Chris Froome's biggest rivals are running out of real estate to challenge his grasp on the Maillot Jaune. Just three stages remain before Paris, all in the Alps, but thus far any attack on his standing has been weathered. We saw that yet again Wednesday, as Nairo Quintana poked at Froome to no avail.
Stage 18 may not be the decisive stage you're hoping for, but what does that matter anyway? Froome shouldn't lose this Tour barring disaster. Stage 18 is fun, however, with sharp descents (including the finish) and perhaps the most unique stretch of road on the 2015 route in Les Lacets de Montvernier, a narrow, steep, serpentine road crawling up the face of a cliff. There are 17 hairpin turns in the roughly 2.5-kilometer stretch.
The Lacets are the cherry on what should be a beautiful stage. The 186.5-kilometer route begins in Gap, the 21st time the city has been used as a stage town. The Tour de France finished in Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne once, in 2010.
Though a descent finish and (relatively) pedestrian climbs ostensibly work in Froome's favor, his rivals need to attack as soon as possible. Expect Vincenzo Nibali, Alberto Contador to go after Froome early and often, along with Quintana (presuming they haven't resigned to a fight for second place). Their desperate gasps combined with the scenery should make Thursday a classically great Tour stage.
Racing on Stage 18 begins at approximately 6:10 a.m. ET, with NBCSN coverage running from 8 a.m. to noon. The NBC Sports Live Extra app will host live streaming for mobile users. Those with subscriptions to NBC's Tour de France web package can watch online using any device.
[Images courtesy of Tour de France]
Stage coverage starts at 8 a.m. ET on NBCSN
Announcers: Phil Liggett, Paul Sherwen
Mobile: NBC Sports Live Extra app with an appropriate cable subscription
Computer: NBC's Tour de France web package is available for a fee