Tour de France Stage 18 Preview

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.

Chris Froome
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.

96 thoughts on “Tour de France Stage 18 Preview”

  1. I am with the camp that believes Froome has aimed to reach peak for late in the race and suspect he has been aiming for his winning attack on the Izoard all along. For the rest, it could still be a major shake up with significant time gaps. Bardet is the least likely to crack in my opinion, but Uran, Aru, Landa, and Martin could all be dropped out of sight. Aru and Martin seem to be on the verge; Uran is the biggest question mark.
    Super bummed for Kittel’s abandonment; the open green jersey battle with Sagan’s DQ was really heating up heading into Friday and Sunday.
    Thanks again Inrng for all the great work to enrich our experience!

    • In my opinion Froome is not peaking late to get this stage. Froome was not Froome at Dauphine, and we never saw Team Sky of earlier years where it blew everyone apart and then Froome taking over to blow up GC contenders. In my mind this is for a reason. Sky knows it will take this years Tour once again and Froome chose to go for the Double with the Vuelta.

      Froome is second every year in the Vuelta with a dominant performance in the Tour. This year for Froome and SKY was a conservative Tour. “Win with less energy expense” . Save your self for the Vuelta and go for the double that puts you on the Pantheon of Double winners ( Cannibal, Coppi, Pantani, Anquetil, Hinault, Indurain, Battaglin, Roche). No matter if you like Froome or not he is a guy that loves cycling and wants a legacy. It shows it in interviews that he is into the sport. Without making marketing moves like Contador or Quintana, in a Froomesque silent way, I think he is going for the double.

      He missed the Dauphine, is conservative in the Tour, only to peak in the Vuelta.

      With Quintana/Contador out of the way, and Aru/Bardet/Uran expensed in the Tour he does not seem to have too much competition for a Grand Tour. He was second every year and there are no real competitors this year for first place.

      • +1… with the aside that I don’t think the Vuelta will be easy. I do agree the double was always the plan and I think that 2016 was the reason for that. Sky and Froome himself saw how close he came last year (as they silently curse Contador under their breath yet again). It convinced them he could win two in one year.

      • Not sure SKY would have planned a conservative tour with Richie Porte in mind? Had he not crashed out would surely be challenging for the overall.

      • Froome was ill in the Dauphiné apparently. As for peaking, I’d like to hear from others as I’m not sure you can peak late into a grand tour because the body is breaking down by then. Instead you can only try to manage this decline by coming in as fresh as possible etc. But would be good to hear what others think.

        • Yes, by week 3 it’s about who fades the least.

          You can change the training strategy leading into a GT depending on your objectives.

          As strange as it might sound, the first week of the tour can actually represent a sizeable reduction in the normal training load for some GC riders/stage hunters and result in freshening up before heading into week 2. If done right it will see a rider use week 2 to lay the foundations for a decent overall result and experience less fade in the final week, or for a stage hunter take advantage of all the tired legs to make their raids. These riders don’t actually start the Tour fresh because they expect to freshen up over the first week. Quality team mates giving you protection and support to minimise your energy expenditure helps.

          If you arrive at the opening stage already fresh, you might attain some early glory but can actually lose some form by mid tour. This strategy might be better suited to a sprinter or TT specialist that wants to claim early stage glory but go home early to begin their prep for worlds.

          Obviously the parcours affects the nature of the training strategy. You can’t go in overly fatigued as you still need to be in the hunt after the opening week.

          • How close to the tour do / should the riders complete their altitude training?
            I recall Gabriele pointing out that Contador was at altitude in Tenerife a week before the start, but he came in looking heavy legged?

          • It’s individually variable as the response to altitude training, the optimal altitude workload, and post-altitude improvement duration is all individually variable. It’s the sort of thing that takes some years to assess and develop optimal approaches for.

      • I think the idea that sky have tried to win at the slowest possible speed is nonsense. the quality of the competition is too high, the risk is too great. sky have been trying the same suffocation tactics as in previous tours but the parcours and the competition have not allowed it. they are also missing geraint thomas, who would have been a big help.

        the reason the GC is this close so late on is because we haven’t had that many selective stages and i believe that the individuals are more closely matched this year. i don’t think froome is necessarily worse – he looked super comfortable yesterday, an ominous sign for the others – but the likes of bardet, aru and martin are improved. landa we know was already high quality.

