Before you place a bet on Stage 18 of the Tour de France, check our extensive preview of this route and learn how to profit off of our sports picks.
The first day in the Alps didn't disappoint.. We expected drama, but didn’t expect a day like that! The writing was on the wall with regards Van Garderen’s chances of finishing the stage, let alone hanging in there on the GC battle, as early as the 5th kilometre when reports started filtering through that he was already some 2 minutes behind the peloton. and had been to the medical car.
Despite the gap going out to over 3 minutes, a lull in the peloton once the break went allowed him to get back on with the group of death he was riding with. But as soon as Quintana put in a little dig, that was it, he was out the back again, shortly after pulling over to have the dreaded number removal. It’s a real shame for our bets on him, as I was still pretty hopeful of a top 3 placing, but what can you do when a guy is sick.
They will be on the rollers first thing this morning as this stage is sure to start incredibly fast again. With such a lumpy stage ahead, and so many KOM points on offer, there is bound to be a big scrap to get in the early break. The first climb of the day should see some furious attacks as the early break tries to form, and it's no walk in the park either, being 6.3kms at an average of 7%. They crest it after only 6.5kms and continue heading north-west for another 26kms until they reach the second climb of the day, the Cat 3 Rampe du Motty, a short but sharp stinger of 2.3kms at 8.3%.
In between, a lot of the riders who were dropped on the first climb of the day should be able to get back on, unless the break of the day hasn't gone yet and it's still full gas. The thing is, the autobus will not be able to hang about on a stage like this, if you are dropped on the first climb of the day you will have a bloody hard day ahead just to finish inside the time limit. I fear for some who are struggling, like Sam Bennett, they will have to be very careful.
After dipping down to Salle-en-Beamount after 50kms, they shortly after start on the third climb of the day, the Côte de la Mure, or Blackberry Hill. This is similar ot the last climb, another Cat 3 of 2.7kms, averaging 7.5%. After a short run along the plateau at the top of the climb they face another ramp up after 80kms. The Col de Malissol is short at just 2kms, but the steepest average gradient of the day at 8.7%. The third climb in 25kms comes up soon, the Col de la Morte, or the Col of the dead woman, a Cat 2 climb of 3.1kms, averaging 8.4%, which they crest with 85kms gone.
This is followed by a fast descent for 15kms to Sechilienne and a few kilometres later they effectively start the climb to the beast that is the Col du Glandon. It may be officially listed as 21.7kms, but the climb from the valley floor is actually closer to 45kms. The Glandon itself starts after 125.3kms, and averages 5.1%. It is a killer of a climb that goes in three waves. The first part is steep from the bottom, hitting 9-10% after 3kms, but eases back a little after 5kms to 5.5%, then actually descends for 2kms to the 9km mark on the climb. Then they hit the hardest section of the climb, with a kilometre at 11% right at the bottom of this part, the first 4kms of this section average 9.1%, and it's a really hard start to the main part of the climb.
The next 4kms average closer to 5.5% and then it descends again for 2kms to the 19kms point. The last 3kms average 7.2%, getting steeper as they approach the summit. From the top, there's still 40kms still to go, but 19kms of it are descending until they reach Saint-Etienne des Cuines, and 7kms later along the valley floor they reach the foot of the final challenge of the day, the spectacular Lacets de Montvernier. This may not be the hardest climb in the race at 3.4kms, but the 8.2% average, after coming over all the previous climbs is going to feel pretty nasty.
The finish isn't at the top though as they descend down in to Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne, with the last 4kms flattening out, and actually rising slightly away from the river to the line, the last 500m are uphill at a gradient of around 3%. It's quite a twisty finish as you can see in the map below, but it's likely that we will see no more than 15-20 riders coming in together, possibly a solo rider or two.
With the summit of the Glandon coming a full 40kms from the finish, it's a strange kind of stage to try to predict how the GC men will ride it. It's probably too far out for the GC challengers behind Froome to try to attack him and hold it all the way to the finish, it will be very hard to stay away from Sky, and whoever happens to be in Froome's group, if they do attack and drop him. But I think there is no doubt that they will race hard up it, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see Quintana try something on the really steep part from kilometre nine onwards.
Quintana has to do something though, he can't expect to take over 3 minutes off of Froome on the final day to Alped'Huez unless Froome meets with illness or accident. But tomorrow may not be the best day to try to make time - Friday to La Toussuire will be much more suitable to try a long range effort
I don't think it's a day for Froome either to try anything fancy, he will need his energy for the last two mountain stages. Vincenzo Nibali is desperate now though and clearly wanted to try something today, getting his team-mates to work very hard for him with Scarponi busting a gut to set him up for his attack. I don't think he will stop attacking and he could well try to attack hard off the Glandon again.
