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Stage 18, Tour de France 2017: Briançon to Izoard

A guide to Stage 18 of the Tour de France 2017, which is 179.5km from Briançon to Izoard. This the last Alpine stage of the 2017 event, and the climbing is loaded towards the end of the route. There's a Category 1 climb of the Col du Vars, then an hors catégorie climb via the Casse Déserte to the finish at the Col d'Izoard (2,360m). Read about Stage 18 of the Tour de France 2017 here.

Stage 18, Tour de France 2017: Mountain High

The Col d'Izoard is one of the climbs in the book Mountain High. Authors Daniel Friebe and Pete Goding say that after the sight of Château Queyras near the foot of the Izoard climb, '14km of unrelenting climbing await, particularly as the road javelins sharp and straight out of Arvieux, through la Chalp, then hitches into a series of tight hairpins after Brunissard. After 4km among the pines, the rider emerges into the Casse Déserte. Here the pass looks depressingly distant, the heat stifles, and the wind blows fiercely. A glance at the monument to Fausto Coppi and Louison Bobet..., a short descent, and the final 2km grind begins where the Casse Déserte ends.'

Barguil the Wizard of Izoard on Stage 18

20th July 2017

Warren Barguil won his second stage of the Tour, on top of the Col d'Izoard. Atapuma was second. Bardet got 4s bonus for third place, but came in with Froome and Uran.

Earlier in the day, Annemiek van Vleuten won the first of two part of la Course, on the climb of the Izoard.

Stage 18, Tour de France 2017: facts, figures, and map

Stage 18 of the Tour de France 2017 starts in Briançon, and heads south down the Durance valley via l'Argentière-la-Bessée and Embrun to the lac de Serre-Ponçon. At the far end of the lake, the riders head east up the Ubaye valley to Barcelonnette. They continue up the Ubaye to Saint-Paul-sur-Ubaye (now going north), then climb to the Col de Vars (2,109m). From the Col de Vars, it's down to Guillestre, then up the Combe de Queyras, and on up to the finish at the Col d'Izoard (2,360m).

Stage classification Mountain
Distance 179.5km
Intermediate sprint Les Thuiles
Climbs Côte des Demoiselles Coiffées (Category 3)
Col de Vars (Category 1)
Col d'Izoard (hors catégorie)

This is the official map of Stage 18.

The official Tour de France stage profile for Stage 18:

Profile of Stage 18, Tour de France 2017

Profile of Stage 18, Tour de France 2017, © ASO/Tour de France

Stage 18, Tour de France 2017: date & timings

Stage 18 takes place on Thursday 20th July 2017.

The publicity caravan sets off from Briançon at 10h45, and arrives at the finish at the Col d'Izoard at 15h49. The riders start at 12h45, and finish between 17h19 and 17h49.

Stage 18, Tour de France 2017: reconnaissance video

Stage 18 is also the route of the Etape du Tour, and for that reason, Nicolas Roux and Mike Cotty did a reconnaissance ride of the route. This is their video:

Stage 18, Tour de France 2017: the route

Stage 18, Tour de France 2017: the start in Briançon


Briançon, by Raffaele Sergi, Licence CC BY 2.0

The stage starts in Briançon, an historic town with fortifications designed by the C17th French military architect Vauban. Briançon is linked in to the Serre-Chevalier ski area.

Stage 18, Tour de France 2017: Briançon to Barcelonnette

Lac de Serre-Ponçon

Lac de Serre-Ponçon, by Twice25 & Rinina25, Licence CC BY-SA 2.5

Stage 18 leaves Briançon heading south on the D36B, then at Chamandrin, it crosses the river Durance, and joins the N94. It stays on the N94, alongside the river Durance, for some distance. This is the route of the Roman Via Domitia, built in 118BC on an existing route, to link Italy to Spain via the south of France. It was later one of the routes taken by pilgrims on the way to Santiago de Compostela, which is why quite a few chapels line the road.

From Saint-Martin-de Queyrières, the road rises above the river, passing Queyrières, then descending to the river before l'Argentière-la-Bessée.

Edward Whymper statue

Edward Whymper statue, l'Argentière-la-Bessée, by Eric Bajart, Licence CC BY-SA 3.0

L'Argentière gets its name from the silver mines which were worked here until the beginning of the C20th. Edward Whymper is represented in a statue by the Bureau des Guides in L'Argentière because he was the first Alpinist to get to the top of the Barre des Ecrins (4,102m), in 1864.