      • I like the theory about holding back for the Vuelta but I am not convinced. It is possible Froome would do this but I don’t think Sky would give their blessing to the idea. For Sky (the sponsor) the Tour is hugely important. The team defined its initial goal as winning the Tour with a British rider and I don’t think they would take any chances with that for the sake of the lowest profile of the Grand Tours.

        I think it is much more likely that Sky and Froome looked at this year’s parcours for the Tour and realised that they couldn’t break it open in the first ten days as they usually do and timed his peak for these three stages at the end. He looked very comfortable containing Bardet yesterday and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he launches a big attack late on the Izoard to get 30s to a minute on his rivals, effectively putting the race to bed. On the other hand, he seems confident that he already has enough of a margin ahead of the TT so he may just sit on Uran and Bardet and wait for Marseille.

        • I doubt that Froome is as comfortable with his lead as he let’s on. Any puncture or other mechanical in the TT, and that’s 30 seconds gone immediately. I’m sure he’ll try to put a bit more time into Bardet and Uran today if he can.

        • I echo those thoughts above.
          You cannot really time to ‘peak’ in the third week – all you can do is go in slightly fresher with a longer taper than normal. You cannot peak as peaking requires specific short hard interval sessions with rest, building on the aerobic base and the anaerobic threshold. There is just not the opportunity for this in a grand tour, and there is not the recovery time to allow your body to adapt.

          I expect what has happened is that Froome was a little ill (resting HR was probably slightly higher than normal, no other symptoms) in the run up to the Dauphiné so they eased back on the final race training cycle. They probably (rightly) told him that it doesn’t matter that training hasn’t gone to plan, you are there or thereabouts and if anything, easing back on the final training cycle will mean your performance won’t drop off as quick in the third week.
          This would also explain why he doesn’t have the finishing kick he normally does, as this would be worked on in the final training cycle. endurance and lactic threshold last longer so can be banked earlier, high speed in short sharp burst is quick to come and quick to go.

          I think there is just too much at stake to arrive at the tour purposely not in top form. You will still push yourself to the limit, which is still going to be incredibly hard to recover from.

    • Obviously we’ll never know, but would Peter Sagan be leading the green jersey challenge if he hadn’t been DQ’d? Maybe with kittel’s abandon, but maybe not.

  2. Encore Contador, Bravoooo. He has shown why he is the best stage racer of his generation. Pity he has not the legs of the past but has the testicles and that counts so much.

    • I’m gonna say straight up I hate all the Contador bullshit.

      He’s been banging on for years with ‘I want to be remembered as a rider who was courageous’ – how about he comes clean on doping and I’ll happily hear his case… there seem to be a lot of courageous riders in the peloton but only one who talks about it endlessly… I’ll take Gilbert, De Gendt, Barguil, Bardet’s panache anyday over Contador’s…

      It feels like he’s been doing a victory lap for the last five years to drive home exactly how he wants us to remember him…

      And yet, it’s seemed for a long time like he’s using it all to cover his failing legs but keep his reputation… he’s not been at the Tour De France winning level since, if you’re kind 2014, if not 2010… and yet despite being repeatedly dropped we forced to constantly pay respects to his throne every Grand Tour… and somehow Froome’s the one everyone hates???

      I’m sick of it. He clearly doped *(I for one simply do not believe Johann B decided to drop his teams systematic doping programme once Armstrong left, and Contador beating Rasmussen, setting uber fast times up climbs, ie Verbier ’09, and GETTING BUSTED add a lot of weight to that thinking) and yet he seems to think we’re all happy to see him waltz in the sunset and swallow his lies?

      I love his riding style – but the change from him pre ban to post ban is intensely suspicious and there are other riders who roll with audacious attacks I’m more willing to love – especially as Contador now does it with no hope of succeeding, just to simply shore up his reputation.

      I never thought I’d say this, but I’m with Tinkoff on Contador.

      & I don’t think he’s the best stage racer of his generation by a long shot.

          • “It feels like he’s been doing a victory lap for the last five years ”

            OK, that raised a giggle! But I can’t find it in my heart to be too hard on the guy. After all, he’s now basically harmless. If he wants to save his reputation he should just retire.

          • That was a very passionate opinion, but I agree wholeheartedly. I appreciate the suspense that his explosiveness provided in say 2009 or 2010…and you can’t forget stages 18 and 19 in 2011. But he’s sort of like an uphill Voeckler…complete with a signature dramatic riding style and facial expressions.

      • The love that cycling gives to ex-dopers continues to damage cycling’s wider reputation IMHO. I’ve no problem with reconciliation, but why all the worship? And why are retired ex-dopers allowed to throw snarky accusations at current riders without consequence?

