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The five mountain stages that will define the 2018 Tour de France

Joe Robinson
4 Jul 2018

Beyond the cobbles of Roubaix and a long team time trial, this year’s race should be decided in the mountains

In the first nine days of racing there are two stages that could be decisive in the General Classification of the 2018 Tour de France. The 21.7km of pave on Stage 9 will guarantee time gaps at the finish while the 35km team time trial could see minutes formed between GC rivals.

However, as the age old saying goes, the race will not be won in the first week but it could definitely be lost.

Where the race will be won is in the 26 classified mountain and hill top passes that begin on Stage 10 and finish just before the penultimate day's 31km individual time trial to Espelette.

Among these mountains will be summits in excess of 2000m above sea level, gravel plateaus and even a few 20%+ gradients that will cause carnage across the peloton and eventually produce a winner in Paris.

Below, Cyclist has taken a look at the big mountain stages at this year's Tour and the potential impact they could have on the overall outcome of the race.

The five mountain stages that will define the 2018 Tour de France

Stage 10 - Annecy to Le Grand-Bornand

The course carved out by Tour organiser ASO for Stage 10 could prove a stroke of genius.

Stage 10 comes one day after the Tour's first rest day and two days after the peloton navigates its way across almost 22km of rugged Roubaix cobbles which will cause some riders legs to be in a state of limbo.

If certain riders are struggling to get going again after the rest day then expect them to suffer on the Plateau des Glieres. Coming 60km into the stage, this new climb averages 11% for over 6km while also including pitches of 20%.

If that's not tough enough, the plateau at the top contains a 2km stretch of gravel followed by a technical descent, the perfect recipe for time loss.

For those distanced it could be a mad chase across the final 80km with two more Category 1 climbs before a long descent to the finish.

Stage 12 - Bourg-Saint-Maurice Les Arcs - Alpe d'Huez

It may come relatively early in the race across the mountains but Alpe d'Huez tends to provide fireworks at the Tour no matter where it is placed.

The famous 21 hairpin bends have been a reguar sight since 1976 having produced beautiful moments such as then-amateur Luis Herrera soloing to victory in 1984 or the late Marco Pantani clocking the fastest time on the Alpe in 1997.

Legs will be fresh enough among the big contenders to probably limit time gaps to a minimum but we will likely see those who feel good taking charge at the front of this climb.

The previous three winners atop Alpe d'Huez have all been French so do not put it past the likes of Romain Bardet (AG2R La Mondiale) or Warren Barguil (Fortuneo-Samsic) to conquer the famous climb.

Stage 14 - Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux - Mende 

Cast your mind back 12 months to last year's Tour. Stage 14 to Rodez was a lumpy transition stage that although it was too difficult for the sprinters it should have been a walk in the park for the climbers and GC men, including yellow jersey holder Fabio Aru.

However a technical finish, an electrifying pace from Team Sky and a lack of concerntration from Aru saw the Italian concede 25 seconds and lose the overall lead.

This stage to Mende has a similar feel with the 3km climb, at 10%, of the Cote de la Croix Neuve finishing off the day. It shouldn't cause problems but it's exactly the kind of climb that will.

British fans will also remember it as the scene of Steve Cummings's perfectly timed mugging of Bardet and Thibaut Pinot on course to MTN-Qhubeka's first ever Tour stage victory.

Stage 17 - Bagneres-De-Luchon - Col du Portet (Saint-Lary-Soulan)

Where should we start with Stage 17? It has all the potential to be one of the most exciting Tour de France stages in modern history.

Firstly, organisers have packed in three categorised climbs into 65km. This means the peloton will be climbing for over 50% of the stage with the rest being made up by descents. This is compact enough for the strongest riders to go it alone or in small groups.

Secondly, the stage will start in a Formula-1 style grid formation according to General Classification with delayed starts for those further back from the overall lead.

This could see some riders isolated while teams like Movistar could have numbers towards the front.

Thirdly, the summit finish is on the Col du Portet, a brand new climb for the Tour which tops out at over 2,000m above sea level and will be unknown racing territory to almost every rider in the race.

With this all being said watch the main GC contenders go on the defensive climbing the Col de Peyresoude at snail speed to allow the peloton to reform like normal.

Stage 19 - Lourdes - Laruns

The final opportunity in the mountains for any riders hoping to clinch the yellow jersey. After Laruns remains only a 31km rolling time trial and the processional stage around Paris.

Two classic Pyrenean climbs in the Tourmalet and Aubisque act as the star shows with four climbs sprinkled in between for good measure. This is a traditional Tour mountain stage and should produce some good old fashioned racing.

Hopefully the time gaps at the top of the standings are small enough for the aggressive riders in the bunch to take the race by the scruff of the neck and to attack long.

Riders like Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) who are dab hands at descending may see the final climb and descent of the Aubisque as the perfect place to launch a race-winning move.

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