The Grand Boucle is a war of attrition, with every single day in the saddle an absolutely brutal test that us mere mortals couldn’t even imagine finishing. That being said, some stages are more important than others for the eventual outcome of the race – here, we’ve picked out five we think could see some real fireworks.
We’ve also included the info you need to catch every second of racing live on TV, whether that be from the comfort of your couch at home or surreptitiously on a quickly-hidden tab on your work PC.
While not everyone is a fan of watching the discipline on TV, time trialing plays a vital part in every Grand Tour – and never more so than in this year’s edition. The earliest major gaps in the GC will be created after this stage, with some contenders bringing significantly stronger team backup into it than others. Watch out for Mitchelton–Scott to go very well with their line-up packed with powerhouses like Jack Bauer, while the less said about the prospects of Dan Martin’s UAE Team Emirates the better.
The course features 35km of rolling roads and looks to suit the likes of BMC, Team Sky and Quick-Step – as well as the Aussie squad.
Described by most pundits as ‘the Roubaix Stage’ because it takes in 22km of the cobblestones made infamous by the world’s favourite Monument, Paris–Roubaix, stage 9 promises to wreak havoc on the GC.
Expect to see one-day specialists on the main teams called into action to protect the interests of their leaders, ably shepherding them across the bone-jarring pavé of northern France. We know that Vicenzo Nibali and Alejandro Valverde are not averse to a bit of the rough stuff, both having enjoyed success in tough one-dayers in the past. Lightweight mountain men like Nairo Quintana, on the other hand, are expected to struggle over the brutal parcours. Geraint Thomas and Luke Rowe will be putting their classics riding experience to good use in service of Chris Froome, while BMC’s Richie Porte has former Roubaix winner, Greg van Avermaet, looking out for him.
The Alpe never fails to deliver drama, from the duels of Armstrong and Pantani, to the now-legendary battle between Greg Lemond and Bernard Hinault back in ‘the greatest ever Tour’. Expect some riders’ title tilts to founder here.
While the stage may finish on Alpe d’Huez, the peloton will have plenty to deal with before that point; the small issue of the Col de la Madeleine and Col de la Croix de Fer also on the menu. It’s also worth remembering that stage 12 is preceded by two extremely difficult mountain stages, also in the Alps, and so there’ll be plenty of compound fatigue in the legs by this point.
Cruelly, the ASO has planned this stage for a Thursday, so we strongly advise getting your request for a day off in early!
The final mountain day of the 2018 edition of the Tour bears a whopping six categorised climbs in the Pyrenees, including the Aspin, the Soulor and the mighty, mighty Tourmalet. Any riders still in contention for the GC will be drawing their last ounces of strength together to get through this – and anyone with enough energy left to attack could well break the race to pieces.
Coming the day before a potentially race-deciding individual time trial, this will be the last opportunity that pure climbers with a dodgy TT (Nairo, Romain, we’re looking at you) will get to take time on the big diesel engines. We’re hoping and praying for some attacks throughout the stage – with anyone more than a minute down on GC forced to attack from deep, a la Chris Froome in stage 19 of the Giro earlier this year.
At 31km and with a rolling rather than flat or properly mountainous route, this is a hard time trial to call. It could be that the winner of the stage is not one of our GC hopefuls, but that doesn’t mean it might yet have seismic effects on the outcome of the yellow jersey competition.
If he’s in yellow but short of a prestigious stage win, expect Froome to really attack this. Similarly, depending on how Tom Dumoulin’s attempt at racing a second consecutive Grand Tour goes, he may end up abandoning GC, conserving energy in the preceding few days and focusing his efforts entirely on this – a consolation stage win.
Whatever happens, this will be the most gripping ITT you’ve watched all year.