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Preview: 2013 Tour de France — Stage 18

Gap to Alpe d’Huez (168.5km)

Thursday, July 18 6:30 A.M. EDT – 11:11 A.M. EDT
Live Coverage sponsored by Clif Bar

It’s time for the queen stage of this year’s Tour de France. Alpe d’Huez is on the menu and for many riders, merely finishing on this legendary climb is a tall order. Climbing it twice within the last 60 kilometers? That’s just brutal.

It’s another short stage of just 168.5km and that means a fast day in the saddle. Many will try to get into the morning breakaway with hopes of glory on Alpe d’Huez, but most likely, the favorites will fight for the stage win. With 61km to go, the riders face the 21 lacets grinding their way up the hors categorie Alpe d’Huez climb for the first time. The 12.3km to the top have an average gradient of 8.4 percent and the riders stay on a plateau when reaching the iconic ski station. Five kilometers later, it’s time for Cat. 2 Col de Sarenne and the descent from here is very technical. The weather forecast shows rain and if that stands, this descent will be extremely dangerous. It’s already difficult on dry roads; if it is wet and the race for the GC is on, watch out.

Flying back to the base of the Alpe for a second time, the fight set to unfold on the Tour’s most famous mountain may end up deciding the final overall in this Tour.

After winning Wednesday’s time trial, Chris Froome (Sky) said he’s now no longer aiming at winning stages in this year’s Tour. His sole focus is on keeping the yellow jersey and that opens up the door for Nairo Quintana (Movistar). The Colombian climber has been second best uphill so far and he came very close to winning on Mont Ventoux. Froome said he would have given the stage win to Quintana had the Movistar rider been able to keep up, and knowing that, Quintana may be able to dig extra deep on Alpe d’Huez.

Another rider who will be motivated to dig deep is Mikel Nieve (Euskaltel-Euskadi). He’s been among the best climbers in the race and he’s now targeting the KOM jersey, which he’s already wearing, despite being third after Froome (yellow) and Quintana (white). In 2003, Iban Mayo won on Alpe d’Huez and it would mean the world to Euskaltel if Nieve could repeat that performance here 10 years later. In 2001, Euskaltel’s Roberto Laiseka won on Luz Ardiden and 10 years later, Samuel Sánchez managed to do the same. Sanchez won the polka dot jersey that day and what a story if would be if Nieve and Euskaltel could take the stage win and the jersey 10 years after Mayo’s win on this mythical climb. —MIKKEL CONDÉ

Follow Mikkel Condé on Twitter @mrconde and visit C-Cycling to read more about this Queen Stage and see other outsiders for the stage win on Alpe d’Huez.