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Tour de France

Tour de France stage 17 preview: A Pyrenean clash ending at a James Bond movie location

Wednesday's 17th stage features three first-category climbs, including a steep ramp to the day’s summit finish.

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Tuesday’s first stage in the Pyrenees shook up the general classification but failed to create any lasting daylight between double Tour champion Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates) and current race leader Jonas Vingegaard (Jumbo-Visma).

Pogačar’s attacks were unsuccessful in reducing his overall deficit, but he will hope for better luck on Wednesday’s tougher stage 17. This features three category one climbs, one more than stage 16, as well a category two ascent. One of the category one mountains is a summit finish at Peyragudes, the breath-sapping finale in total contrast to Tuesday’s technical downhill run to the line.

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The 129.7 kilometer day begins in Saint-Gaudens, the past location for 12 stage starts and nine finishes. One of the most historic conclusions occurred during the last week of the 1955 race, when the famed climber Charly Gaul won the stage and Frenchman Louison Bobet grabbed the yellow jersey. He would hold it until Paris, where he became the first in history to win three consecutive Tours.

Louison Bobet (left) and Miguel Poblet (right) in action during the 1955 Tour de France. At the conclusion of the stage starting in Saint-Gaudens, Bobet took the yellow jersey and went on to become the first rider to win three consecutive Tours. (Photo: Universal/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)

A stage starting in Saint-Gaudens in 1976 was similarly significant. It ended with a stage victory of Lucien van Impe, who took over a yellow jersey he kept until the end of the Tour.

Early springboard, later launch pads

The 129.7 kilometer stage looks tailor-made for an early break, with the first 50 kilometers most flat and including an intermediate sprint at kilometer 32.9. The general classification riders and their teams will want to keep their powder dry for the later climbs, providing opportunity for aspiring stage hunters to work to open a big-enough advantage to have a chance of staying clear.

The Col d’Aspin is the first of the day’s four categorized climbs, topping out 65.7 kilometers from the start. It is followed by the day’s highest mountain, the 1,564 meter high Hourquette d’Ancizan (km 81.6) although, as a category two climb, this is the day’s easiest.

A ten kilometer descent leads the riders towards the penultimate test, the category one Col de Val Louron-Azet (km 109.5), which tops out 20 kilometers from the finish. A descent of approximately nine kilometers is then followed by a short flat section, then the concluding eight km grind to the finish line. This averages 7.8% in gradient, with the toughest slopes of 13% coming inside the final kilometer and providing a platform for a last-gasp attack.

Given Pogačar’s need to recoup as much time as possible, it is almost guaranteed that he will try to make his move well before the final climb. The best-case scenario for him may be to isolate Vingegaard early on and then gap him on the penultimate climb, maintain or increase his lead on the final and then pad it further on the Peyragudes.

Such things are easy to plan on paper, though. As this Tour has shown so far, it has proved considerably more difficult to find a crack in Vingegaard’s defences.

Pogačar will keep trying, and may hope for a repeat of what happened when the Tour finished at Peyragudes for only the second time in history. On that occasion in 2017 race leader Chris Froome cracked close to the line and lost the yellow jersey, albeit for just two stages. Time gaps were much tighter then, though, and so a change in the maillot jaune will need to begin much further away from the finish line.

A hollywoodesque-finale?

First used by the Tour in 2012, Peyragudes had a very different moment of fame 15 years earlier. Several scenes of the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies were shot there, utilizing the mountain airport which will host the finish. Tour organizers ASO will hope for a similar level of drama and suspense on Wednesday.