FOIX, France (VN) – The Pyrénées don’t have the rock star climbs and 21 bends of the Alps.
But what they do have is the tight, narrow roads, steep gnarled climbs, and unpredictable weather that will provide the perfect playground for a mountain showdown between Tadej Pogačar and Jonas Vingegaard in stages 17 and 18 of this Tour de France.
“The Pyrénées are always more pitchy. There are steep grades then flat. It’s not as consistent and there are smaller roads compared to the Alps,” Michael Woods told VeloNews.
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Two short explosive stages Wednesday and Thursay see winding classics-style streets stacked with back-to-back upper category climbs. Jonas Vingegaard will be on red alert through technical tricky terrain for Pogačar’s all-or-nothing final push for the yellow jersey.
“I know Tadej will attack me so every day is about trying to follow him and not leaving any gaps,” Vingegaard rued after the stage Tuesday. “I expect him to attack me every moment so I have to be ready.”
Wednesday’s stage up to the Peyragudes airstrip provide ambush territory a-plenty should UAE Emirates assemble its artillery so.
Pogačar’s team put Brandon McNulty in an early move on stage 16 on Tuesday to provide a satellite option for Pogačar bridging from behind. Wout van Aert and Dani Martinez did the same for Vingegaard and Geraint Thomas as the Tour’s three top teams push hard in the final phase before Paris.
Both stages 17 and 18 bring the classic “shark-tooth” profile of any grand tour’s “queen stage.” If a trap is a way to yellow for Thomas or Pogačar, the Pyénées have the terrain to do it.
“After 50 kilometers of flat, it goes up and down without downtime until the arrival,” race director Thierry Gouvenou previewed of the ride to Peyragudes on tap Wednesday.
No matter how the race plays out, climbs being packed into the back-half of whirlwind three-and-a-half-hour stages promises a scintillating final throwdown between the Tour’s two toppers.
The Pyrénées make for the perfect amphitheater for a gladiator-style all-out battle between Pogačar and Vingegaard. The huge roads and manicured tarmac of the Alps lack the threat and unpredictability of their western French cousins.
“The Pyrenees are often quite explosive because there’s usually little valley between each col, so in the third week, it’s very demanding,” Romain Bardet said. “The Pyrénées can create big gaps.”
With UAE Emirates down to just five riders and Sepp Kuss looking unshakable for Jumbo-Visma, the yellow jersey may come down to a solo project for Pogačar. The Slovenian hasn’t been shy in attacking early and the gnarled parcours of the Pyrénées gives him room to move.
Throw in the growing risk of thunderstorms as France’s heatwave burns itself out, and the Tour’s final week could become more spectacular and unpredictable than ever.
Goat tracks and gnarled summits
Ruthless summit finishes of the Hautacam and Peyragudes provide a final far more aggressive than the diesel climbs of the Alpe d’Huez “highway to the sky” that saw Pogačar and Vingegaard at deadlock last week.
The 20 percent kicker ramp to the James Bond-famed Peyragudes on Wednesday could pulverize the strongest of legs and weaken wills ahead of a ride deep into the wild west of the Pyrénées on Thursday.
A trip over the 10km, eight percent Spandelles and its gravel-strewn, six-foot goat path in the back half of stage 18 on Thursday could see Vingegaard and Pogačar shoulder-to-shoulder some 35km from the final before the tricky, multi-pitch climb to the notorious hors categorie Hautacam resort.
The explosive jabs of Pogačar and razor-wire defense of Vingegaard will be showcased to the full in the Pyrénées. The over-built, highway laden Alps don’t provide the drama and danger posed by their green and gnarled French counterparts.
A storm is brewing deep in the southwest of France.
Expect some racing thunder in the days to come.