The final chance for someone to make a name for themselves, the final mountain stage before the procession to Paris. We breakdown the route, the top favorite contenders, and the best value pick to profit from stage 20.
Saturday 23rd July, 146.5kms
Tour de France Stage 20 - Megève to Morzine-Avoriaz
Four big climbs, a very short stage, all the makings of a dramatic day full of attacking racing, but with a downhill finish it may not be the best climber who wins the day.
The stage starts in Megeve, the town where the TT on stage 18 finished, and they arc around over peak and valley, taking in four huge climbs, but instead of finishing the final climbing stage of this year's Tour on a summit, the organisers have decided to finish the race with a 12km descent. That is an unusual step and one that could see someone like Vincenzo Nibali leave the race on a high. And it's not just any old decent - it's one of the most feared descents used in the Tour - the first rider over the top of the Joux Plane may not be the first rider to the finish.
They start in Megeve, finish town of stage 18's TT, and at first, head south-west for 9.5kms to Flumet over little lumpy roads, and the first categorised climb starts after just 15kms. The Col des Aravis, a Cat 2 climb is the shortest climb of the day at just 6.7kms, but it's still tough, averaging a 7% gradient. If the Green Jersey competition is tight, we might see Peter Sagan on the attack as the intermediate sprint comes at the end of the 22km descent off the Aravis.
Next up is the Cat 1 Col de la Colombiere, which although looks like it's the same mountain they went up in stage 15, that Colombier is 60kms to the west and has doesn't have an e at the end! It is a tough Cat 1 climb of 11.7kms at 5.8%. An 18km descent takes them into the valley of the Arve river and they pass through Marignier and Mieussy before starting to climb again up the Cat 1 Col de la Ramaz, the longest climb of the day at 13.9kms, which averages a tough 7.1%.
Another 15km descent takes them back down to the valleys again and at Samoens, with 24kms to go they start on the final climb of the day, the Col de Joux Plane, another iconic and legendary climb in the TDF. It's a HC climb of 11.6kms at 8.5% average gradient, a real beast. The first kilometre is 9.8%, but then it's a *little* easier for the next 5kms, which averages 7.4%. It gets steep then again for the next 5kms which average 9.4%, with a kilometre near the top that averages 10.5%
There's then a little flat plateau for 3kms before it descends down a very fast and tricky descent to the finish in Morzine. The descent averages nearly 8% and there are a number of hairpin bends, but most of the descent will be on extremely fast and straight roads, anyone who can descend with a good aero position should be able to pull out a decent lead on some of the less competent descenders.
The road flattens out in the last 1500m in Morzine with a slight rise in the last 500m to the line. It's possible we will see a fight amongst the GC men in a sprint finish, can Movistar finally land a stage win with Valverde?
Contenders and Favorites
A few riders sprung to mind when I started looking at this stage with the last few week's racing in mind. Jarlinson Pantano screamed out at me with a stage like this. He'll get in the break, he'll probably be good enough to stay with almost any climber that's the break, and then will plunge down the descent to Morzine faster than anyone else.
Easy right? Of course not, but in my head, it looks pretty obvious! He has been climbing really well, but his descending skills have destroyed a lot of other climbers, just look at how he distanced the other breakaway guys on stage 15 and 17. He is shorter than I expected his betting odds to be, at 14/1 best price, he's just 8/1 with Paddy Power, looks like everyone else is thinking the same as me. It's hard to know what he will do, though he might try staying with the GC men in the descent, but I think it's more likely he will be on the attack again. I might even look to top up on him in play at 3/1 or bigger, depending on who's in the break.
The second rider, whom everyone is probably going to be banging on about is Vincenzo Nibali - he'll attack over the top and descend faster than anyone else to the finish, right? Well, that might happen.. but I can't see it. I don't think he'll go in the break, he'll be needed to work for Aru, who is sure to try something, and he has shown already this week how he looks to be fully committed to riding for his team leader. The break has a good chance of making it today again, so he'd be fighting for scraps I think, even if Aru let him off the leash and he attacked on the final descent.
As I just mentioned, the break has a high chance of fighting out the finish again today. It's possible we will see Majka in the break with maybe Sagan, Sagan will take the points and then push himself for as long as he can to help Majka before dropping off.
Steve Cummings could also try something today, he might have been holding himself back for a crack at this one, he is excellent at targeting stages. It's quite possible that he will have Pauwels in the break with him too and they can work up a big lead. If he can get over the top of the Joux Plane with the leaders, he would have a good chance of escaping on the descent or even in the last kilometre as it flattens out and they start looking at each other.
Last chance saloon too though for almost everyone, bar about six sprinters, so there will be a real dogfight to get in the break. Lots of teams have got nothing out of the race so far, and up until today, we'd not seen a stage win for France. There has been no win yet though for Spain or Italy, something almost unthinkable. France should be represented by the likes of Voeckler, Edet, Cherel, Vuillermoz, Sicard and Gallopin.
But with such a tight race now for the GC, particularly between Bardet, Quintana and Yates for the two podium spots, I expect this to be a very fast stage like todays as it's only 146kms again and it's going to be close as to whether the break can make it or whether it will be fought out between the GC men.
I think that this is a very hard one to call - with the top 3 so close then it may be that they neutralise each other and keep chasing each other down and all the GC men come to the finish together. If that's the case, then Valverde is my favorite free pick for the stage, he looked very strong today. He worked his ass off for Quintana today and still was one of the strongest at the finish. If it comes to a GC sprint, he probably wins. Dan Martin is looking strong too and might attack over the top and down the descent, but he also packs a decent sprint on him, or could even attack in the last kilometre like he did in Lombardia in 2014.
But what if they all start attacking Froome early? He suffered a heavy blow today, he said it banged his knee up a bit and he was visibly limping going to the car. It's going to be almost an impossible task to dethrone him from the yellow jersey, but if they can put him under pressure on the Col de la Ramaz and he gets shelled out, then it's game on, they'll all be pushing hard to put as much time in to him as possible over the Joux Plane. It will take an extremely bad day though for Froome to lose a lot of time, but in pushing hard they might doom the break I think.
Damiano Caruso was superb today for Porte, he absolutely buried himself in the latter parts of the stage and did his best to set him up for the attacks, but Porte just didn't have the legs after his hard chase back. Maybe Caruso will be able to attack away tomorrow if Porte is comforable in the group? Diego Rosa looked very strong today again but once again infuriated his backers as all he did was work for Aru.. Will he be let take a chance? It's possible.
I think though that Movistar will be very motivated for this stage - they haven't had a stage win yet, they are just about on the podium with Quintana and they are close to losing the Team Classification too. I think they will be on the offensive tomorrow and look to split things up. I think Valverde has a top chance of winning this stage once he knows Nairo is safe, and if they they have Ion Izagirre up there again, he can look after Nairo as Valverde goes for the stage win. Three of them finishing in the front group will seal the Team Classification for them (and us..).
I think Dan Martin could challenge him in the sprint, as could Damiano Caruso or Jarlinson Pantano if they've come to the finish together, with Caruso and Pantano offering additional options from going in the break.
Ion Izagirre to beat Warren Barguil - 2pts at -137 with Bet365