“The other teams have got to make it difficult for us not to win it and they weren’t able to.” – Mikel Nieve
Stage 17 of the Tour saw 181 riders tackling the hardest sections from the 2014 Dauphiné, which had seen Contador taking the leader’s jersey from Chris Froome. However he could somewhat forget this distant memory to the Tour lacking a large Contador presence as he retired on stage 9.
As always the Tour de France produced drama before reaching the business end of the day, with a crash just 1km into the neutral zone taking down Barguil (TGA), Bozic (COF) and Izagirre (MOV), with the latter two forced to retire. Other retirements included Rohan Dennis (BMC) and Mark Cavendish (DDD) who are looking to claim success at Rio.
Tony Martin lived up to his nickname ‘Panzerwagen’ as he once again took off for a breakaway, this time Alaphilippe decided against joining and Martin was instead joined by riders such as Teklehaimanot (DDD). Potentially a good move, with Martin also wearing the red combativity award (which Alaphilippe also gained for their 4 hour breakaway yesterday) yet with two Category 3 climbs, a Category 1 and a HC climb to go, the break didn’t last long and were quickly reeled back in.
Team Sky were controlling the high pace of the peloton as they reached the first categorised climb of the day, the Côte de Saanenmöser. Movistar were positioned directly behind them on Froome’s wheel, with Astana and Trek also present. As tweeted by @Etixx_QuickStep, the first hour averaged a speed of 51.8 km/h. This also pushed the stage half an hour in front of schedule, handy for long shots of collapsed and tired riders after they scale Finhaut-Emosson or classic panning scenic helicopter shots. Impey (OBE), Barguil (who had been taken down in the earlier crash), Ten Dam (TGA) and Gougeard (AG2R) tried to breakaway, yet channelled the numerous breakaway attempts beforehand and were caught before they could get a great deal of distance on the peloton. As the peloton got closer to the second Category 3 climb, the Col des Mosses, polka dot jersey wearer Rafal Majka tried to distance the peloton in order to secure more points to add to his King of the Mountains total. Yet again, the runaway rider was caught and the peloton were back together with some sprinters such as Dan McLay being dropped due to Team Sky’s intense pace.
Finally – an established breakaway managed to build a lead of 15 seconds on the peloton. Riders included Majka (again) and Pantano (yes, again), as well as Sagan and Gallopin. No-one challenged Majka for the King of the Mountains points and he increased his lead of 129 points to Thomas De Gendt’s 90 and Navarro’s 69. The 11 riders also increased their lead to almost 3 minutes. They weren’t only being chased down by the peloton, as a counterattack of 9 riders formed a chase. They included Rui Costa, Julian Alaphilippe (who has been pretty active at the Tour these last few stages) and of course, Thomas Voeckler. The highest placed GC contender is Stef Clement (IAM), yet being 37 minutes down on Froome he posed no real threat and the breakaway were left to continue. The peloton trailed by 4 minutes at 100km to go as the break reached the Category 3 Col des Mosses, which will presumably feel like nothing compared to the HC climb at the end of the stage. The counterattack then split when Voeckler (Direct Energie), Van Avermaet (BMC) and Lutsenko (AST) distanced the group while ascending the Col des Mosses.
Another crash saw Tsgabu Grmay (LAM) down on the ascent while the peloton slowed as they passed the feed zone. The distances between the break, chasers and peloton remained the same and Team Sky were still very much in control still with 40km to go. Astana and Movistar were very quiet here, sitting on the wheels of Sky as if waiting for their prime opportunity to attack. However, they didn’t and Movistar riders were fast dropping one by one leaving Quintana with only Valverde.
With 8km to go, a déjà vu moment occurred with Majka and Pantano gaining 25 seconds on the chasers and looking to want to take it all the way to the line, exactly like stage 15, until Zakarin (KAT) bridged the gap and 4k to go, distanced Pantano. He held on all the way to the line to take the stage win, while trying desperately to zip up his jersey while controlling his bike to show the Katusha sponsor.
Back with the peloton, Froome was sitting comfortably being led by Astana with Mollema on his wheel. Nibali then fell back through the peloton with Valverde attacking. A determined Wout Poels makes sure to track him down and takes Chris Froome with him while Valverde eases up. Are you still with me? This is where it really gets interesting. Will anyone ever distance the peloton this late?…
Dan Martin. The Etixx rider furiously tried to distance Poels, Froome, Quintana and Mollema, and he does. Alas in the true style of stage 17, he gets pulled back in by Poels and Froome. Anyone else?…
Richie Porte. The Tasmanian attacked with Froome close behind. Neither Mollema nor Aru can keep up with the high pace the ex-Sky member set and it looks like the classic Froome/Porte sight crossing the line together, despite being different teams, will be seen again. Now it was time for Froome to attack. Where is Quintana?
Dropped. He hasn’t had the greatest Tour de France as he sees the yellow jersey speed ahead, while he is left with no teammates or wheels to follow as Adam Yates passes him by. The third placed rider in GC who also holds the white jersey distances the Movistar rider as well as second placed Mollema. A sad sight for Columbian fans who see their GC favourite passed by Aru, Bardet and numerous others.
Froome and Porte crossed the line together, with Yates only 7 seconds behind. What a Tour the Orica rider is having. Bardet was only 10 seconds behind, with Aru 17 seconds and Quintana 27 seconds behind. Mollama finished with a 39 second deficit while Valverde was over 2 minutes behind.
Stage 19 was fast, hectic and saw Froome gain more time on his closest rivals. Tomorrow sees an uphill 17km time trial favouring the GC favourites more than the time trial specialists. Expect to see Froome take some more time out of his rivals while Dumoulin aims for his second time trial win and third stage win of the Tour. However he will be tested – the course is entirely different to the flat stage he won almost a week ago. France are also still looking for their stage win and hoping it comes sometime soon. It’s been 17 years since they last went a full Tour without a stage win and they’ll be hoping they can at least grab a mountain stage win before the Champs-Élysées. Can Alaphilippe finally get the stage win that’s eluded him this Tour? Fifth placed in GC Bardet?