Tour de France Stage 17 Preview

The profile doesn’t do today’s course justice, this is the most technical time trial seen in the Tour de France for years, the kind of route where even a team manager will sweat the car around this course. To make things even harder, there’s a high chance of a thunderstorm and a downpour.

It’s a crucial moment in the race. If Chris Froome seems unshakable in yellow, the other places are still up for grabs.

Stage 16 Review
There was no doubting the winner. Rui Costa simply rode away on the Col de Manse to take the stage, leaving riders like Philippe Gilbert, Thomas Voeckler and Thomas De Gendt trailing. No surprise, he won the Tour of Switzerland in part because of a mountain time trial.

Behind the Katusha team set a fierce pace on the Col de Manse and soon seven riders were left: Chris Froome, Richie Porte, Alberto Contador, Roman Kreuziger, Nairo Quintana, Joaquim Rodriguez and Bauke Mollema. Contador tried several attacks and Porte was dropped but was able to get back. On the descent Contador was forcing the pace, leaning into the corners like a kid trying to imitate Dani Pedrosa and a man trying intimidate Chris Froome. But a shuffle on a corner Contador scrape his knee whilst Froome ride onto the grass verge, unclipping and stumbling but not falling. This left the pair nervous, Contador with a weeping knee whilst Froome crying foul play after the stage.

Movistar had a very successful day. As well as the stage win the saw Nairo Quintana leapfrog Laurens Ten Dam into fifth place overall and without the Colombian having to put his nose in the wind, ideal ahead of today’s effort. Plus Michał Kwiatkowski lost more time, helping extend Quintana’s lead in best young rider competition.

The Route

  • Km 6.5 – Côte de Puy-Sanières 6.4km at 6% – category 2
  • Km 20.0 – Côte de Réallon 6.9km at 6.3% – category 2

32km in the middle of the Alps, the race starts in Embrun and climbs the road to Puy-Sanières. It’s a winding road in places as it climbs past green pastures with splendid views of Lake Serre-Ponçon below. The slope is irregular at times, the 6% label is an average and requires riders to pace themselves and get their gearing right. The first time check is taken at the top.

The descent is on a small and narrow road and steeper than the climb up. It’s a proper Alpine descent where riders will be freewheeling in an aero tuck one minute, sitting up to brake and sprinting out of corners although it’s not loaded with hairpin bends.

The climb towards Réallon might feel really long. It’s another small road where the gradient keeps changing. Do you shift gears or power up that ramp? After 20km the race reaches the second time check. Then a false flat and after St Apollinaire the road opens up into the cycling equivalent of a Super-G ski course with wide bends, at least relatively compared to the roads before – to be taken at high speed.

There’s almost 900m of vertical gain today, as FDJ’s Jérémy Roy pointed out on here during his May visit, it’s the same amount as climbing Alpe d’Huez (well almost). Of course it’s via two climbs but this makes it two mountain time trials… with two descents added on. It means the first check will tell us who is climbing well but the second will let us know who is at ease on the descents. Pacing will be difficult as even the uphill sections are irregular and this is before the descents. If mountain time trials are common in the Tour de France, the use of descents like this is rare and for obvious safety reasons downhill time trials are rare in the sport. Today’s stage is therefore exceptional… and exceptionally dangerous.

The Scenario
Chris Froome is the best climber and was a close second to Tony Martin in the Mont St Michel time trial. With this in mind surely only a bolt of lightning could stop him. But actually he’s got a good lead and might want to save his legs for the coming days. Not that he’ll swap his aero helmet for pith one, sipp on a Pimms and enjoy an Alpine safari but he could decide to cruise at 95%. Note he wasn’t convincing in the Vuelta time trial – third but he was descending with caution – but he’d not visited the course before.

Bauke Mollema sits second overall but has Alberto Contador and Roman Kreuziger right behind him. The Saxo-Tinkoff riders seem to be in the ascendant for the third week whilst Mollema seemed uncomfortable, almost sitting diagonally on the bike.

Nairo Quintana is a good pick. He surprised some with his time trial win in the Tour of the Basque Country on a very technical course. Alejandro Valverde was strong in the Stage 11 time trial and will be much more at ease with the route here.

Amongst the others, it’s hard to imagine a top-3 but Andrew Talansky is one to watch too. 12th to Mont St Michel, he’s better suited to the climbing. Meanwhile Jean-Christophe Péraud continues his stealthy raid into the top-10 and could consolidate his position.

