July 21 Stage 18: Pinerolo to Col du Galibier, 200.5km (125 miles)
This stage heads back into France over the mighty hors-cat Col Agnel, which at 9,002 feet (2,744 meters) is the highest mountain pass this year. The Tour has never crossed the Agnel from the Italian side, which is a climb of almost 24km, averaging 6.6 percent, but most importantly averaging 10 percent for the final 9km! The peloton will split dramatically here before a sharp descent, and this should herald multiple attacks on the following Col d’Izoard (almost 15km at 7.1 percent). Another technical downhill ends in Briançon, where the race covers a dozen kilometers in the valley before the 23km-long haul to the finish on top of the Col du Galibier — that was first scaled in the Tour 100 years ago. The stage totals a gargantuan 17,000 feet (5,180 meters) of climbing!
THE SCOOP: Besides marking this alpine centennial, at 8,678 feet (2,645 meters) above sea level, the Galibier is the highest summit finish in Tour history; and though the gradient on this southern approach averages only 5-percent, it gradually steepens to end with a 12.5-percent kicker to the line!
OVERALL RATING: *****