Stage 18 represents the last of three days in the Pyrenees for the 2014 Tour de France and much is expected after Tuesday and Wednesday's stellar racing.
Although the race for the yellow jersey is effectively wrapped up—Vincenzo Nibali's lead is more than five minutes ahead of Alejandro Valverde in second—podium places are still very much up for grabs and will be fought for.
Equally, Thursday's stage represents a final opportunity for many teams and riders to claim a win as the last three days include a time trial and two potential sprint finishes.
The final day in the mountains contains the two hardest ascents of the entire race and a summit finish, so a tough day is in store for the riders.
Date: Thursday, 24 July
Distance: 144.5 km
Profile: Mountain (High)
TV Info and Live Stream: NBCSN (for U.S. viewers) and ITV4 (for U.K. viewers) will be broadcasting every stage of the 2014 Tour de France, with mobile coverage available via NBC Sports' Live Extra and the ITV Player app.
|6||Tejay van Garderen||United States||BMC Racing||+10:19|
|8||Laurens ten Dam||Netherlands||Belkin||+12:16|
|9||Leopold Konig||Czech Republic||NetApp||+12:40|
Pau plays host to the start of Stage 18, from where there is about 80 kilometres of relatively easy going before the bottom of the first ascent and the infamous climb of Tourmalet.
However, there are still two categorised climbs in the opening section which could cause splits in the peloton with breakaways being launched.
The first ascent is very tough, and the climb to the first summit is just over 17 kilometres long and with an average gradient of 7.3 per cent.
Cyclingfans.com's Pete Geyer provides the full stage profile for a challenging day:
Thursday's TDF Stage 18 (Tourmalet + finish at Hautacam) will be broadcast LIVE start to finish: pic.twitter.com/ETBFdxs20O— Pete Geyer (@cyclingfans) July 23, 2014
On the back of a tiring day on Stage 17, it will be very tough going for the riders. Another very hard climb to the final summit finish of the 2014 Tour at Hautacam should see plenty in the mix as they look for a stage win.
There are fewer, less frequent peaks for Stage 18 than there were for the previous day, but that will be no comfort for the riders, as it does include two of the toughest climbs of the whole race.
Breakaways are to be expected, particularly from those teams who have no general classification contenders to worry about—perhaps Team Sky, who would love a stage win after a dire Tour.
However, those battling it out for the podium spots behind Nibali—and who feel they may lose time in Saturday's time trial—will also be looking to make some serious headway.
That means the likes of Valverde and French trio Thibaut Pinot, Jean-Christophe Peraud and Romain Bardet will likely all be in the mix come the final ascent of Hautacam.
The 34-year-old Spaniard Valverde looks vulnerable and was dropped in Wednesday's stage, and he must show his mettle if he wants to preserve his second place.
While Nibali's lead is such that he needs to take no risks whatsoever and will likely be content to ensure he maintains his lead, his skill and determination are such that it would be no surprise to see him attack the final climb.
Wednesday's stage-winner, Rafal Majka, will also be keen to keep the polka-dot jersey and thus will likely be in the mix, he sits 31 points ahead of Nibali in the race for the King of the Mountains with Joaquim Rodriguez six points further back.
There will be plenty of movement throughout the stage and attack after attack taking place on the climbs; however, expect someone in the early break to reach the finish first.