Blagnac — Brive-la-Gaillarde (138.3mi / 222.5km)
Friday 20 July
With an up-and-down, 222.5km route bringing the race out of the Hautes-Pyrénées, stage 18 is ripe for a breakaway to survive to the finish. The sprinters that survived the Pyrénées would be wise to focus on the intermediate sprint in Cahors, because it’s unlikely they’ll see the front of the race in Brive-la-Gaillarde.
With such a long, hard day this far into the race, and coming on the back of two tough days in the mountains, only the strongmen will make the breakaway. This is the place for riders like Maxim Iglinsky (Astana), Lars Bak (Lotto-Belisol), Jens Voigt (RadioShack-Nissan) and 2011 Tour hero Johnny Hoogerland (Vacansoleil-DCM). If, and it’s a big if, American George Hincapie (BMC Racing) has come away from the Pyrénées with something left in the tank and BMC boss Jim Ochowicz gives him the green light, this could be “Big George’s” last shot at a Tour stage win, in his 17th edition of the race.
The stage departs from the Airbus manufacturing town of Blagnac. Six Tour de France stages have passed through Blagnac, which has hosted both starts and finishes. This stage will not resemble many of those previous stages, though, as historically they have headed into the Pyrénées from town.
The town of Brive has hosted Tour stages on nine previous occasions and has witnessed victories by sprinters including Mario Cipollini, Belgium’s Édouard Sels and Great Britain’s Barry Hoban. The 50,600-person town has also hosted starts on the way to Puy de Dôme, the climb up the lava dome where, in 1975, an infamous spectator punched Eddy Merckx in the kidney.