The first of three days in the high mountains, today’s stage is characterised by its distance and the succession of three climbs above 2,000m.
Stage 17 Review: a big breakaway towed away by Thomas De Gendt. Total Direct Energie and Arkéa-Samsic missed the move and seemed forced into a punishment chase but burned through their riders in an impossible chase against 33 riders. Bauke Mollema was the first to poke the wasps’ nest with an attack and then the breakaway kept attacking each other with Matteo Trentin always at the front. The Italian instigated two attacks which thinned the move down and once there were a handful of riders left he attacked them to start the Col de la Sentinelle solo, put time into them on the climb and earned a fine win, a capolavoro as they say in Italian, a masterpiece.
Back in the bunch – some 18 minutes behind – things looked calm but approaching the final climb several teams were placing their leaders into position and the fight for position got out of hand between Jumbo-Visma and Ineos. It looked bad tempered but benign… until you zoomed in on the video and Luke Rowe could be seen taking a hand off the bars to push or slap Tony Martin’s face and Martin responded by trying to ride Rowe off the road. As veteran professionals both should know better and probably do.
The Route: 208km and a start out of Embrun alongside the Serre-Ponçon lake which can often be windy and a climb away via the Demoiselles Coiffées climb, named after local rock formations and then up the Ubaye valley to the start the Col de Vars.
The Col de Vars is the easiest climb of the day and feels fast, it even includes a small descent on the way but it’s all relative as the final 4km are 9%. The descent is in two parts as there’s a flat section mid-way. After Guillestre it starts climbing the scenic “whitewater” road of the Combe de Queyras as they approach the next climb for 15km via the Gorges du Guil with its ramp and tunnels.
The Izoard is a legendary climb of the Tour (and the Giro d’Italia too) and this is the familiar side via the Casse Déserte section. It starts out gently amid walnut groves and 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%. Then comes a fast descent which is technical and twisty and first before opening up. Then comes 25km of valley roads through Briançon and onto Monêtier-les-Bains.
The Col du Galibier is tackled via the Col du Lautaret, meaning for 14km it’s a long and gradual ascent, a big wide road suitable for large trucks and with few surprises. Then there’s a right turn and it’s the Galibier and 8.5km at 7% with some sustained 9% sections. At the top there’s the time bonus of 8-5-2 seconds for the first three. It’s followed by a fast descent with some long straight sections down to Valloire.
The Finish: straight into town, under the flamme rouge and then a sharp corner around the church, a left bend that’s almost a U-turn followed by a right bend onto the finishing straight of 220m and it kicks up right at the end.
The Contenders: will a breakaway make it or do the GC contenders get the stage win? It’ll depend on how big the breakaway is but with still so many teams lacking a stage win many riders will be ordered to go in the breakaway. But going up the road is one thing, winning another. Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) is an obvious pick and he can score points for the mountains jersey too, Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) is likely to be motivated too but the legs seem less willing but both have the consolation that if the breakaway is reeled in they might be able to score a lot of mountains points.
Among the GC contenders there’s a shared interest to put Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck-Quickstep) under pressure but each team will want someone else to put the pressure on. Alaphilippe can try to break the stage down – the Vars is “easy”, the Izoard will be ridden tempo, follow the wheels on the Lautaret, hold on during the first half of the Galibier, 15 minute effort over the top and voila – and could stay in yellow and even take the stage win if he’s not put in the red. But he looks more and more tired and if he doesn’t crack today then the fatigue will only accumulate with these long, grinding climbs.
Thibaut Pinot (Groupama-FDJ) was the strongest in the Pyrenees, now we’ll see if he can keep it up. A late move on the Galibier could see him take the bonus at the top and if doesn’t get clear his sprint from a small group is handy.
Egan Bernal is in a delicate position. If he attacks will this make others chase and potentially put Geraint Thomas in the red? But Ineos still have two cards to play and Thomas is surely the best of all the GC contenders for a sprint.
Mikel Landa (Movistar) can still pounce, he’s not an immediate threat on GC either and team mate Alejandro Valverde is said to have his limits on high altitude but today’s climb over the Galibier is only a quick excursion. Among others Warren Barguil (Arkéa-Samsic) is caught between two stools, he wants a stage win and a top-10 place but he won the French championships with a handy sprint.
|Simon Yates, Thibaut Pinot|
|Egan Bernal, Geraint Thomas, Mikel Landa|
|Barguil, Valverde, Bilbao, Alaphilippe, Bardet, Zakarin|
Yellow story: another Merckx statistic, he had 96 days in the yellow jersey. Or did he? Wikipedia says 96, cycling historians like Jacques Augendre say 96 but others like Serge Laget say 97 and both numbers thrive online and in print. What’s agreed is that he actually had 111 jerseys because of split stages where some days there could be a morning stage and an afternoon one, occasionally there could be three in a day meaning he’d don three jerseys in one day.
Weather: hot and sunny, 29°C and a rising chance of a thunderstorm in the afternoon.
TV: a long day with the stage start at 11.10am CEST and finish is forecast for 5.15pm CEST / Euro time.