The course looks too hilly for Tony Martin. He can climb ok and his technical skills are valuable on this course but I can’t see him in the top three on a normal day. But look at the weather forecast. The German will be doing a rain dance as he’s off at 12.39pm. He’s got Jonathan Castroviejo ahead and the two could benefit from dry roads. The weather could benefit others, think Rein Taaramäe or Tejay van Garderen. The enigmatic Thomas de Gendt could be another outsider but he was working hard in the breakaway yesterday.

Tech Talk
Many riders have visited this course to see the roads for themselves so there should not be any surprises. But opinions vary on bike choice. Chris Froome is expected to ride a road bike with tri-bar extensions but others will use an adapted road bike and then swap to a pure TT bike, perhaps with a giant chainring, for the last part downhill to gain time.

10 am to 12 pm: sunny then clouds. 22-24°C.
12pm to 2pm: Lots of clouds, small showers. 22-24°C.
2pm to 4pm: big thunderstorms. 20-24°C
4pm to 6pm: thunderstorms. 22°C
Thunderstorms mean wet roads, an obvious danger. But it means conditions can change very suddenly. The wind can get up, temperatures can change. Plus the sun can reappear and quickly dry the roads.

TV: live from 2.00pm Euro time onwards. The first rider sets off at 10.15am with Chris Froome leaving 4.33pm and he’s expected to arrive at 5.20pm.

37 thoughts on “Tour de France Stage 17 Preview”

  1. I’m interested in the fact that some riders will opt to change bikes during the time trial and what your views are on this. I think I would prefer it if the riders had to declare what style of bike they were going to ride and stick with that (including having to change onto the same style bike in the event of a mechanical) which would add another tactical nouance to the race. Also can the bikes be swapped quick enough for the rider to make up the time lost while changing and how is this calculated ?

    • Bike changes mid time trial are nothing new – Jean-Francois Bernard swapped bikes in the 1987 Mont Ventoux time trial, which started on the flat. He had about 20 minutes of flat TT’ing with full on lo-pro / disc wheels, before swapping to a road bike for the 1hr or so of climbing. The speed gain of using a proper TT bike for the flat section was reckoned to more than make up for the time spent effecting the change.


    • Surely making riders have to declare what bike they’ll be using and then restricting them to that whatever the conditions are will add less, not more, tactical nuance. Cycling has always been a sport free from restrictions, in comparison to other sports at least. If riders want to keep leaping off their bike onto a different one at various points, then why not? Let them if they want, and it will make it more interesting to us as the viewers to see what they can do with it. Good luck to them, and full credit to the sport of cycling for having such free and uncontrolled rules governing what the competitors can choose to do in order to gain an advantage!

    • I’m interested as well, as I thought a course like this would be the ideal showcase for their TT/racebike hybrids (Canyon Aeroad, Cervelo S-series, Specialised Venge, …). Bike manufacturers claim these are the ultimate mix for fast bikes that are still good for climbing as well. This point is ofcourse undermined by riders changing bikes.

  2. Sagan a sneaky outside bet for today? Tour de Suisse TT result, descending skills and the chance of weather worsening as the day goes on made me think of him. No need to save the legs, he will comfortably ride in the grupetto for the next few days.

      • I read in Sky’s race report yesterday that Porte is planning on taking it easy today to save himself so he has more in the tank to work for Froome in the next couple of days.

        At the bottom here:,27290,17565_8827008,00.html

        Porte agreed, and revealed he would be saving himself on the 17th stage in preparation for the bigger test to come. He added: “I’m going to take it as easy as I can tomorrow. For me, it’s all about those last three days in the mountains, to be there for Chris and make sure he’s supported as much as possible on those climbs.”

      • Looks like they will be – from

        “There are two categorised climbs in stage 17: the côte de Puy-Sanières (6.5km) and the côte de Réallon (30km): these are both category-two ascents carrying 5, 3, 2 and 1 points for the fastest four up them in the TT.”

        • So presumably there must be another timing point, unmarked on the profile, at the foot of the second climb? Which would have the incidental effect of showing not only who is the fastest climber, but also who is the best descender if the times got published! (You would effectively have four segments of the course: climb / descent / climb / descent).


          • There is another timing point (no. 2) at the foot of the first descent. However, it’s not clear to me if the 2nd KoM points will go to the riders who are fastest between point 2 and point 3, or just the riders who have the fastest split times at point 3. (It does look clear that there will be KoM points for the riders with the fastest split times at point 1.)

  3. What’s up with Phil Gil??
    Always smiling despite his poor performances, he just seems happy to cash his 4m Euro salary…
    When will he start winning again?!?

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