      • “It feels like he’s been doing a victory lap for the last five years to drive home exactly how he wants us to remember him…”

        A victory lap where he has won 3 grand tours? I think most riders would be happy with such a victory lap.

        I agree that the last two seasons he has no longer been able to pull the trigger, and that retirement had been better.

        “I don’t think he’s the best stage racer of his generation by a long shot.”

        I am curious to hear who you would then suggest is better? (it probably also depends on the definition of “generation”).

        Within the last 20 years no one has won more grand tours than Contador (7). Of course, if (when) Froome takes 4th Tour victory he is clearly at the top end of the ladder.

        Nibali has won 4
        Quintana has won 2
        Pantani won 2

        There is also Lance Armstrong, but….

        Before that there was Indurain (7), Greg Lemond (10) and Bernard Hinault (5) but I consider them part of an earlier generation.

  3. I climbed the Izoard from this side two weeks ago. The bottom is actually steeper than the profile makes it look because it has stretches at both 8% and flat to get the 4-6% grades in the lower km. Basically, once you turn off the main road (that is the lower part of the Agnel) it’s either climbing at 8% or more or flat pretty well all the way from the start. I don’t know what the weather is like now but it was hot when we were there.

    • Do u reckon Uran can climb with the best on this climb? Looks quite long and steep considering Bardet, Aru, and Froome look relatively skinnier than the Colombian.

        • +1 – speaking to his DS earlier this year, he’s so light disks are an absolute no go, him and Rolland were finding themselves catapulted upright breaking through corners on descents; less of a problem for their heavier riders. He has ridden fabulously, whatever the result of this (excellent) TdF it’s a joy seeing him holding the highest company. Stage 1 suggests his TT form might be some way off Froome, but even if splits don’t change the final TT will be fascinating. It would only take a jours sans or some other misfortune for him to take yellow

  4. Chapeau Roglic for an inspired ride yesterday. Also good to see Contador giving his all – even though he lacks the strength of old he still takes the fight to everyone else.

    Froome bossed it yesterday. Very smart riding – enough to d walk with Aru and played it safe on the descent as well in the knowledge that he had done enough for the day.

    Also smart of Nieve to drop back once they knew they had the Maillot Jaune safe for another day and Henao was invisible by the time I tuned in as the peloton approached the Telegraphe. Plenty of powder kept dry for today.

    I know people find this boring but I think it’s great tactics. You have to feel for the GC contenders riding for teams in in the hunt for the green jersey. How much would Pinot or Martin’s chances be improved had FDJ and Quickstep gone all in in support? I can see how Martin as a strong classics rider might feel at home at Quickstep but he must be less than happy at getting dropped on Tuesday. That said, mentioned before on this blog about QS spreading themselves too thinly.

    As to today, if the stage isn’t won by a GC contender, my money is on a Colombian. Maybe not Atapuma or Pantano after their efforts yesterday. Chavez anyone?

  5. Mea culpa – it looks like I was wrong about Aru, he seems to be weakening as the tour goes on while Froome, who usually comes out swinging on the first big mountain stage, seems to be getting stronger or at least holding his own.

    The list of high profile riders who have fallen by the wayside makes for some reading: Valverde, Izagirre, Cavendish, Sagan, Thomas, Porte, Demare, Gesink, Majka, Fuglsang, Gilbert, Bennett and now Kittel. Still, it can’t be said that Matthews isn’t a worthy holder of the green jersey given his two stage wins and how he’s ridden over huge mountains to take intermediate sprint points.

  6. The past is not necessarily an indicator of the future nor are legs you had on previous days necessarily indicative of the legs you will have today. But these things can be instructive. And so I find myself asking who needs to do what today and what the likelihood of them doing it is. Bardet of all those in contention here is, statistically, easily the worst time triallist. There’s no doubt he would like to win the race but does he have the capability? In the recent Dauphine time trial he was 1.16 behind Froome over a kilometer further than he will be asked to do on Saturday. Add in the 27 seconds he is currently behind and we are looking at around 1.30-1.40 to even give himself a sniff based on recent performance. How many people have beaten Froome by this much as a direct GC rival in the Tour de France since 2012? Only Quintana comes close and always in the circumstance that Froome had minutes of lead to defend. The verdict has to be that this outcome is unlikely.

