Tour de France 2018 Stage 17 Preview: Bagnères-de-Luchon › Saint-Lary-Soulan

Today’s Recap

Bit of a mad start to the day with a farmer’s protest that saw some riders get sprayed by pepper spray inadvertently by the gendarmerie after they attempted to restrain the farmers. The race was consequently neutralised for around 15 minutes before the action started again. However, it wasn’t until 100km into the day that the break finally went. Well I say break but it was more a splintered peloton as 47 riders were involved.

Things whittled down over the climbs and by the time we crested the last ascent of the day Yates held a gap of around 20 seconds over Alaphilippe, with another group another 15-20 seconds behind. Unfortunately for the Brit, he fell on one of the bends and that saw the Quick Step catch up and swiftly go past him. That was the result decided there as no one was going to catch the flying Frenchman. Alaphilippe took the stage comfortably and with enough time to celebrate.

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Behind, Gorka Izagirre (one of the blog picks) sprinted to second, with Yates picking himself up to come third.

Disappointingly there was no real GC action in the peloton aside from a few soft attacks by Zakarin, Fuglsang and Landa. I guess they were all saving themselves for tomorrow. Speaking of which, let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders.

The Route

A day that the organisers have been waiting for: it is the shortest stage in the Tour since we had split days.

 

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The riders will be climbing the Montée de Peyragudes from the gun, an almost 15km climb that averages 6.7%. The whole peloton will be on the rollers before the start of the day.

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The climb is fairly consistent aside from a few easier kilometres that come littered throughout the ascent. Once over the top a 9km descent follows along with a couple of kilometres of flat roads before they start climbing again.

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The middle climb of the day is half the length of the other two ascents but as you can see by the gradient, it is a pretty steep affair with three kilometres above 9% in average gradient.

With the crest coming with only 28km to go, will we see some attacks here? That steep ramp near the summit looks perfect for them.

A fast descent then leads into the final climb of the day, the Col de Portet, which is a climb that the Tour will be facing for the first time.

stage-17-col-de-portet

With an average gradient of 8.7% for 16kms it is going to be a killer after the previous two climbs, without even considering that all of this has happened over just 65km. There are a few kilometres above 10%, notably, the run to the finish has some of the steepest ramps.

The Dumbest Idea Ever

Right, this grid start is the most pointless thing I have seen in the history of pointless things.

If you’re not aware ASO have decided that instead of having a rolling neutralised section tomorrow before the start of the race, the riders will start in a grid style system.

The first 10 on GC start in some kind of arrow/pyramid formation with Thomas at the head of the field, flanked by Dumoulin and Froome etc etc. The next 10 in GC then start in a line behind them, ordered by their current positions. With the rest of the peloton split into groups of 20 dependent on the GC position but they can just choose to start wherever in their alloted group.

Doesn’t sound too bad so far,  “What are the gaps between the riders?” I hear you say. Well that is where this trivial idea gets dumb.

The whole peloton will only be spread out over a 70m area, soooooo basically they are just starting as a big bunch but instead of those keen beans who want to get into a breakaway buzzing around the director’s car, we’ll just have the GC favourites awkwardly there. Realistically it isn’t going to take much time at all for Team Sky to get a couple of riders (Bernal and Kwiatkowski will be the two in the closest groups) up to the front to control things.

It would be much better if there were larger gaps between the groups, let’s say even 250m or something like that. Then it could tempt some to go on the attack and the tactics would be more interesting. Heck, even if they waived the time cut for the day and had 500m gaps between the groups. It would actually make some GC riders consider going on the attack from the gun if they knew that some of their opponents domestiques were a kilometre back.

I would like that, that would be fun. Tomorrow, not so much.

I’m just getting the impression they are trying to sell a polished turd. It’s actually not a bad idea, I’ll give them that much, but the execution of it is terrible. If you’re going to make something trivial in the biggest cycling race of the year when people all around the world who aren’t interested in the sport tune in, at least try to do it so it isn’t a farce and make a mockery of the sport.

Anyway, that’s enough of that.

How will the stage pan out?

I would love to eat some humble pie and see GC riders attack from the gun but I just can’t see it, the only one I think might try something straight away is Valverde. However, this doesn’t mean I don’t think we will see GC fireworks later on.

Cycling: 105th Tour de France 2018 / Stage 11

There is a chance the likes of Valverde and Kruijswijk try to sneak into the break to put pressure onto Sky and give their other GC riders an excuse to just sit in and follow attacks. No doubt we’ll see a big fight to get into the break but only the best climbers will be able to do so; think along the lines of Nieve, Majka etc. We then might see Sky take the their foot off the gas if the break isn’t a threat which will then actually put the pressure on other teams to chase if they want to go for a stage win.

The steeper gradients of the middle climb of the day might tease some attacks out of the peloton, looking at you Dan Martin, as rider’s try to take some time back and cause confusion.

Screen Shot 2018-07-24 at 17.40.37
Source: Windfinder

With the possibility of more rain tomorrow afternoon then the descents could become as important as the climbs – especially if everyone is on the limit.

I keep thinking that if a rider is serious about wanting to win the Tour then they have to attack tomorrow as they are running out of time. However, there is a possibility that Dumoulin and possibly Roglic are ok with their current positions and want to see how things stand after the TT, maybe they back their ability to overcome the time gaps?

Bardet, Martin and the Movistar riders have to attack though and they will be the ones to light the blue touch-paper. An added incentive for the Movistar squad to do something is the fact they have a good chance to put a lot of distance between them and Bahrain in the team classification with a good performance.

So to sum up…

It should be a GC day but it could be spoiled by only a select few breakaway riders, namely Majka and Nieve. The cream should rise to the top and only those with the best legs in theory can compete for the win. However, there is a chance that someone slightly further down the order who is feeling good could take advantage of the Sky duo marking out Bardet, Dumoulin and Roglic.

Either way, I expect some GC casualties at the end of the stage because 3200m odd of climbing in only 65km is stupidly tough. I feel sorry for those in the grupetto.

Prediction

More heart than head this one, but I can just imagine Quintana flying up that final climb: it suits his characteristics perfectly.

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Let’s hope we have that Tour de Suisse Quintana back and performing. Vamos Nairo!

I also want to give an honorable mention to Zakarin who actually put in an attack today and looked quite comfortable on the final climb. If everything is together going onto the final climb (i.e. he has stuck with them on the descents) then he has an outside chance. Remember how strong he was in the last week at the Vuelta?

Betting

1pt WIN Quintana @ 14/1

1pt EW Zakarin @ 50/1

Hiding to nothing probably but oh well!

Thanks as always for reading. How do you think tomorrow’s stage will go? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

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