has the potential to break a rider completely.
As shared by La Course by Le Tour, the riders will have some decisions to make regarding their gearing:
La Course by Le Tour @LaCoursebyTDF
A different race, a new challenge. We hear from @TeamSunweb mechanic on how they decide what gearing to tackle the Col d’Izoard. #Lacourse https://t.co/UmS6HbpbEy
With Mikel Landa in top form, Froome has a fantastic domestique by his side who could come to his aid if needed. The Spaniard is likely to make a push for a podium finish but will only do so if it’s clear Froome’s main rivals can’t harm him.
This stage will be one for the riders who have the most reserves left, rather than the best climbers. Aru and Alberto Contador in particular struggled on Wednesday―if Sky play their cards right, the two could take another beating.
The stage win itself could go to a member of an early break or a solitary rider who isn’t a threat in the GC, similar to Wednesday’s winner, Primoz Roglic. All eyes will be on the maillot jaune and his rivals, however―if Froome survives on Thursday, he’ll more than likely arrive in Paris in the yellow jersey.