    Of course, a better time triallist (probably) is Rigo Uran. But Uran has been following wheels to the podium all race and with a better sprint has bagged a win in Chambery and 2nd yesterday. But what is his ambition? Is he very happy thank you very much with 2nd? Is this the biggest stealth campaign of all time? Does he have more to give? Whatever the claims for Uran’s time trialling ability (which, if you look at actual results, was at its best a few years ago and has since declined), one would expect him to best Bardet and Aru head to head. The question is if he wants to take on Froome. He will certainly be alone on Izoard so with his risk come either his reward or possible burn out. I figure Uran will need at least 30 seconds on Froome to make him believe which means he needs to beat Froome by a minute here. Again, ask yourself who has done that to Froome in the Tour before.

    I think the rest have too much to do to beat Froome. Aru’s weakness yesterday likely took the win out of his range. He’d need 2 minutes today probably (including taking the ITT into account). That’s too much. If he hangs onto Bardet he should make the podium at the Frenchman’s expense.

    This leaves Froome himself who is in a strong position. He’s better than all his rivals in a TT and basically needing to crack or have drama happen to him to lose from here. He can probably just follow and win overall but I’m with those who think that if we are in the upper reaches of Izoard later today and he can win then he will try to. It will likely put at least one of the others in difficulty if not all. At this point even another 20 second loss is nothing and he wouldn’t even lose the jersey.. Froome holds all the cards of strong team, good form and an ITT to come. That’s tough to break.

  7. My weather spies say its raining down old Izoard way with more forecast for later. Could add a little spontaneity to proceedings!

  8. I did this combination the other way around a year or two ago. I reckon people might under-estimate the Col De Vars: it was a very hot climb and there wasn’t much respite. It was one of my least favourite climbs! Perhaps I came up it the other way to tonight though as I think I was heading south. I thought the Izoard much steeper than the usual Alpine grind, and really windy at the top, from memory.

    I’m assuming Froome will zoom away on this one but I’d love Landa to be allowed his wings. I wonder if he might approach Froome before the stage, and invoke some empathy from 2012 …. “Remember how frustrating that was for you? Please just let me take the stage and make a bid for the podium if you’re looking safe”. Fat chance, but it would be very noble of Froome to do this.

  9. The past few days have felt like a “proper” Tour. What makes 3 week GTs relatively unique sporting events is the developing narrative. It is not just 90 minutes concentrated “action” as in other sports. Not only is there the interest in who might “win” there are plenty of sub plots too, much intriguing, gossip and individual disasters. The stage yesterday had all those factors played out amongst the high alps, it just a shame there are only two days in the alps.

    Did Fabio Aru struggle with the altitude yesterday? If that was the main factor in him being distanced it might not come into play today as the finish is not so high. However it does seem as if he is not quite at the level of the others on the longer climbs. There does not seem to a huge difference between the top 4 and Warren Barguil. You can make a case for any of them. I also suspect there wont be big time differences come the finish.

    Not sure about a breakaway today, I suspect that the main contenders will set too high a pace for the break to stay out. Maybe Alberto Contador will have one more roll of the dice but I dont think he will manage to stay away.

  10. This will be an interesting stage.

    I would expect AG2R to develop a creative strategy with riders in a break. Cannondale might have “saved” riders to send forward, which Sky could do as well.

    Bardet, Aru, Uran, Martin versus Landa and Froome – do they take turns attacking or do they ride for podium placings?

    Do Chavez and Quintana find their Columbian legs? Sure there are other riders ‘wanting’ to take a risk.

    • Quintana is cooked and just needs several months off to reboot for next year. Chaves is really just riding this Tour to get some racing in the legs after a long layoff due to injury. I expect him to do nothing in this stage but come out swinging in the Vuelta.

      • Quintana has done 4 grand tours in a row, aiming for GC each time (one win out of four). He now looks distinctly ropey and couldn’t even follow Alberto on the lower slopes of the Croix de Fer yesterday. Visual evidence seems to suggest the reported criticisms of his father towards Movistar might have some merit. In any case it seems to me as if they are treating him like some sort of pack animal rather than giving him the care and finesse which would make the most of his undoubted climbing ability. Quintana is not a complete rider as the Giro and repeated Tours have exposed but more can be made of him than Movistar are managing. I don’t know if he will leave them but if not I’d argue Movistar are perhaps wasting him a little. When he was second in France in 2013 many expected him to be winning repeated Tours de France pretty soon but here we are in 2017 and its getting worse not better.

