The final countdown to the 2018 Tour de France has begun, and with it comes Cyclingnews’ comprehensive look at the 21 stages that the 176 riders starting this year’s race will have to negotiate en route to the big finish in Paris.
Starting in Noirmoutier-en-l’Ile in the Vendée on July 7, this year’s stages include a 35.5km team time trial around Cholet on stage 3 – a discipline that is often a very strong indicator of a team’s collective strength for the entire Tour – and a tough conclusion to the end of stage 6 with the climb of the Mûr-de-Bretagne, which last featured at the Tour in 2015, when AG2R’s Alexis Vuillermoz took the stage win ahead of Dan Martin.
The plan worked out to perfection, with Urán taking a stage 3 win in Celje and backing it up with 15th in the final time trial to seal second overall. Stage 4 winner Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo) won the final time trial and the overall.
“I’m happy,” Uran said in a statement released by his team. “The most important for me is the Tour, but before the Tour, I have good legs to finish second, win a stage in Slovenia and also do a good time trial today. I’m so happy to know everything is where it needs to be.”
Urán’s win on stage 3 from Slovenske Konjice to Celje came with an attack on the final climb that swept up late leaders Roglic and Matej Mohoric (Bahrain-Merida), with the Colombian able to out-kick Daryl Impey (Mitchelton-Scott) at the line for the stage win.
Urán finished fifth on the Queen stage won by Roglic on Saturday, and he held his ground well against the other GC contenders during Sunday’s time trial, clocking a faster time than all but two of the riders in the general classification top 10.
“Everything went well in the time trial,” said EF Education First-Drapac director Ken Vanmarcke. “Rigo was never in trouble and could pace the way he wanted. His main goal is in three weeks, not today, and this week was a perfect preparation.
“We must still remain happy, because after all, we won the overall classification,” Valverde said in a statement released by his team.
“That’s a confirmation I did things right for the past month, even if I missed the Tour de Suisse due to illness. I feel like the whole team, as well as myself, did a brilliant job. The goals were more than accomplished – we came here just with a will to get ready for July and, after that, seeking for some wins, and we achieved both.”
Valverde, who raced last at Liege-Bastogne-Liege in April, finished seventh on the first day of Route d’Occitanie, a 168km relatively flat stage won by Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis) in a bunch sprint. He finished in the bunch the following day, which also concluded with a bunch sprint, allowing him to reserve some energy for his winning stage 3 effort.
On Saturday, Valverde beat Daniel Navarro (Cofidis) and Kenny Elissonde (Team Sky) to the top of the fog-shrouded summit finish at Les Monts d’Olmes, taking the overall lead by 14 seconds over Navarro and 20 seconds over Elissonde.
Not content to rest on his lead during Sunday’s final stage – 192.7km from Mirepoix to Cazouls-lès-Béziers – Valverde hit out again with Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana) with 68km remaining after the peloton swept up day’s early break.