Stage 17 Wrap
A fierce start with 55km/h average for the first 15 minutes and 50km covered in the first hour. Over the first climb some riders jumped across from the bunch to the breakaway including Vasil Kiryienka who did what he does best and just rode so hard that he went clear. FDJ have nicknamed their scooter “Vasil” because they use it to train riders to sit tight on the back for a long high intensity session, the same as sitting in the front group when Kiryienka gets to work for Sky. But FDJ’s coach Fred Grappe is also persuaded that Sky are pushing their riders so (too) hard that they’re heading for burn out. Yes or no, Kiryienka faded on the the Col d’Azet and was caught. The larger group included Rafał Majka in his polka dot jersey although be looked tired in the first half of the stage… …and reversed this on the final climb where he started with a deficit on several riders and sailed past them. The last rider he caught was Giovanni Visconti, the Italian had attacked earlier but it seemed like bravado and the longer the climb went on the more he was churning the gears. Majka caught him and the two briefly worked together but the Pole attacked and rode away for the stage win. He’s climbing so well you wonder if he really wants to be on a team in the service of Alberto Contador. Presumably he can take his chances elsewhere during the season.
Further back and the GC contenders sat tight until the last climb. Thibaut Pinot was the first to attack but he was countered by Jean-Christophe Péraud and in time Vincenzo Nibali and Jean-“Limpet” Péraud rode away although the Frenchman did share some of the work. Behind Valverde was initially dropped but thanks to team support was paced back and even found the energy for a “shotgun” finish, bursting past Thibaut Pinot to steal a few seconds. Péraud might be France’s third man but the likeable rider is fourth overall and the best option for a French podium finish. But each time we do the numbers something happens the next day.
- Km 28.0 – Côte de Bénéjacq, 2.6 kilometre-long climb at 6.7% – category 3
- Km 56.0 – Côte de Loucrup, 2 kilometre-long climb at 7% – category 3
- Km 95.5 – Col du Tourmalet (2 115 m) Souvenir Jacques Goddet, 17.1 kilometre-long climb at 7.3% – category H
- Km 145.5 – Montée du Hautacam (1 520 m), 13.6 kilometre-long climb at 7.8% – category H
Another day and another stage that’s shorter than many U-23 races. But all the better as it makes it more lively and you don’t need much more during the third week of a grand tour. There are two climbs along the way but the early part of the stage is relatively flat. Whatever the Côte de Bénéjacq and the Côte de Loucrup can offer the valley road to St Marie de Campan offers more. The approach to the Tourmalet is a hard ride with some climbing just to get to the foot of the pass.
The Tourmalet starts easily enough, the road to Gripp is gentle and creates a false illusion of comfort. But from here the road rises up and the road climbs via a series of long ramps. This is arguably the uglier side but it’s equally hard as the stiff slopes attest. The further on it goes the harder it gets with double-digit gradients as the race climbs through the resort of La Mongie. The descent is fast and if there’s nothing wild there are several risky points on the way down.
Once the race reaches Luz the descent ends and the race takes a larger valley road. The profile makes it look like a long freewheel but this isn’t the case at all, it’s a slow descent to the foot of the final climb.
The Finish: a gentle and even genteel start as the race climbs out of Ayros on a wide road. It’s hard but steady at the start but after a right turn and a funnel section through a narrow road the climb becomes more wild. Onwards and if the black slopes look bad, they’re actually worse with 15% gradients in places. The final five kilometres are high selective and it’s uphill all the way to the line.
The Scenario: rinse and repeat? This is another short mountain stage. But unlike yesterday it’s just got two climbs, the giant Tourmalet and the tough finish. I think we’re likely to see a breakaway go clear early and the GC contenders save themselves for the final climb. Any move on the Tourmalet is too bold with the long descent and valley section before the final climb.
The Contenders: a tough day for Rafał Majka. He leads the mountains competition but the final climb offers 50 points to the winner. Does he try and infiltrate the early move to get points on the Tourmalet or save himself for the double-points bonanza at the end? Mikel Nieve was very fast on the final climb yesterday. But there were no prizes for that and today’s his last chance. The same for Pierre Rolland, Joaquim Rodriguez, Nicolas Roche and José Serpa. Alessandro de Marchi has been strong but I don’t think he’s punchy enough for the stage win.
Among the GC candiates, Vincenzo Nibali sits above all the rest. Did Thibaut Pinot have an off day yesterday? If so then he could recover for today. Romain Bardet prefers irregular climbs and there’s nothing more uneven than Hautacam.
|Mikel Nieve, Thibaut Pinot|
|Rafał Majka, Nicolas Roche|
|Pierre Rolland, Brice Feillu|
Weather: cooler and the further the race goes the more likely it is to rain. The Tourmalet and Hautacam could be in the clouds.
TV: live from start to finish, 1.15pm Euro time to 5.30pm.