        • Movistar do not seemed to have managed the whole situation well. It did seem bad strategy to boldly announce going for the Giro – Tour double (Chris Froome has only been suggesting riding the Veulta is a possibility and no big press releases). NQ seems to like spending time with his family in Columbia (not something to criticise) but perhaps success in modern day cycling demands such a focus on training and diet that having a “normal” family life is not really possible? There is a thought that this has affected Chris Froome too. I am not sure Mikel Landa is making the right decision going to Movistar, yes he will be at the top Spanish team but are they as good as Sky and he will be still fighting for top spot on the team. Perhaps Movistar think NQ’s time with them is limited and have intimated as much. If he is going to move maybe better go to a team that will be completely built around him?

    • Uran, Bardet, Aru & Martin are racing each other as much as they are racing Chris Froome so it is unlikely they will cooperate in attacking Sky. If one gets distanced at a relatively early stage there might be some mutual interest in dropping them eg Fabio Aru yesterday. Otherwise it will be all for themselves

  11. Nothing I’ve seen so far leads me to think that Froome can drop Bardet or Uran. But I doubt they can put any time in to him bar a few seconds.
    AG2R need to really blow this race apart from the off, he needs a lot of time.

    • But same can be said vice versa and it doesn’t look that AG2R are strong enough to bust things open on the big days. So the difference this year is not the strength of the man (and the team), but more the team.

  12. Mathews certainly deserves the green jersey even with Kittel dropping out. He’s animated the recent stages with his points quest much like Thor Hushovd did back in 2009 beating Cavendish.

  13. Team Sunweb with the Polka Dots AND the Green Jerseys–quite a winning streak this season so far with the Pink at the Giro as well. If only they had the Yellow, . . . and the Red (from the Vuelta?), they could make it the Rainbow Connection! Stop it, silly boy! I’m getting giddy . . . .

  14. Froome to win the ITT in Marseille,giving him room to mark the others today and unleash Landa to win on the Izoard.Has to be the plan.
    Like all plans it could fall apart so plan B is to send relays up the hill,hence Nieves backing off on the Galibier.
    Contador went up the Glandon like a rocket,57 mins to crest the CdF,most average riders would take 2 hours plus.A last hurrah.

    • As much as I would like to see Landa win which he seems to be perfectly capable of I now doubt it will happen. Team Sky seems to have found a way to either put him under pressure or change his mind with regards to riding for his own glory in this race. With the gaps being so close Froome will not want to let him loose just to feel safer that he will reach the top of the Izoard together with his GC-rivals. Only if Froome feels not so good once he’s on the slopes of the Izoard he might order him to go ahead and grab the 20s bonus for the stage win.

      • I think Froome would keep Landa only if he doesn’t feel well. Otherwise he will send Landa off front either to set up a 1-2 or mop up time bonus. He’d have Heno & Niece with him.

        • When exactly was the last time either Nieve or Henao could stay with Froome when he really needed them? I must have missed that. They are usually dropped at the latest when the first attack of one of the GC contenders comes.

      • There’s also a psychological element to how Sky / Froome handle Landa with regards to the future. Everybody sees that he is at ease on the climbs. Seeing him yesterday handle the attacks by just waiting for the last GC contender who was able to follow the latest surge and then going after those guys and closing the gap within seconds was fun to watch. Or leaving a gap over the Galibier and then closing the gap in the descent without bringing Aru or others back to the front looked so easy for him. I had never noticed before that he’s also technically one of the very best descenders in the peloton.
        Giving him the freedom to go for the stage win prior to the stage in a situation when his leader would clearly benefit GC-wise by winning the stage himself could inflict future problems with someone who clearly and rightfully thinks that he is as strong as his leader (with the exception of ITTs obviously). Even if he leaves Team Sky you would probably not want to increase his self-confidence by giving him the chance to go for such a prestigious stage win also “against” his own team leader who is also the marquee rider of the strongest TdF team in the world.
        It’s a difficult situation which could have been avoided if Team Sky would have managed him (with his special personality and talent) differently, also during this TdF. And having had that crash in the Giro where he was designated as one of two captains certainly didn’t help either. But then he uttered that he would like to do the Vuelta but that Sky wants him to ride in support of Froome in the TdF. A clever management handles that situation better even if they are only thinking about what’s better for the future of the team.
        We can only speculate if and how they would have handled him differently if Landa was a Brit.

        • Team Sky do have some experience with a stronger British climber than the yellow jersey Brit having to be content with 2nd place…so I don’t know if that would have changed much.

