104km to go
A big group of 16 riders has finally gone off up the road.
107.5km to go
Simon Geschke managed to escape from the clutches of the peloton along with a decent-sized group, but no sooner had they bridged over to the breakaway had the yellow jersey’s group closed them down. Wout van Aert soon counter-attacked, but again he was then reunited with the main bunch. Today represents a bit of a last-chance saloon for lots of teams who have failed to make a mark on this year’s race and so it is not that surprising to see such infernal racing so early.
112.5km to go
Cofidis have taken over on the front of the peloton, no doubt attempting to get Simon Geschke into the breakaway. The German really needs to take some points atop the Aubisque and Spandelles if he wants to win the polka dot jersey, that is assuming he cannot pull off a surprise stage win today and take 20 points on the Hautacam.
120km to go
A six-man breakaway comprising Stefan Bissegger (EF Education-EasyPost), Stan Dewulf (Ag2r-Citroen), Florian Vermeersch (Lotto Soudal), Christopher Laporte (Jumbo-Visma), Andreas Leknessund (DSM) and Michael Matthews (BikeExchange-Jayco) has gained 18sec on the peloton. Some interesting names in there, but am thinking they will be attempting to get into this move in the hope of dropping back to help their team-mates later in the afternoon.
125km to go
Mikkel Bjerg (UAE Team Emirates), who played a key role for team-mate Tadej Pogacar yesterday, has been spotted off the rear of the peloton. The Norwegian may be paying a heavy price for riding on the front for so long, or perhaps he had had an early mechanical? Only time will tell. At the other end of the race, Christopher Laporte (Jumbo-Visma) has shifted to the front and is riding hard alongside five others.
131.3km to go
Stan Dewulf, one of just three Ag2r-Citroën riders still in the race, has bridged over to Wout van Aert. The green jersey, though, looks determined to push on. It has been another fast start to racing today.
As it stands . . .
And that man Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) attacked from the flag and the man dressed head-to-tow in green is on his lonesome. Nils Politt (Bora-Hansgrohe) and Dylan Teuns (Bahrain Victorious) are in pursuit at around 5sec, with the peloton another 10sec down the road.
And welcome to our live rolling blog from stage 18 of the 109th Tour de France, the 143.2-kilometre run from Lourdes to Hautacam.
After 17 days of racing, today is the final mountain stage when, one suspects, second-placed Tadej Pogacar (UAE Team Emirates) will be crossing himself as he heads out from Lourdes before throwing one final Hail Mary in an attempt to disrobe race leader Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma) of his yellow jersey. Pogacar, of course, did his best to do so yesterday, but Vingegaard was able to match the two-time Tour winner pedal stroke for pedal stroke and although he missed out on the stage win, he will have been buoyed after passing his latest test .
Following today’s stage there will in all likelihood be just one more stage – Saturday’s time trial – in which Pogacar can make up time on Vingegaard, although when you look at their head-to-head records there is not too much to separate the two. When Pogacar blew away the field to win last year’s stage five time trial from Changé to Laval Espace Mayenne, over 27.2km, Vingegaard was third at 27sec. Saturday’s time trial is longer at 40.7km, though has a similar profile to last year’s first time trial. Should Vingegaard make it to the summit of the Hautacam today, where his compatriot Bjarne Riis infamously won in 1996, and lose no more than a minute to Pogacar, then his ascension to Tour de France champion will, surely, be assured.
As mentioned, Vingegaard will be dressed in the yellow jersey, the leader’s yellow jersey, for a sixth day running and leads by 2min 18sec.
Wout van Aert (Jumbo-Visma) mathematically secured the points classification when he finished second in the intermediate sprint on Wednesday behind Jasper Philipsen (Alpecin-Deceuninck). All the Belgian needs to do now is complete the Tour in Paris on Sunday to seal the competition, and so will once again be dressed in the green jersey.
Simon Geschke (Cofidis) will remain dressed in the polka dot jersey, or the polka dot jersey, as the leader of the mountains classification. The 36-year-old, however, will more than likely need to get into the day’s breakaway if he is to become the first German to seal the competition.
Two-time Tour winner Pogacar, who has led the young rider classification since stage one, will be dressed in the white jersey.
So, what’s on today’s menu?
Similar to yesterday’s stage, all of the categorized climbs are back-ended into the last half of the short-ish Pyrenean stage. Three climbs – Aubisque, Spandelles and Hautacam – will shape the outcome of the stage and, probably, the eventual outcome of the final yellow jersey of the race. Unlike yesterday, however, there are two out of category climbs where team-mates and numbers may prove crucial. There has been no French winners at this year’s race and so we may see some aggressive racing from the home riders this afternoon, while a few teams will be hoping to get into a breakaway. Whether or not they are allowed to go all the way to the line will depend on how generous Jumbo-Visma and UAE Team Emirates are feeling, or indeed how desperate they are for another stage win and some more bonus seconds on the line. Either way, it should be another blockbuster of a stage and Telegraph Sport will be bring you all the action right from the flag.
There are a maximum of 50 points available to any one rider in the mountains classification and so we may see the likes of Geschke and Giulio Ciccone (Trek-Segafredo) attempting to get into the breakaway.
The points competition is all but wrapped up by Van Aert, but I would not be surprised to see the Jumbo-Visma man back in another breakaway, though mainly to act as a satellite rider for team-mate Vingegaard later in the day. However, with a modern-day record up for grabs the Belgian may be targeting more points.
And finally, the weather. . .
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