How do you define a champion? Maurice De Muer, manager of Luis Ocaña, described it as someone who was capable of acting alone to turn around a bad situation to their advantage. Does this fit Vincenzo Nibali? He’s been down out in France this July but was the only rider willing to take big risks today and earned the stage win.
The Skies opened on the Col de Chaussy. The opening climb saw a downpour that washed away a lot of Chris Froome’s helpers. Sky tried to filter the moves but got overwhelmed by the waves of attacks. Froome was almost isolated but nobody wanted to profit from it, it was early and there was a lot of climbing to come and before all of that a valley section to drain the legs of the bold.
A big move was clear and on the Col du Glandon Pierre Rolland went solo from this with 67km to go. Too much too soon? Not necessarily as he was climbing faster than the rest and it was better to make his move rather than hang around. But he’d fought hard to finish second yesterday, he’s accumulating efforts ahead of results. Three minutes later on the on the same section of road Geraint Thomas was dropped and saw his overall hopes wash away, another victim of the Glandon, a col that has ruined many riders over the years. At the finish he said he was “completely empty”.
The yellow jersey group started to get attacks with Alejandro Valverde going clear and the group shrinking. As they caught remnants of the breakaway Vincenzo Nibali attacked. The champion question posed at the top for Nibali is conditional because he jumped clear just as Chris Froome had a mechanical. Froome called it “unclassy”. Watching the replay you can see Nibali looking once, twice and then a third time at Froome before attacking only he said he didn’t see it on TV. Of course he did but he feels bad to admit it live on TV. Yet perhaps we should be grateful for the attack or for the stone that apparently lodged in Froome’s rear brake? Because the incident had no effect on Froome but at least made the stage come alive.
The French phrase of the day is la montagne accouche d’une souris or “the mountain gave birth to a mouse”, borrowed from a fable by La Fontaine, it means something big produces something small and today the giant Alpine stage didn’t deliver much. As the yellow jersey group rode up the final climb to La Toussuire the riders were in a long line with the likes of Ruben Plaza and Mathias Frank yo-yoing off and on the group, a sign that the pace was fast but not the fastest possible. Another clue was watching riders eat and drink a lot, Nairo Quintana was chewing solid foods and you half expected someone to pull out a sandwich, even a napkin.
It was with five kilometres to go that Nairo Quintana went clear and deployed his “double attack”, first an acceleration to get a gap and then as Froome came back the Colombian jumped again and began to distance Froome for good and take 30 seconds plus a six second time bonus. Vincenzo Nibali moves up to fourth place, 80 seconds off a podium place but he’s likely to pay for his efforts today even if Valverde is fading.
Romain Bardet wins the mountains jersey for a day but holds a slender lead and the double points on tomorrow’s summit finish tilts the competition to Froome. Meanwhile Peter Sagan wears green and André Greipel can only win if he wins the intermediate sprint tomorrow and takes the stage in Alpe d’Huez and then repeats with the intermediate sprint in Paris and the stage too. Put another way Sagan’s won the green jersey.
It sets up an action-packed final stage in the Alps tomorrow with the Croix-de-Fer and then Alpe d’Huez, all in just 110km. Nairo Quintana took 30 seconds in 5km on Froome which suggests he can ride away on the Alpe but for the stage win not the yellow jersey. All Froome has to do is manage a buffer of two and half minutes but without his team mates. Thomas cracked today, Richie Porte’s been on antibiotics, Nicolas Roche was dropped on the Glandon and only Wout Poels offers the guarantee of help.