  15. Unless AG2R pull off some sort of unimaginable tactical masterpiece then this Tour is effectively over other than shaking out who finishes 2nd and 3rd. Sky will tow everyone to within site of the top of the Izoard and if Froome is gapped it’ll be by single figure seconds in the dash to the line. The organisers have taken a fair amount of flack over the route but they have been proved right in my opinion. The early steep climbs prevented Sky from doing their thing and kept Bardet, Aru et al in it. The Alps have been more of a flashback to the last few Tours with the Sky Train in full effect.

  16. I can clearly guess Uran’s dream last night.. Track Froome and others (if there) all the way to Col de Patriere, breath in for 500m and then unleash his most desperate sprint for the last stretch all the way to the line – maybe just the last km is enough to get 20s on Froome, similar situation to the stage ending on the airstrip. And then battle it out on the TT. Simple! 😉

  17. When one puts the quest of glory behind what one is supposed to be paid for, you have to ask deeper questions. Like if it is still worth watching.

  18. What’s interesting for me today is the psychology / motivations of the riders, and we won’t know until the end.

    Froome – does he want a stage win? The sensible thing for him to do is sit on Bardet / Uran’s wheel then measure his effort even if they attack, aim to lose no more than 20 seconds means he still leads going into the TT. But he may follow attacks in order to get the stage win, which risks cracking and losing much more.

    Bardet / Uran – what so they want? Uran gets second in the TDF and can name his price next contract, still be lauded at home. Or does he want to risk it for a TDF win, but potentially slipping down to 5 / 6 if he cracks. Same with Bardet – surely being a french winner is massive motivation, but also a strong second place and another podium means he gets full control of AG2R / names his price at contract times etc.

    It may be that one of the riders will want the win too much and will crack, leaving the one not willing to risk it being able to win overall. Will be interesting to see.

      • The Queen Mum must be pretty exciting.

        That was a good stage – Aru lost lots of time, Landa attacked, Bardet attacked, 50-rider “break”/peloton attacked, etc.

        You guys will never be happy.

      • I said a few days back this wasn’t the greatest tour. To be honest I went a bit OTT – as above where I did the same.

        But coming to the end, unless the wind does something tomorrow, I still kind of stand by it to a slight less vehement degree. Even the close times feels quite manufactured by the course. Everyday it’s felt like we’re waiting for something that never comes. I can understand why they wanted to create the anti Froome course (few TT’s and short ones, lack of first big climb at the end of a flat day to attack on, windswept finishes or super steep finishes to ward off early attacks with the potential to blow apart the race) but feels like we’ve just seen defensive racing to replace the usual dominance with Sky knowing they only need do so much and Bardet/Uran unable to really challenge.

        Unless there’s some madness in the next few days I find it strange despite how close it’s been how disappointing it’s been.

        I know people will come back saying TDF always like this, but I disagree, have enjoyed many Tours as well and Giro’s and Vuelta’s but this has been a let down.

    • I agree, the whole thing feels rather artificial. This year’s Giro was much better. However perhaps we should wait for the last three stages before passing judgement

    • The riders make the race. It played out pretty much as expected. If Froome can’t break Bardet and Uran then neither can they break him. Three well matched climbers. Assuming tomorrow yields more stalemate then Froome makes the gap slightly more respectable on Saturday, Uran finishes 2nd and Bardet 3rd.

  19. People clamoring for a stage with multiple all-out attacks (a la Contador v. Rasmussen circa 2007) easily forget that the night before that massive battle both riders potentially had blood transfusions, followed by whatever recovery products they tended to use and then masking agents to pass the doping test*** prior to the stage!!!! That’s how they were able to attack repeatedly uphill in the big-ring!

    These days, by the time the race gets to today’s stage they are all cooked and can’t really attack and are desperate to make it to the finish.

    *** I’m purely speculating on what exactly Contador, the Chicken, et al used, but I would hazard a guess that I’m close to accurate.

    • Sorry CA you’re getting this all wrong.

      I am usually very happy – absolutely love many stages in Vuelta, Giro, Tour and everything else, I’m certainly not clamouring for a return to 07 – you’re doing the Trump knee-jerk of jumping to extremes…

      It’s not only relentless attacking that’s exciting that you’ve assumed I’m asking for – Froome’s recovery before losing to Dumoulin at the Vuelta was great, as have some of his rides where he’s lost time at the Vuelta, and thinking back to Hesjdal’s Giro, that was exciting because they all felt punch drunk by that final climb, and even Dumoulin’s TT this year was exciting – so I’m really not saying let’s dope and have effortless climbs.

