It's probably a day for an elite breakaway to do their thing, writes Jack Houghton, who thinks a strong descender will win the day
"The main contenders looked exhausted on Stage 17, and those with ambitions to climb up the standings are likely to look to the time trial now..."
What's the stage like?
It's a long day in the mountains, and whilst it's not quite as epic as Stage 17, it still contains four categorised climbs, seeing riders ascend 4,000m of vertical gain, and including the super-category Montee du plateau des Glieres. In places, that climb steepens to gradients in excess of 15%, but the highlight (for viewers rather than riders), is the 1.8km gravel section.
It's likely we'll see a committed breakaway of specialist speculators and what-could-have-been ex-hopefuls for the Yellow Jersey. And after the beating meted out on Stage 17, and the time trial to come on Stage 20, a tired peloton might be happy to give a breakaway its freedom.
Who are the favourites?
The ever-present Marc Hirschi ([9.00]) is naturally at the top of most lists. His performances on Stages 2, 9, and 12 have provided one of the fascinating subplots at this year's Tour. However, it's notable that he's been quieter in recent days. Whether this is a rider saving himself for one more big effort, or one clinging on to his fatigued legs, is unclear. The odds look on the short side either way.
Richard Carapaz ([13.00]) has twice lit up the race in the last two stages, but been disappointed both times, caught and passed in the last moments. Given the quiet Tour he's had in riding as a domestique for a General Classification contender who was generally too far back to need much looking after, it could be that he can go again here. But at those odds, I'd be concerned about the cumulative effects of those efforts.
Primoz Roglic ([15.00]) is a short price for a rider who has little to gain from being aggressive, and for those wanting to side with a podium hopeful, Tadej Pogacar ([15.00]) is likely a better bet. He, after all, has reason to go on the offensive.
Who are the most likely outsiders?
Daniel Martinez ([15.00]), Pello Bilbao ([17.00]), Max Schachmann ([22.00]), and Pavel Sivakov ([40.00]) are the most interesting contenders. All are less likely to be carrying the same level of fatigue as riders who have been more active in the race so far.
Of the quartet, Bilbao and Schachmann are the choice. Bilbao was second on a similar stage in the 2019 Tour, and Schachmann is an excellent descender who might be able to take advantage of the finish into La Roche-Sur-Foron.
What effect will the stage have on the overall markets?
It's likely that there will be moves in the General Classification, but probable that these will be of little consequence. The main contenders looked exhausted on Stage 17, and those with ambitions to climb up the standings are likely to look to the time trial now. It's possible someone might go for an audacious long-range attack that explodes that theory, of course. Maybe Mikel Landa or Adam Yates? Unlikely, though.
*Odds correct at the time of writing
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Back Pello Bilbao @ [17.00]
Back Max Schachmann @ [22.00]