Tour de France - Stage 18 guide: Galibier looms
Spain's three-times champion Alberto Contador is expected to be on the attack again in the 18th stage, a 200.5-km mountain trek ending at the top of the Col du Galibier.
Stage 18 – Thurs, 21 July – Pinerolo – Galibier-Serre Chevalier – 200.5km
Type: High mountains
Details: Fifty-odd kilometres of flat road from Pinerolo is then followed by three HC climbs in succession: the Col Agnel (23.7km at 6.5%), the Col d'Izoard (14.1km at 7.3%) and the summit finish atop the Galibier (22.8km at 4.9%). All three climbs are seemingly relentless – and because of their length, the average gradient may look a little feeble. But don't be led astray by the figures – this will be 200km of pure hell for everyone but the winner.
Watch out for: Where to start? The Col Agnel is huge – at 2,744m the highest point in the race - and is being tackled from the steeper west side for the first time in Tour history, the final 10km of the ascent a solid 9%. The Col d'Izoard is the shorter of the three, but by no means a doddle. Finally, the legendary Galibier is the race's highest summit finish in history, at 2,645m. Today's winner will not only have to be a superb climber, he will also have to cope with the thin air at altitude - plus the cold temperatures and snow forecast.
Prediction: It's not too outlandish to say that the winner of today's stage should well go on to win the Tour – Alberto Contador won’t be feeling as charitable as he was during the Giro, or last year's stage on the Tourmalet for that matter, when he let his rival Andy Schleck take the victory. Expect both men to be involved again today. Yellow jersey Thomas Voeckler will have his work cut out staying on top today - the likely scenario is that he drops out of the top three, maybe even the top five.
History: For the first time in race history, a stage of the Tour finishes atop the mighty Galibier. Back in 1911, when the climb was first used by the race, only two riders reached the top without getting off their bikes: Paul Duboc and Gustave Garrigou.