      But so many stage races this year have delivered up more – Valverde ripping it up in Southern Spain at the start if the year was great.

      This was just an anti climax, it felt very defensive with Sky even being able to play games and you sort of ended by feeling like everyone wasn’t really on the ragged edge – I mean Uran and Froome by that.

      A little like the finish at the Dam last year. Fizzed by nothing really happened. Sky are clearly too strong. Bardet couldn’t really attack Froome despite trying. Uran happy with Podium. And no one really else can challenge. Quintana, Dumoulin and Porte are the only three other riders who could go with them and maybe push Froome hard if they were here or in form.

      • It might simply be that Froome is too good and has even won here on a course drawn up to hinder him and at 75% strength…

        If he wraps this up, I can only see Dumoulin as a proper challenger, but in all honesty who could bet against Froome joining the x5 TDF club.

        • We’ll have to see how next year goes, I made the point about a week ago, when Bardet won the 007 Tomorrow Never Dies stage – I suspect Froome’s never hit his previous year form in 2017.

          It’ll be interesting to see how his 2018 build-up goes because he’s at an age where nobody who wasn’t loaded on EPO has ever won a 5th TdF. Plus, his major competition is coming into their peak performance years and they’re still building.

          For example, Dumoulin and Bardet are both 26. Quintana is 27, Pinot is 27, Zakarin is 27, Calmejane is 24, Roglic is 27, Barguil is 25, etc.

          Obviously not all of these guys will take the next step, but somebody will and 33 year-olds who don’t have artificial recovery products find it very difficult to match the next generation. Generations in cycling tends to have 5-year windows, and I would not be surprised if Froome’s window is closing slowly.

          • That’s been my thinking. People have been speculating about Froome having a master plan where he’s going to suddenly blow away the field on one stage, but I think he’s just not *quite* at that level anymore. Pretty normal for a guy who’s 32.

          • Baroudeur Billy – totally agree, it’s very normal

            Look at all major sports, men/women in their early 30’s start to slide (or freefall) and only extremely rare (or extremely PED-enhanced) cases have been able to avoid this.

            All the guys I mentioned (plus Mikel Landa, who is 27) are entering that age where they’ll gain top-end power every year. You even feel like Landa was toying with Froome this year.

            It’s actually pretty interesting how the window of peak performance is 5-years from ages 26/27 to 31/32. 5-years ago in 2012 Wiggins was 32 and Froome was 27, Froome had to hold back to let Wiggins win. This year Landa is 27 and held back and Froome aged 32 was lucky not to be surpassed.

            It’ll be interesting to see if Brailsford backs his current leader or infact offers Landa a new contract to lead in 2018.

          • Assuming Froome completes number 4 then they will back him for number 5. And he’s earned the shot. He’s at least earned the right to see the course first when they release it later in the year. I personally think he has this year and next and that’s it. He’ll do a Contador thereafter and simply not be able to compete.

          • The window is certainly closing on Froome, but as many has pointed out, it’s not always the strongest that win the race in cycling. Question probably is how many more years would smart racing & Sky Strength buy him? Would he be able to pull the double with the Window he’s got?

            Also, if he has the wisdom to bow out at the top and find some other goals rather than being forced out. Trying to gain the whole set of Giro, Tour Vuelta would probably be a good goal to aim for (though both Giro & Vuelta would be difficult once he’s passed his prime). Do some one day race a la Valverde whilst stage hunting/assisting the next Sky leader at the Tour?

            Sadly, DB probably has more say on how he bow out than Froome himself. Mostly likely DB would have him ride the Tour till he fail spectacularly. We would also not know about his true rate of decline till Vuelta or even the Tour next year. Was this year merely an anomaly as a result of being a new father or aiming to peak late and have proper go at Vuelta?

          • You may be right, but with the delayed start to his career, it’s not a given that Froome will follow a typical trajectory. I’m not convinced that we can take this one Tour performance as evidence of the beginning of a fade, particularly as his build up was hampered by minor injury.

      • Thanks for clarifying

        I still wonder if our expectations are too high heading into this race. The races you mentioned were all exciting because unexpected things happened, yet at the Tour, of course the top team comes in guns blazing which obviously stifles the unexpected.

        Anyways, I’m only talking in generalities, I thought we had a good race this year, moreso than normal because we’ve never seen 3-guys separated by 30 seconds 3-days from Paris before.

