Stage 16 saw Team Sunweb use the initial climb and the concluding crosswinds to underpin an imperious team display to win the stage with Michael Matthews. The fierce ascents and descents of stage 17 are likely to be used as similarly key components in the GC teams’ tactics.
Being one of only a few ‘proper mountain’ stages of this year’s tour, but lacking a summit finish, stage 17 sees no fewer than four categorised climbs lining the profile, including two HC ascents. A tough start means that by kilometre 30 the riders are already cresting the first climb of the day, Col d’Ornon, a 5.1km climb with an average 6.7% gradient–a nice early formation of the grupetto is most likely here.
That being said, it’s also likely a breakaway will have formed already by this point too. Warren Barguil and Michael Matthews could both feature, and help each other out to distance their corresponding rivals to allow Barguil to grab the KOM points, and Matthews to be best placed to contest the intermediate sprint that comes at 47.5 kilometres. If Matthews is there at that point, we think he’ll sit up and take it easy for the rest of the stage and Barguil will have to lean on his other breakaway chums to try and grab maximum KOM points over the rest of the stage.
Almost immediately after the intermediate sprint, the peloton will start climbing the Col de la Croix de Fer (HC). 24km in length, average 5.2% gradient and a total altitude rise of 2067m, this is a climb that on an ordinary day would be a suitable stage ender. However, it comes early here and so the breakaway will be able to climb up unbothered by the GC race behind so expect Barguil and Thomas De Gendt to be charging up the final kilometres against each other.
After the descent we hit a double climb of sorts. First going up the Col du Télégraphe (11.9km, 7.1%), and hitting the peak there at 132.5km of racing, there is a small descent before the final climb of the day, the famous Col du Galibier. At 17.7km and 6.9% average gradient, this double whammy of climbs is where the breakaway will disappear (we predict) and the GC men will start to show their muscle. Except…it will probably be a show of strength from Team Sky as they burn through their incredibly strong team until only a peloton of 10 or so riders are left.
With the final 28km being all downhill, we might see AG2R try and split the race up again as they have done twice before this year. Fingers crossed for this kind of action as there is plenty of opportunity to put Froome and Sky under pressure on this stage, especially as stage 18 involves numerous climbs as well. If they can tire Sky out today, then stage 18 could be anyone’s game. Realistically, the stage will probably be contested by a sprint finish from the GC favourites so it’s a complete gamble over who will be first over the line. Merely because it’s coming on a descent, Bardet has got to be our favourite.