Julian Alaphilippe and Matej Mohoric are just under 10km from the summit of the Tourmalet now and a flurry of riders are attempting to escape off the front of the peloton. Kenny Elissonde (Trek-Segafredo), Pierre Latour (TotalÉnergies) and Valentin Madouas (Groupama-FDJ) have made a move.
46km to go
Mark Cavendish has three team-mates – Tim Declercq, Dries Devenyns and Michael Morkov – alongside him on the lower slopes of the Tourmalet. Further up the road another Deceuninck-Quick Step rider, Julian Alaphilippe, is working well together with Matej Mohoric as they pull out a few more second on the UAE Team Emirates-powered peloton.
Onto the Tourmalet we go . . .
. . . and it is a
17.1km long drag with a gradient of 7.3%. This is, by my reckoning, the easier side of the famous old climb but after almost three weeks of racing and over 3,000km having been ridden this will not feel easy. Up through La Mongie the road goes, before a fast swooping descent which is not too technical.
53km to go
Just two men in the leading group now – Julian Alaphilippe and Matej Mohoric – while Pierre Rolland (B&B Hotels p/b KTM) has joined forces with Christopher Juul-Jensen, but trail by 55sec.
55km to go
Once through the intermediate sprint, a number of riders including Kenny Elissonde (Trek-Segafredo) and Dan Martin (ISN) attacked but were soon reined in before UAE Team Emirates took over at the head of the peloton. Riding hard and fast as they approach the bottom of the Tourmalet, UAE Team Emirates look hungry and are leaving the breakaway out on a relatively short leash of 1min 13sec.
66.7km to go
Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick Step) wins the intermediate sprint, though it was fairly uncontested. The peloton crossed just over a minute later and the sprint was won by Mark Cavendish, while his lead-out man Michael Morkov trailed him over the line ahead of Michael Matthews. As a result, Cavendish extends his lead.
As you can see, Cavendish now leads that particular competition by 38 points and so, assuming he finishes today’s stage within the time limit will keep hold of his green jersey later on this afternoon.
67km to go
Christopher Juul-Jensen dropped out of the breakaway a few minutes ago, presumably to sit up and wait for his team-mate Michael Matthews ahead of the incoming intermediate sprint.
75km to go
Luke Durbridge has shifted to the front of the peloton on a short incline, the injection in pace from the Aussie diesel causing a split in the group. BikeExchange team-mate Michael Matthews is on his wheel, while Sonny Colbrelli is in the group and Mark Cavendish is hanging on towards the rear. They will have done this in preparation of the intermediate sprint where both Matthews and Colbrelli hope to gain some more ground on Cavendish. Failing to drop the British sprinter will have felt a little disheartening for BikeExchange et al.
78km to go
Julian Alaphilippe has been chatting with the others in the breakaway. The world champion shakes his head and does not appear too impressed by the lack of ground gained by this quintet. Their lead is holding at around 1min 40sec while back in the bunch south London’s Fred Wright is pulling on the front for Bahrain Victorious who will be thinking about the intermediate sprint points for Sonny Colbrelli along with the mountains points for Wout Poels. They are probably thinking about some other things, too.
85km to go
Interesting to not that Bahrain Victorious are riding hard the front of the peloton. I had assumed they would allow other teams to chase, or at least set the pace, but it appears I was way off the mark. I am almost certian, though, that their Dutch climber Wout Poels will be hoping to challenges for the 20 points up for grabs on the summit of the Tourmalet later this afternoon. The only problem with that plan, though, is the fact that there are double points up for grabs on the final climb of this year’s Tour and so should Tadej Pogacar win the stage on Luz Ardiden and Poels fails to finish high in the standings then the Slovenian may take home the polka-dot jersey.
Preliminary investigation into Bahrain Victorious is under way
Non-racing update: French authorities have announced that a preliminary investigation is under way into doping allegations made against Bahrain Victorious after their hotel and team bus were searched on Wednesday night.
The Marseille prosecutor’s office said the raid was part of an investigation launched on July 3 into the possible “acquisition, transportation, possession and importing of a prohibited substance or method for use by an athlete without justification by members of Team Bahrain Victorious, currently in action at the 2021 Tour de France”.
