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Tour de France 2019: Stage 18: Time for Team Ineos

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This is a really hard stage, writes Jack Houghton, and it's better to look for those riders who may have held something back as the race moves into the Alps

"The Team Ineos pairing of Geraint Thomas ([19.00]) and Egan Bernal ([19.00]), who seem to reaching a peak when it matters..."

What's the stage like?

Punishing. It rises above 2,000m three times. This might seem a figure of only arbitrary interest, but with just 75% of sea-level oxygen available at this height it seems - and I write from experience - to have a significantly deleterious effect on some cyclists.

That this stage will see riders peak at 2,642m on the Col du Galibier, then, having already summitted a 2000m+ Category One and Super-Category climb, will have an effect. Some will crumble, especially those suffering with the cumulative fatigue of a hard Tour so far.

After the 23km ascent of the Galibier - with summit time bonuses available - there is a 19km descent into the finish.

Who are the favourites?

After his effortless stroll to victory on Stage 15, Simon Yates ([6.00]) is favourite to bring his tally for this Tour to three wins, making five in total for Mitchelton-Scott.

After enjoying an easy first half of the race, he has certainly looked like a rider reaching top form at the right time, but those odds look short. This is a very different stage to those that have provided his wins so far - it is very high, and will be very hot - and there are several other GC-quality riders who find themselves out of contention and so will be targeting stage wins in the Alps.

It wouldn't be a surprise to see Simon Yates win, but he's not a value bet.

Who are the most likely outsiders?

Of those still in contention for the Yellow Jersey, the most impressive climber so far has been Thibaut Pinot, who is second-favourite for stage glory at around [9.00]. The doubt with Pinot is that he seemed to be riding at his peak on Stage 6, and for a rider to be able to maintain that form to this point would not be easy.

More attractive are the Team Ineos pairing of Geraint Thomas ([19.00]) and Egan Bernal ([19.00]), who seem to reaching a peak when it matters. And whilst Emanuel Buchmann ([30.00]) and Steven Kruijswijk ([40.00]) shouldn't be ignored, it's worth remembering that they won't have the team support of the Ineos crew.

This is all assuming that a breakaway or solo effort won't win the stage. There are plenty of contenders to do so. Simon Yates is the obvious choice, but Mikel Landa ([12.00]), Romain Bardet ([25.00]) and Nairo Quintana ([30.00]) are all possible, too. It's so hard to interpret Quintana's Tour de France so far: on the one hand he seems like a rider who is throwing his toys out of the pram (or should that be bottles out of the bottle holder?); and yet on the other hand it's hard to remove the thought that it's all a ruse and that, on one of these Alpine behemoths, he'll explode to an unassailable lead.

And then there's Vincenzo Nibali ([28.00]). He's ridden a largely quiet Tour to date but is almost guaranteed to have a pop at one of these Alpine stages. He'll like the descent into Valloire that comes at the end of this.

What effect will the stage have on the overall markets?

We should know most of what we need to know about Julian Alaphilippe after this stage. If he survives with the leading contenders into Valloire, he might just hang on until Paris. The expectation is that he'll capitulate, though. The sight of him going back to his team car to collect bottles and gels on Stage 15 said it all, really: he doesn't have the team support needed to triumph.

The other point of interest - but which won't get much television coverage - is the fate of the sprinters in the mountains. In this heat, with this altitude, it's possible that some won't survive. Peter Sagan needs to in order to claim his seventh Green Jersey, though.

*Odds correct at the time of writing

Jack Houghton,

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