We await a showdown on the Hautacam

It all comes down to the final climb of the Tour. Just as we hoped it would.

by Caley Fretz

photography by Getty Images

We awake to bright skies and light winds and the last real opportunity for a defending Tour de France champion to regain a chance at what seemed so assuredly his just a week ago. Another chance, too, for the rising star to solidify his position. As we always hoped, it comes down to the Hautacam. 

These may be the last hours of an unsettled Tour de France and we should bask in the uncertainty. Should Tadej Pogačar pull back significant time, then the race is on ahead of Saturday’s 40 kilometer time trial. Should he fail, well, we’re right back where we started the day. 

The Hautacam looms. Hors categorie, beyond categorization, what should be roughly 36 or 37 minutes of baking tarmac high in the Pyrenees that offers a grasp of hope for Pogačar and a final hurdle for Jonas Vingegaard. 

It is a massive day. The Aubisque first, then the Cat 1 Spandelles, then the Hautacam, all slammed into around 90 kilometers and finishing over 1500 meters above the sea. The most difficult stretches come two-thirds of the way up, five kilometers from the summit where the average gradient sits over 11%. 

It was here where Bjarne Riis set a superhuman record, reaching the top in 34:38. Here where Vincenzo Nibali put his final stamp on the race in 2014, on his way to victory. In 2000, in one of the Tours that now wasn’t, Lance Armstrong used these slopes to put 3’18” into Jan Ullrich. It is fearsome and all signs point to two men fighting for its summit, alone. It is hard enough for the GC tonight to look entirely different from the GC this morning.

Both teams are a shadow of what they were in Copenhagen. UAE’s phenomenal Brandon McNulty will need to repeat his feats on Val Louron and Peyragudes; Sepp Kuss will need to dig into whatever propelled him on the way to Foix. Neither team will be able to fully control the race across that much elevation gain.

These are the Tour’s final hours. Yellow remains in play.

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