A statement added: “The preliminary investigation is continuing to determine the reality or not of the offenses that justified its initiation.
“The existence of this investigation and the operations carried out do not in any way predict the existence of criminal offenses. Anyone suspected or prosecuted is presumed innocent until proven guilty.” Press Association
96.5km to go
Julian Alaphilippe and Pierre-Luc Périchon manage to bridge over to Sean Bennett, Christopher Juul-Jensen and Matej Mohoric, at which point Deceuninck-Quick Step’s world road race champion fist-bumps his compatriot for the help – both needed each other there to close the gap on the stage leaders who have been riding at full pelt from the flag. The quintet now leads the stage by 1min 35sec.
100km to go
Julian Alaphilippe and Pierre-Luc Périchon have gained a little more time on the leading trio. The pair trail the stage leaders by 20sec, while the peloton is around one minute further down the road.
102km to go
Matej Mohoric, who won stage seven at this year’s race, has been pulling hard on the front of this leading trio. That’s not to say Sean Bennett or Christopher Juul-Jensen are not taking their turns. Not sure what Mohoric is thinking of here, but am wondering if he has been put in the breakaway to ensure Wout Poels, who started to day in the polka-dot jersey and his under fire Bahrain Victorious team-mates, do not have to do too much of the heavy lifting in the chase? With Mohoric being up the road, the onus shifts to Michael Woods and his ISN team-mates if the Canadian is seriously thinking about challenging for the points in the mountains classification today.
110km to go
Pierre-Luc Périchon (Cofidis) has bridged over to Julian Alaphilippe, the Frenchmen form a two-up as they continue to chase down that leading trio but they are stuck very much in no man’s land: 20sec ahead of the peloton, 30sec off the stage leaders.
115km to go
Sergio Henao (Qhubeka-NextHash) and Quentin Pacher (B&B Hotels p/b KTM) were involved in a small crash back in the peloton. Not too sure what happened, but Pacher was not happy and was spotted shaking his head. Both have been back to the medical car to receive some in-race treatment. Julian Alaphilippe, meanwhile, is pressing on but has not made any further inroads into the lead of Sean Bennett, Christopher Juul-Jensen and Matej Mohoric.
120km to go
Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quick Step) has dropped the hammer and the world champion is off up the road in pursuit of Sean Bennett, Christopher Juul-Jensen and Matej Mohoric. He’s not hanging about, but has gained just 13sec on the peloton while he trails the leading trio by 25sec. He’s not too far from the day’s first climb, the category four côte de Notre-Dame de Piétat, where he may be able to gain some ground on the stage leaders. Or maybe not.
123km to go
Just eight teams – Ag2r-Citroën, Alpecin-Fenix, Bahrain Victorious, Bora-Hansgrohe, Deceuninck-Quick Step, Jumbo-Visma, Trek-Segafredo and UAE Team Emirates – have won stages at the race, meaning a staggering 15 have yet to register a victory. Despite their efforts Arkéa-Samsic, Astana-Premier Tech, B&B Hotels p/b KTM, BikeExchange, Cofidis, DSM, EF Education-Nippo, Groupama-FDJ, Ineos Grenadiers, Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert Matériaux, Israel Start-up Nation, Lotto-Soudal, Movistar, Qhubeka-NextHash and TotalÉnergies are all winless. Today may represent one of their last opportunities to right that wrong. Franck Bonnamour (B&B Hotels p/b KTM), who has impressed over the last three weeks, has been attempting to bridge over, but the Frenchman was marked closely.
127km to go
With barely the bat of an eyelid from the peloton, Sean Bennett (Qhubeka-NextHash), Christopher Juul-Jensen (BikeExchange) and Matej Mohoric (Bahrain Victorious) clip off up the road while Deceuninck-Quick Step, as predicted, did their best to fan out across the road to make sure Michael Matthews or Sonny Colbrelli did not bridge over. That trio has gained around 25sec on the peloton, but with so many teams having failed to win a stage at this year’s race I suspect this will not be the complete breakaway.
And they’re off!
