Will the final mountain stage and its high altitude summit finish be enough to prise apart the overall contenders? This is a double day of racing, tune in to watch La Course and then again to see Le Tour.
Stage 17 Review: a lively stage. A big crash took down many riders including Warren Barguil and Marcel Kittel, the green jersey would later abandon which makes Michael Matthews a certainty for the green jersey as long as he makes it to the finish in Paris. Barguil recovered but this meant he missed the day’s breakaway when his rivals for the polka dot jersey Thomas De Gendt and Primož Roglič didn’t and they began to score points. The break had three Trek-Segafredo riders and they were to serve as relay points for Alberto Contador’s Tour swansong. He took off early on the climb of the Glandon-Croix de Fer and caught the breakaway before the top with the help of relays from Gogl and Pantano and Mollema helped on the valley approach. But Contador paid for his efforts on the Galibier, his face wincing as Roglič looked much smoother and eventually the Slovenian rider took off solo for the stage win. It didn’t work out for Contador but he still moved up two places overall into the top-10 and the act of trying was pure Contador. Many of us might remember his lively racing in the Tour of the Basque Country or the superb stage of Paris-Nice but doing it in the Tour de France is a very different theatre.
Behind the yellow jersey group thinned fast and once again was quickly down to the usual suspects only this time repeated attacks from Romain Bardet distanced Fabio Aru. The Italian got back on twice but was dropped over the top of the Galibier and the long descent was a hard place to chase and he lost 31 seconds as Froome, Bardet and Rigoberto Urán took turns to ensure Aru was distanced, with help from Warren Barguil and Mikel Landa, to help secure their podium positions because they can’t be separated among themselves even if Urán and Froome sprinted to take bonus seconds.
The Route: an opening phase of 50km south up the Durance valley, a strengh-sapping road especially if the wind is up but also the chance for any optimistic breakaway candidates to establish a lead by the time they reach the cobalt waters of the Serre-Ponçon lake and then the climbing begins, first with a road that rises away from the lake, no mountain pass but still good for some KoM points.
The Col de Vars is 9.3km at 7.5% and climbs beyond 2,100m above sea level but feels fast for a lot of the way, there’s even a small descent but this all adds to the illusion of an easy climb until the final kilometres where the altitude and gradient bite. They drop to Guillestre via a long descent but it’s not technical or difficult, this is not the place for Romain Bardet to take a minute on his rivals. The road is long and straight and the middle part of the descent is flat, even uphill at times. After Guillestre it starts climbing the scenic “whitewater” road of the Combe de Queyras as they approach the final climb for 15km via the Gorges du Guil with its ramp and tunnels.
The Finish: a hors catégorie climb. 14.1km at 7.3% would be a hard climb if this was a level ramp but it’s not, a gentle start only means a higher price to pay later at altitude. The early slopes are as the profile suggests and then at Brunissard the slope pitches up and the hairpins begin, complete with the defining Izoard or Queyras landscape of scree and pine trees beside the road. The profile says 10% but there’s 12-14% to contend with early on. It’s all on a relentless, wide road, it’s hard to get out of sight. The Col de la Platrière is reached and followed by a brief 500m descent, nothing technical and normally the chance to take in the views of the Casse Déserte area and its unusual rock formations before the final two kilometres to the finish, uphill at 9-10%.
The Contenders: Chris Froome has yet to win a stage. You don’t have to win a stage to win the Tour de France – see Roger Walkowkiak, Greg LeMond or Oscar Pereiro – but every winner wants to stamp their seal on the race. Now desire and capability are two different things but Froome has matched all the attacks from his rivals and only has to do so again before launching into a final flurry of blurred limbs to take the stage win.
Romain Bardet will attack but will it pay off? He had to be held back from attacking yesterday by his team but this time there’s no pesky headwind descent. Especially if Fabio Aru can be ejected prior then the field is open for Bardet to attack without any downside, heads he drops Froome and Urán and wins the Tour de France, tails he doesn’t but still finishes on the podium with bonus points for panache.
It’s a similar story for Rigoberto Urán. He’s been content to follow throughout the race but one successful attack can change everything and if it doesn’t pay off then he’s still on the podium. That said he’s raced cautiously and this has delivered 22 seconds in time bonuses so far so once again he can track the others and sprint for any time bonuses on the line, a delight for the legion of Colombian fans on the day of their country’s Declaracion de la Independencia.
Is Mikel Landa the strongest climber in the race? Will he be on team duty? These two questions create a tension. Not the polemic sort, rather he is capable of winning the stage but could be on duty and that includes helping Froome to the time bonus on offer so as much as Landa may want the glory he’s paid to help Froome take time.
Warren Barguil is climbing with the best as we saw on the Galibier. He can go in a breakaway or follow the leaders and pick off the stage win. Dan Martin is an outside pick, he can get away from the others as we’ve seen but today’s stage is a prestigious one and so he’ll have even less room.
Can the breakaway stay clear? Maybe but the chances look slim as Team Sky and others will race hard to the approach of the Col de Vars and the Col d’Izoard.
|Romain Bardet, Rigoberto Urán|
|Barguil, Landa, Dan Martin|
Weather: sunshine turning cloudy and the possibility of a thunderstorm. A top temperature of 27°C in the valleys. The wind is a permanent menace today, the Serre Ponçon lake is a kitesurfing hotspot for a reason, the geography and micro-climate mean it’s often windy but for bike racing it’s hard to forecast where the wind will blow.
TV: live from the start at 12.45pm CET with the finish forecast for 5.35pm CET. You can watch the women climb the Izoard first because La Course will on TV from 9.45am to 11.45am.