Mont-Dauphin, by Patrick Gaudin, Licence CC BY 2.0

Stage 18 continues south via la-Roche-de-Rame, Saint-Crépin, Mont-Dauphin (like Briançon, fortified by Vauban), Saint-Clément-sur-Durance, and Châteauroux, to Embrun.

Saint-Michel chapel, Lac de Serre-Ponçon

Saint-Michel chapel, Lac de Serre-Ponçon - saved from flooding because it was built on a little hill, it is now on an island in the lake. Photo by Flaurentine, Licence CC BY-SA 3.0

Beyond Embrun, the route is along the shore of the lac de Serre-Ponçon to Savines-le-Lac. Shortly after Savines-le-Lac, the road edges away from the water, and ascends. This is the first categorised climb of the day, the Côte des Demoiselles Coiffées. The climb of the Côte des Demoiselles Coiffées is 3.9km at an average of 5.2%. The top comes 60km after the start of the stage, and the climb is ranked Category 3.

Demoiselles Coiffées

Les Demoiselles Coiffées, by Fr. Latreille, Licence CC BY-SA 3.0

Demoiselles coiffées, or cheminées de fée, are called hoodoos or fairy's chimneys in English. They are a rock formation which occurs when a hard rock sits on top of another rock which is much softer and more susceptible to erosion. The harder rock provides a hat or helmet, which protects the softer rock underneath from eroding away.

After the Côte des Demoiselles Coiffées, there's a descent through le Sauze-du-Lac. The riders reach the end of the Lac de Serre-Ponçon, and make their way east, up the river Ubaye, via le Lauzet-Ubaye, to les Thuiles. The intermediate sprint comes at the hamlet of les Thuiles.

Profile of the intermediate sprint on Stage 18, TDF 2017, at les Thuiles

Sprint profile, les Thuiles, © ASO/Tour de France

The race continues to Barcelonnette.

Stage 18, Tour de France 2017: Barcelonnette to Guilestre

Col de Vars

Col de Vars, by Andrew Smith, Licence CC BY-SA 2.0

From Barcelonnette, the riders continue up the river Ubaye to Jausiers, la Condamine-Châtelard, the Fort de Tournoux, and Saint-Paul-sur-Ubaye. From Saint-Paul-sur-Ubaye, the gradient steepens for the climb of the Col de Vars (2,109m).

Profile of the Col de Vars

Profile of the Col de Vars, © ASO/Tour de France

Beyond the summit of the Col de Vars, the riders pass the Refuge Napoléon, then the Station de Vars ski resort. 

Refuge Napoléon, near Col de Vars

Refuge Napoléon, Col de Vars, by MOSSOT, Licence CC BY 3.0

They descend via Sainte-Marie and Saint-Marcellin to Guillestre.

Stage 18, Tour de France 2017: Guillestre to the finish at the Col d'Izoard

Col d'Izoard

Climb through the Casse Déserte to the Col d'Izoard, by Kévin Peignot, Licence CC BY-SA 2.0

From Guillestre, it's uphill again, through the Combe de Queyras. The river here is the Guil. The road runs next to the river, and there are limestone cliffs either side. 

Combe de Queyras

Combe de Queyras, by Anthospace, Licence CC BY-SA 3.0

Shortly before the small village of Arvieux, the final climb, of the Col d'Izoard, officially starts.

Profile of the climb of the Col d'Izoard

Profile of the climb of the Col d'Izoard, © ASO/Tour de France

The Col d'Izoard is a route between Guillestre and Briançon. The road was built by General Baron Berge, completed in 1897, and there's a memorial to him at the top. 

Monument at the top of the Col d'Izoard

Monument at the top of the Col d'Izoard

From the south (which is the way the riders are coming from on this Tour stage), the climb to the Col d'Izoard is 14.1km at an average of 7.3%. The road is especially steep at la Chalp (8%) and Brunissard (10%), before it starts to climb with hairpin bends through a conifer forest. After the forest comes the Casse Déserte, a lunar landscape created by differential erosion of the rocks, featuring rock 'chimneys'.

Casse Déserte

Casse Déserte, by Tout pour la science, Licence CC BY-SA 2.5

Beyond the Casse Déserte, there's a very short descent, and here there are plaques dedicated to Louison Bobet and Fausto Coppi. Now, there's about 2km left to climb at about 9%.

Tribute to Bobet & Coppi, Col d'Izoard

Tribute to Bobet & Coppi

The top of the climb of the Col d'Izoard is also the finish of the stage. 

