A pause in the mountain stages, today’s stage offers a gourmet journey to Pau for the cyclotouriste. For the race a likely sprint finish but so many teams have won nothing in the Tour so far that the day’s breakaway is unlikely to belong to a handful of wildcard dreamers.
Stage 17 Review: the grid start seemed to get some into a buzz but as loyal readers will have read over a month ago it was more suggested this was always more theatrical than practical, it was still a mass start up the Peyresourde, the widest climb of them all, as opposed to a mountain bike race with singletrack up ahead. Tanel Kangert took off and Julian Alaphilippe was energetic once again to score as many mountain points as possible and soon joined the Astana rider. Quintana looked to be on a bad day with a puncture and a bike change, efforts nobody wanted to make on such an intense stage.
There wasn’t much GC action on the Peyresourde, it’s a big boulevard after all, a climb to sit on the wheels. The Col d’Azet was more spicy with Ag2r La Mondiale and Movistar accelerating but their combined budgets are probably less than Sky’s and if it softened up the race it didn’t do too much more. Pierre Latour and Marc Soler did the work, one day soon they’ll have others working for them.
Onto the final climb and Nairo Quintana took off before the first hairpin and one by one picked up all the riders ahead and finally landed a stage win, something that’s eluded him since 2013 despite all his promise; yet at the same time this was the same kind of win he took in Arosa last month in the Tour de Suisse, an attack from the foot of the final climb. Froome looked uncomfortable, or at least even more so than usual with a tell of his tongue hanging out and indeed he lost time; Romain Bardet even more. More confident, Primož Roglič tried several moves, Tom Dumoulin too and Geraint Thomas looked in control, he was able to accelerate in the finish and take time. Egan Bernal’s support role was huge, a 21 year-old and soon he’ll be picking which grand tour to target in 2019.
The 65km dash was novel but this probably could have been a 125km stage, it was high tempo but not delirious. It ended up as an important day, a decisive stage that opened up significant time gaps and had some surprises. Go back 24 hours and imagine Froome cracking, Sagan crashing and Quintana winning? Thomas looks in control but the race isn’t done, with more climbing in the Pyrenees to come tomorrow and the tricky time trial on Saturday.
The Route: 171km and a route that loosely resembles a meandering river more than the direct route from the start in Trie-sur-Baïse (be sure to emphasise the ï otherwise it’s a rude word) to the finish in Pau. There’s not much going with the course today, this ought to be the Sybaritic stage as it passes plenty of foie gras farms and through Madiran, home of the eponymous red wines. Then it’s on to Pau for the almost annual stage finish. Why? Because it’s a regional capital, because it has hotel beds.
The Finish: a flat run-in on big boulevards and 550m long finishing straight.
The Contenders: who’s left? Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) crashed yesterday and is sore but (hopefully) rides on, this could cost him. Arnaud Démare (Groupama-FDJ) has been struggling to meet the time cuts and could be rinsed today, his sprint in Valence last week after the Alps was hampered by his fatigue from the Alps and he’s been slogging across the Pyrenees. Which leaves Alexander Kristoff (UAE-Emirates) as the obvious choice with John Degenkolb (Trek-Segafredo), Sonny Colbrelli (Bahrain-Merida) and Christophe Laporte (Cofidis) in the mix too. But the nailed-on sprint stages require big sprinter teams and today the balance could change, with few sprinters teams left and many teams without a win today this is a stage where a lot of teams will fire riders up the road. This in turn changes the balance of the stage if a bigger move can get clear.
Who to pick for the breakaway? It’s random pick but we need three strong rouleurs or finisseurs, the kind who won’t wait for the sprint today, nor be on team duty so Jasper Stuyven is out as he’ll be working for Degenkolb. So maybe Taylor Phinney (EF Education First-Drapac), Daryl Impey (Mitchelton-Scott), Reinardt Janse Van Rensberg (Dimension Data), Magnus Cort Nielsen (Astana) and Lilian Calmejane (Direct Energie) if he can marshal his energy. Finally Nikias Arndt (Team Sunweb) has won bunch sprints too, often with his customary seated style.
|Alexander Kristoff, Peter Sagan|
|Démare, Degenkolb, Arndt, Laporte, Colbrelli,|
Weather: hot and sunny, a top temperature of 33°C.
TV: live from the start at 1.55pm CEST with the finish forecast for 5.45pm CEST. There could be a fight to get in the breakaway so tune in for this, otherwise the action is likely at the end.