Having navigated their way out of the Pau along a relatively short neutralised section, race director Christian Prudhomme has popped his head out of his shiny red Skoda and dropped that little flag to signify that it is time to start racing. It will surprise few to discover that Deceuninck-Quick Step had a number of riders up near the front of the bunch, presumably ready to monitor any breakaway moves – they will not be too keen on the likes of Michael Matthews (BikeExchange) or Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain Victorious) chipping off up the road and taking more points in the race for the green jersey that currently rests on the shoulders of their man Mark Cavendish.
Cavendish, of course, must complete today’s stage withing the time limit if he wants to contest tomorrow’s stage In case you have been on the moon, the British sprinter has won four stages at this year’s race and must finish each stage withing strict time limits if he is to continue the next day. With two more possible sprint stages – tomorrow’s and the final day in Paris on Sunday – Cavendish will be desperate to make sure he is in a position to challenge for another stage win. And that place, for now, will be tomorrow’s start line.
Bahrain Victorious team hotel raided by French police
Police searched the accommodation and team bus of the Bahrain Victorious team on the Tour de France on Wednesday after stage 17, a police source has told Reuters. The search was performed amid doping suspicions since last year, the source added.
No arrests were made and nothing was found at the team hotel. Officers searched through training records and were there for around an hour before leaving. It is not clear is anything was seized or not.
In response, Bahrain Victoriou shave said they have “nothing to hide” and will take the start of today’s stage as planned.
In a team statement, Bahrain Victorious said: “On the eve of stage 18 of Tour de France, Team Bahrain Victorious were subject to an investigation by French Police. The team were monitored by a number of officers following their arrival after stage 17 to the team hotel in Pau.
“The investigation involved a search of riders’ rooms as part of the process. Despite being unaware of the investigation reasons, the team was also requested to provide all training files which were compiled and presented to the officers as requested.
Vladimir Miholjevic, the team’s technical director, added: “Following stage 17, we were greeted by several French police officers. We were not given a warrant to read through, but the team complied with all the officers’ requests.
“We are committed to highest level of professionalism and adherence to all regulatory requirements and will always be cooperating in a professional manner. The process had impacted our riders recovery and meal planning and as a professional team, the well being of our team is a key priority.”
Hello and welcome to our live rolling blog from stage 18 at the Tour de France, the 129.7-kilometre run from Pau to Luz Ardiden.
Given what we saw on the final seven kilometres of the col de Portet, the third and final climb in yesterday’s stage, I think we can now, as if we did not already know, say that Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) will, barring disaster, be winning a second consecutive Tour title in Paris on Sunday. Who completes that podium, however, is far from certain while the mountains and points classifications are still up for grabs, as is today’s stage which includes not one, but two hors catégorie climbs. Before we look at today’s profile, here’s a quick reminder of who will be wearing what as respective leader in each of the four main classifications – in other words those that have jerseys. Pogacar has the maillot jaune, the leader’s yellow jersey, for a 10th day running with an almost unassailable margin of 5min 39sec.
Wout Poels (Bahrain Victorious) will again wear the maillot à pois, or polka dot jersey, as leader in the mountains classification, but has a certain young Slovenian breathing down his neck. Should Pogacar win today then he may, as he did last year, take home the polka-dots in addition to the yellow and white jerseys he is on course to win.
Mark Cavendish (Deceuninck-Quick Step) will again be dressed in the maillot vert, the green jersey, as leader in the points competition.
As overall leader of the race, Pogacar also tops the best young rider classification, although Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) will wear the Slovenian’s maillot blanc, the white jersey, as second best.
And for anybody that missed Pogacar’s summit finish victory on the Pyrenees on Wednesday, you can relive the highlights here . . .
So, what’s on today’s menu?
Featuring four categorised climbs – côte de Notre-Dame de Piétat, côte de Loucrup, col du Tourmalet and Luz Ardiden – and 3,561 metres in vertical elevation today’s stage is the final day in the mountains and, as such, will represent the last opportunity for many to attempt a stage win or to gain time on the general classification.
Here’s a look at the all-important numbers from those climbs . . .
. . . and a breakdown of what points can be won in the mountains.
But what about those who only have eyes for the green jersey?