Julian Alaphilippe has faced plenty of tests dotted along the road in the first 13 stages of the Tour de France, but this is different. The Col du Tourmalet – which translates from Gascon as ‘the long mountain’ – is the highest paved pass in the French Pyrenees, a Tour classic, and a brute which will crack open even bigger gaps in the top 10.
For the first time, this Tour will climb high above Alaphilippe’s comfort zone, more than 2,000m above sea level. He has shown no weaknesses so far, stunning everyone including second-placed Geraint Thomas by winning Friday’s time-trial, but preserving his lead here will be a much harder thing.
In his favour is the length of the stage: at only 117km it is not a particularly long day, with a couple of small climbs at the start and the category one Col du Soulor in the middle. It doesn’t leave much room for a breakaway to escape and could set up a grandstand finale between the main GC riders.
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Then comes the Tourmalet, attacked from the west side, a gruelling 19km drag at an average gradient of 7.4% with the finish line on its summit. It has a rich history of appearances in the Tour de France, although this is only the third time a stage will have finished on the top.
The Tour’s most recent visit to the Tourmalet was last year; the first man to the top that day? Julian Alaphilippe. That was a whole different scenario, as he went for King of the Mountains points to win the polka dot jersey. This time he wears yellow, and he faces a fight to keep it.