It’s been a long week. The BMC Racing have been rescued, numerous GC contenders have fallen or faded. There’s still uncertainty over the general classification and the eventual winner of the Tour de France, not something we’ve experienced for some time. Geraint Thomas is in a strong position but the more Team Sky deploy their habitual tactics, the more it suits Tom Dumoulin.
The big question isn’t who is the leader at Team Sky, it is whether Thomas can go the distance without a mishap. If he can then he’ll be the one making the victory speech on the Champs Elysées soon. But if he has a collapse then suddenly Froome and Dumoulin are only seconds apart. Thomas leads by a good margin even if half of this owes itself to rivals crashing and a further quarter on time bonuses meaning that he’s not pulled out much time à la pédale. Regardless of how it was achieved, it’s substantial and in recent years Froome has hardly taken any time in the mountains on his rivals in the Tour and judging by La Rosière and Alpe d’Huez he’s not soaring away anytime soon either, short of a Giro-style gamble again. Thomas has question marks over the third week because he’s fallen away in the past but here history is a poor guide, he’s given up on the GC because he could, now there’s everything to race for. Still there’s risk and uncertainty: crashes are a risk for all yet Thomas seems to have a propensity to fall more often; the uncertainty is performance in the third week with three mountain stages and a time trial. He looks at ease, he’s won two mountain stages to extend his lead over Chris Froome and the rest. Yet his rivals will note that just like Dauphiné, Thomas is taking time on summit finishes that aren’t steep, La Rosière and Alpe d’Huez both had finishes in town rather than atop a mountain pass. He’ll face his biggest test this Wednesday with the Col du Portet summit finish.
Who is Sky’s leader? It’s a stale debate that’s been bordering Kremlinology with people reduced to looking for significance of bike placement on the roof of the team cars. It’s a theoretical concern more than a practical one, perhaps if both punctured at the same time and there was only one spare wheel left then who would get it? Out on the road the answer depends on the day, even the moment. Froome remains in a strong position and able to take over but he can feel Dumoulin on his wheel.
Tom Dumoulin is still in contention. A week ago it was hard to see how he could win the Tour, now you can see his route to victory. A moment of audacity on the descent of the Cormet de Roselend shows a risk-taking streak but it’s his consistency that has got him into third place overall, he’s climbing as well as anyone. The irony is Sky’s tactics suit their greatest rival, the high tempo train that has eliminated rivals such as Nairo Quintana on Alpe d’Huez is carrying Dumoulin as a first class passenger. If Thomas cracks then he’s only 11 seconds behind Froome with a time trial to come. If Thomas holds on then Dumoulin is on the podium but this is conditional, a bad day can hit Dumoulin too and the Dutchman’s not much support in the mountains when it comes to the final climb. It’s this uncertainty that is exciting.
There’s a second wave of riders who haven’t waved goodbye to their chances either. Primož Roglič, Romain Bardet and Mikel Landa might still hope to turn the tables. Sure “hope dies last” but Bardet and Landa look unlikely to adopt the third week posture of defending their place on GC. They can save their Tour with mountain stage win and this seems a more likely prospect than climbing into third place because it’s one thing to get above Dumoulin on GC by the end of the Pyrenees, another to stay in front after Saturday’s time trial. Lotto-Jumbo hold some good cards, Steven Kruijswijk’s ride last week was enormous in its audacity and they can try more of the same again.
Magnus Cort Nielsen did a double for Astana after Omar Fraile’s victory the previous day. The Dane has won bunch sprints in the Vuelta a Espana so Ion Izagirre and Bauke Mollema were generous to take him to the finish but how could they hustle him? To attack on the flat roads in Carcassonne would have probably only further reduced their chances. The stage also saw Gianni Moscon excluded from the race after punching another rider, a blow for Team Sky’s hopes to control the race. The UCI may act, remember Andrei Grivko got a 45 day ban from competition, Lars Boom a month. We’ll see what Team Sky do as it’s not the first time he’s in trouble. As Kevin Reza himself lamented after he got racial abuse from Moscon, the suspension from racing came during a likely rest period. Given they’re marking their own homework there’s a good chance Sky suspend Moscon in a similar way. Or he’s forced to ride the Tour of Guangxi.
Meanwhile plenty of sprinters have gone home. The tight time cuts are a factor but one among several, with injuries from the pavé another, illness and others haven’t raced in the mountains much this year. Unlike, say, the Giro where some riders will quit the race to prepare for something else no sprinters elect to abandon the Tour. But in exiting they’re not missing too many chances, there’s just Pau and Paris left. Peter Sagan just has to reach Paris to win the green jersey, the Slovak is only a few points short of his “high score” in 2016 of 470 points. The total depends on the course and other factors but it shows how he’s got a monopoly on this contest. Yesterday he towed Rafał Majka across to the day’s breakaway, he’s likely to do more of this in the coming days.
Julian Alaphilippe and Warren Barguil are duelling for the mountains jersey with 90 points and 70 points each respectively; third placed Serge Pauwels crashed yesterday and is out of the race. The points are doubled on the final climb of the day in the Pyrenees which gives Barguil a good chance as he’s more the pure climber but the team really want a stage win more than the jersey. Also Thomas is on 30 points and he could theoretically collect 40 points on the Portet and Aubisque and be in the mix too.
Elsewhere Movistar lead the team competition which we may not care for but teams do, look how they sent three riders up the road yesterday leaving Landa and Quintana without much support given the day’s final climb and the crosswinds. Pierre Latour leads the best young rider competition with two and a half minutes on Guillaume Martin and six on Egan Bernal and there’s a dilemma, if Martin gets into a big breakaway on a mountain stage will Ag2r chase to defend this or stay all in for Bardet.
|Chris Froome, Tom Dumoulin|
- Tuesday’s stage heads straight into the Pyrenees, a long day with the difficult combo of the Portet d’Aspet and the Menté before a brief trip into Spain and virtual summit on the Col du Portillion because there’s a fast 10km drop to the finish with only a kilometre of flat
- Wednesday is the 65km dash with 3,200 metres of vertical gain to the Col du Portet, via the Peyresourde and the Col d’Azet
- Thursday is a breather, a probable sprint stage but with so few sprinters left, half the peloton will fancy their chances and given only eight teams have won a stage so far there should be a lot of teams trying to flood the breakaway
- Friday is the final mountain stage and a difficult day to drain the riders with a series of strength-sapping climbs and then the descent of the Aubisque which should be repaired just in time
- Saturday is the time trial stage but on a very hilly, twisting course in the Basque country and the winner will be a GC contender rather than a specialist rouleur.