View of the road up to the Col d'Izoard

Road up to the Col d'Izoard, by Pyraniton, Licence CC BY-SA 3.0

Stage 18, Tour de France 2017: favourites for the stage win

Richie Porte

Richie Porte with a teddy bear at Paris-Nice, by Dacoucou, Licence CC BY-SA 4.0

Stage 18 is a difficult mountain stage. Things may look very different after the other seventeen stages - some contenders might have crashed out, and others could be out of form and out of the picture. Given his good form so far this season, maybe Richie Porte can be the first to the top of the Col d'Izoard.

Update: Richie Porte has crashed out of course. The riders looking strongest in the mountains are Fabio Aru and Romain Bardet.

Stage 18, Tour de France 2017: comments

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Stage 19, Tour de France 2017


Salon-de-Provence, by Georges Seguin, Licence CC BY-SA 3.0

Stage 19 of the Tour de France 2017 is 222.5km (the longest of the whole race) from Embrun to Salon-de-Provence. 

Read about Stage 19 of the 2017 Tour de France.

Stage 18, Tour de France 2017: towns, sights and attractions

Stage 18, Tour de France 2017: Briançon


Briançon, by Raffaele Sergi, Licence CC BY 2.0

Briançon is a town, at the confluence of the Durance and the Guisane, in the Hautes Alpes. It's at an altitude of 1,326m. It sits between Italy to the east, and the Parc National des Ecrins to the west. Briançon is one of the towns served by the Serre-Chevalier ski area.

Briançon was called Brigantium by the Romans, and was a settlement where Roman roads through the Alps met. 

The historic centre of the town was built by the military architect Vauban in the 1600s. Because Briançon is close to the Col de Montgenèvre route to Turin, it was often involved in conflicts, and had to protect itself; there are other forts higher up. The town has been extended outside the fortifications, to the south west, down by the river Durance.

Luc Alphand is from Briançon. He was a ski racer, who won the overall World Cup title in 1997. His children are now ski racers, including Sam Alphand (pictured, at the 2017 French Championships in Val Thorens):

Sam Alphand at the French National Championships, Val Thorens, 2017

Photo by ValThorensGuide

As well as skiing in the winter, Briançon is known for cycling and kayaking in the summer. There's good whitewater on the Durance and its tributaries.

Stage 18, Tour de France 2017: Embrun

Tour Brune, Embrun

Tour Brune, Embrun, by Fr. Latreille, Licence CC BY-SA 3.0

Embrun is a town in the Hautes-Alpes, at the northern end of the Lac de Serre-Ponçon. The name is a shortening of Eburodunum, meaning 'fortress where yew trees grow'.

There was a Celtic oppidum here, which became a Gallo-Roman settlement after the Roman conquest. In the Middle Ages, it was part of the county of Provence, then the Dauphiné. It became part of France in 1349, with the rest of the Dauphiné.

Embrun grew in the late 1950s, when a large number of workers were required for the creation of the artificial lake of Serre-Ponçon.

Agriculture here is concentrated on sheep (Sisteron lamb), wine under the Hautes-Alpes label, and apples.

Embrun (France) is twinned with Embrun (Canada).

Stage 18, Tour de France 2017: Lac de Serre-Ponçon

Lac de Serre-Ponçon

Lac de Serre-Ponçon, by Patrick Gaudin, Licence CC BY 2.0

The lac de Serre-Ponçon is an artificial lake, which was created by damming the river Durance, in the late 1950s (project finished 1961). 

It is designed to prevent flooding which used to happen when the Durance burst its banks, and to produce hydro-electric power. It's also used for leisure activities.

Stage 17, Tour de France 2017: Barcelonnette

Villa at Barcelonnette

Mexican-style villa at Barcelonnette, by Stephen Coleborne, Licence CC BY-ND 2.0

Barcelonnette (1,128m) is a town in the Ubaye valley, and the département of the Alpes-de-Hautes-Provence. It is close to the ski resorts of Pra-Loup and le Sauze.

Probably, the name of the town is from the Celtic roots, bar and cin, both meaning rocks or heights. It seems the name doesn't signify 'new Barcelona' after the city in Spain.

Barcelonnette was founded in 1231 by the Count of Provence. It was a ville bastide, with town walls, and streets on a grid pattern. Barcelonnette passed between Provence and Savoie on more than one occasion, but it became part of France with the rest of Provence in 1481.

The main industry here is tourism. There's also agriculture (sheep and cattle), forestry, and fishing.

One curiosity at Barcelonnette are the 'Mexican villas'. A good number of local residents emigrated to Mexico between 1850 and 1950 to work in the textile industry. When they returned, they built houses inspired by an industrial architecture they had seen in Mexico.

BriançonLac de Serre-PonçonCasse Déserte

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