        Under normal circumstances by stage 18 the gap is minutes and the final yellow jersey isn’t up for debate.

        • From 2016-2013 in order, by stage 18, the yellow jersey gap at the end of the day was (in minutes):
          4, 3, 7, 5

          This year we had 2 guys 30-seconds back of yellow.

          We’ve never seen an event with that type of gap at this point.

          Anyways, I’ll stop now, I’ve hammered my point to death. haha

        • “I thought we had a good race this year, moreso than normal because we’ve never seen 3-guys separated by 30 seconds 3-days from Paris before.”

          Like a 0-0, 1-0 football match with hardly any shots on goal. Close but dull.

          • Ah – also just to clarify – I’m well aware the time gaps are smaller than previous, but I’ve found all of the recent tours more exciting for some reason aside from ’12. Maybe it’s personal but these gaps feel slightly fake. Even if someone wins by 5mins, a ripping attack on a climb is still intensely satisfying, a la Nibali in 14, and Froome 13 & 15.

            I’m also know differences between built up and surprise excitement re tour vs Giro/Vuelta, and do calibrate my reactions, Vuelta has had a brilliant decade, but I’m perfectly happy with what the Tour has served up aside from this year and ’12 (although as a Brit ’12 had something special about it).

            I just think this one hasn’t been exciting at any point really. And I’m not the person who says that every year – as mentioned above, I find almost every GT fantastic!

          • +1

            After the first week, once it was clear who the real contenders were, none of them ever really cracked… even Aru felt like more of a slow motion crack. For mine the real spectacle is one man pushing another to his limit, then breaking him… that’s where the glory is!

          • This course was designed to keep the gaps small. For example, so many sprinter’s stages. Then there were only 3 mountain top finishes, the first of which was La Planches des Belles Filles which it was well known would only yield tiny splits. The second had a 20% ramp as its last 200 meters which meant slow motion sprinting. Almost a natural barrier to large gaps. Then there were low ITT kilometers (and the main ITT not until stage 20) to keep Froome in range.

            You can call that artificial if you like because it is. But then so is every course because each course is designed. Personally, I think each course distorts the results in some way. For instance, would Dumoulin have won a Giro with half the TT kilometers it had? Would Froome have looked more superior here with twice as many TT kilometers? Its an endless debate.

          • @RonDe “each course is designed [and] each course distorts the results in some way”

            instead of “distorts” I’d say “determines.” Decide how much of a climber a GT winner needs to be (answer these days: good enough to also be the polka-dot winner in many years) vs how good a time-trialist, maybe rouleur, etc. Surely part of the calculation is not about these ideal cycling qualities, but instead about the individual riders who are considered potential winners. So it’s natural that courses will sometimes appear to be designed “for” certain riders. A first-time TdF winner is sometimes rewarded with a course that favors him, to give him a leg up on multiple wins (good for business), etc. I can understand the skepticism about this course appearing to favor Bardet, but the appeal of this race has been more general than that (Uran, Dan Martin). I think most fans agree that a French TdF winner would be good for the sport as a whole (and is not *so much* a matter of arbitrary national bias), and I’d push back at the notion that this year’s race is somehow less “true,” or somehow not a suitable test for Froome. Some of in-race officiating on the other hand has been hair-raisingly awful.

          • @Foley

            Whatever my views about course design I don’t think that this in any way makes the test “less true” for any rider. The yellow jersey is a consistency prize across whatever terrain or test is thrown at the riders. Its the most consistent rider who wins not the best climber, descender, sprinter, time trialler, etc. Indeed, this, I think, is why Froome is winning so often. He IS best best all-rounder, the most consistent. His challengers in the Tours he has won have had obvious flaws. For example, Bardet can’t time trial (as we will see again on Saturday). and Quintana is basically a climber. Should they really be winning a 21 day consistency prize? Its all to Froome’s credit then, as well as proof of his all-round skills, that he has won 3 if not soon 4 yellow jerseys across very different courses.

  20. Can anyone give me light why Kia is pulling before Nieve and Henao? Isn’t clear that is not working as they are burst before their turn?
    I could understand Sky missing this once, but today was third or fourth were Kia blown everyone away.
    Really impressive

    • Well, working isn’t just pulling on the front – Henao in particular seems to have been doing a fair amount of shuttling back to the cars or fetching and distributing bottle musettes. If Kawasaki’s feeling good enough to do these monster turns, and Henao’s not at his best, maybe this is a better use of him.

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