Religious miracles have been built on less. Alberto Contador’s resurrection from a broken leg to the strongest legs in Spain continues as he rolls on towards Santiago de Compostella. It’s hard to see how he can be beaten now and the battle for the podium could be settled too.
Clunk. Contador shifted to a big gear and just as his chain dropped onto a smaller sprocket so did his cadence drop. Chris Froome looked back and looked again but as soon as he resumed looking at his stem Contador jumped, winding up the newly selected big gear and Froome had no answer, preferring to pace himself as he’s done in recent days. It was a demonstration of force, for all that Froome suddenly had the advantage on Alejandro Valverde and Joaquim Rodriguez. Froome lost time to Contador and could well lose more later this week. So far Froome’s form has resembled yesterday’s stage profile, a series of ever-higher peaks with troughs in between. If he’s getting better he’s probably lost too much time to challenge for the red jersey.
We’ve come out of a three days of summit finishes and now it’s time for a rest day. No need to zoom on in the graphics above, the flat profile of following stages says plenty. Stage 18 does have an uphill finish but the steep parts come early, it’s only Saturday’s stage to the Puerto de Ancares that guarantees time gaps. Never say never, even the flat stages could see an ambush or the race split in the crosswind but these chances are slim.
Crashes happen a lot but it’s been a year that’s seen Rodriguez crash out of the Giro, Froome and Contador exit the Tour de France and Quintana leave the Vuelta so perhaps Contador is nervous? The race has lost more riders while Rigoberto Uran has caught bronchitis.
There is the chance of a battle between Chris Froome and Alberto Contador. If both are in the ascendency, Froome’s improvement rate doesn’t look enough to put a minute into Alberto Contador on the Puerto de Ancares and then close the remaining deficit in the short final time trial. Meanwhile the closer contest seems to be between Joaquim Rodriguez and Alejandro Valverde for the final podium place. In the image the pained look from Rodriguez almost suggests he’s watching a podium place disappear up the road.
For many the Tour de France lost its fun once Vincenzo Nibali rode away on the Planche des Belles Filles. His hold on the yellow jersey certainly looked convincing. But we had a story of French youth emerging and other podium challengers. Thibaut Pinot and Romain Bardet, plus J-C Péraud, Tejay van Garderen and others. This time the podium fight is between Alejandro Valverde and Joaquim Rodriguez, aged 34 and 35 respectively. Not to be ageist, it’s more these are wisened characters who we’ve seen and heard from before. With these podium perennials it’s not la Vuelta de la renovación.
But look closer and there are younger riders thriving. Fabio Aru has taken his first win outside of Italy and seems more consistent than the Giro. There’s talk Vincenzo Nibali could aim for the Giro and Tour double next year but Aru’s performances suggest he can assume leadership next year. Thinking more, do Astana want to keep two Italian leaders? Warren Barguil too is doing a solid job, he’s still a second year pro and 22 years old. At the same age Vincenzo Nibali was finishing 19th in the Giro. Barguil’s got some margin for improvement too given he was 56th in the time trial stage. It’s taken some time but 28 year old Dan Martin is finally having the grand tour he’s always promised.
It looks like a duel between John Degenkolb and Alejandro Valverde. Both want to win, Degenkolb for the sake of the win and Valverde as a bonus to accompany a podium place. But Degenkolb risks pushing himself hard in the third week when he might otherwise have had an eye on the World Championships.
It’s 25-20-16-14-12-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 points for the first 15 riders on the finish line and 4-2-1 points so a sprint win or two this week could be enough for Degenkolb. Giant-Shimano will be toiling to contain breakaways and in the absence of Peter Sagan and Nacer Bouhanni might not have much support to reel in escapees.
There’s less of a competition here are L-L Sanchez’s raid yesterday where he collected plenty of points. Sanchez has yet to achieve an arithmetic win but if Valverde wants the jersey he’ll have to sprint for some smaller climbs before placing on Saturday’s summit finish.
Alberto Contador is right where he needs to be. He might not have a commanding lead but his advantage is enough to survey his rivals and perhaps force Chris Froome into a high risk early attack on the Puerto de Ancares. The other podium places are looking more and more obvious, especially with the final time trial which could leave Joaquim Rodriguez floundering in fourth place.
All fixed? We might know what looks likely but seeing how events turn out and the variety of terrain in the final days mean there’s plenty to keep watching.