Favourite for the stage by a long margin is Joaquim Rodriguez at 6-7/1. This seems awfully short for a guy that finished in a group with sprinters Degenkolb and Martens today, 21 minutes down and finished 12 minutes behind Froome and his group on the stage to Gap. Those two results should say 'stay the hell away' but there is also the possibility that he has been sandbagging and hiding away, waiting for the big KOM points days. There are 46 KOM points available today and that will lift him up the leaderboard. He could get in the break of the day, he should have no problem with the uphill start, and would be fancied to ride away from most breakaway guys up the Lacets
Alejandro Valverde is lying in 3rd place now with the departure of TVG, and he can put a lot of pressure on Froome tomorrow and the two days after. He seems to be in good form and seems willing to continuously attack and antagonise Froome. Who knows, maybe he can goad him in to making an error. I wouldn't be surprised to see him take a flyer near the top of the Glandon and charge down the other side, making Froome chase him. If he gets to the Lacets with 30-60", he could hang on. If Froome goes in to the red chasing him, Nairo could doube up on him.
Louis Meintjes was a huge frustration today, I had a lot of confidence of a big ride from him, backed up by a tweet before the start this morning from the MTN Bus by one of the Van Rensbergs, who basically said 'watch out for Meintjes today' more or less. So they sounded confident, and then he spends the race at the back being sick and rolled in just 3mins inside the time limit, dead last on the stage. If he is that sick he may not even start tomorrow.
It looks like another day for the break though and the lottery of trying to pick who might get in it, the GC men don't look too bothered about fighting for stage victories any more, they give up far too easily and breaks are getting silly leads like 10 minutes, 20 minutes. Bob Jungels and Julian Arredondo worked their asses off today to keep Mollema in the top 10, they would be two picks of mine if I wasn't worried about them having to do the same thing tomorrow. But I am! I think they might be on babysitting duties again as Mollema confessed to having a 'bad day' today.
MTN are fighting tooth and nail for the team classification and are making their 1000/1 backers sweat as they are just 16 minutes off Movistar right now. Look to them to put at least one in the break, maybe Serge Pauwels who seems to be riding so well, and is in the hunt for the Polka Dot jersey. How good would that be if the wildcard team left the Tour with a stage win, the KoM jersey and the Team prize?! Teklehaimanot might go but he doesn't look strong enough to win a stage like this, Pauwels is our man for the break I think at 80/1 with PP paying 4.
Luis Angel Maté tweeted this morning that he would do his best to get in the break, he didn't manage it, but he might try again tomorrow. He was in the break on the stage to Gap and finished 9th, this finish might suit him. He's 300/1 with Bet365. Ryder Hesjedal has been looking active, this could be one for him, Talansky put in a great ride today, I can't see him doing that two days in a row, but it could be Hesjedal's turn. With Talansky up the road today he was able to take it easy. He is 50/1 with Ladbrokes paying 4 places.
One thing that immediately came in to my mind as the race unfolded today and Tejay was getting off his bike was, what happens now with BMC? Who can try something now that they are let off the leash? And the obvious choice of course is Samuel Sanchez, who seems to be riding particularly well but under the radar. He came in 32nd today, just a couple of minutes behind Froome, and seemed to be climbing ok when I saw him. If he gets in a break and is at the front of the race getting over the Glandon, there will be few who will be able to stay with him as he is one of the best descenders in the peloton. If he gets a small lead going in to the Lacets, he may not be caught. Even if it comes to a small group finish, he hasn't a bad sprint on him. Unfortunately it seems others have this idea too and he has been backed from 26s to 16s on betfair. There is some 18s with Bet365 and some 16s with others, he is my main bet for tomorrow I think.
Two bets that caught my eye though are with Paddy Power - firstly that the winning margin is 2 seconds or more, I think it will be a solo winner, that is 4/6. Secondly, that Sagan is the winner of the intermediate sprint at 7/1. With a rolling profile and the seemingly endless quest for green points from Sagan, he is likely to try again tomorrow. Small bet just for fun is recommended at that price.
Sammy Sanchez - 1pt each-way at 18/1 with bet365
Sagan to win the intermediate sprint - 1pt at 7/1
Winning margin to be 2 seconds or more - 3pts at 4/6
Luis Angel Maté - 0.2pts each-way at 300/1 with bet365
Serge Pauwels - 0.25pts each-way at 80/1 with PaddyPower
Ryder Hesjedal - 0.3pts each-way at 50/1 with Ladbrokes paying 4 places
Barguil to beat Mollema - 2pts at 5/6 with PaddyPower
Sanchez to beat Bardet - 2pts at 8/11 with Ladbrokes