Fair play to FDJ and UAE, they set their stall out early and didn’t let a strong 5-man break get more than two minutes while also not allowing anyone else across to them. Very high speeds in the closing 10kms didn’t give anyone hoping for a late attack a chance. The run in was pretty chaotic with a lot of bumping and barging but thankfully everyone stayed on their bikes. Stuyven did a massive turn form around 800 to 400m to go, stringing the bunch out massively. Yet, when he peeled off and turned around Degenkolb was not in the first few riders, much to his disappointment as you could physically see him look round a couple of times. That set things up perfectly for Guarnieri to drop Démare off at 150m to go and despite a late-charge from Laporte, the FDJ rider secured the win an repaid the faith his team had in him.
Kristoff trailed home in third but he never really had the legs to compete for the win. Anyway, moving on to what should be a more exciting afternoon…
Queen stage time as the riders will face three famous peaks throughout the day.
This is a very tough day with roughly 5000m of ascent throughout the afternoon. A few easy Cat-4 climbs will whet the appetite and possibly see the break go, although I wouldn’t be surprised to see things still together at the foot of the Col d’Aspin (12km at 6.5). Straight after the Aspin the riders descend for roughly 12kms before the climbing becomes in earnest again with this year’s Souvenir Jacques Goddet, the Col du Tourmalet.
There’s not really much to say about the Tourmalet, it is one of cycling’s iconic climbs. The steeper later 2/3rds could certainly see a thinning of the bunch and we might just be left with the GC favourites and 6 Sky riders at the top…
A long 40km descent follows before a triple-header of climbs awaits the riders, although officially only two of them are categorised.
The average gradients of each climb individually aren’t too bad, although the Col du Soulur averages a shade over 8% for 7kms which is possibly steep enough to cause issues. Will anyone attack then though with the easier gradients of the Aubisque to follow, before it ramps up again? If they’re serious of their title challenge then they have to!
A long 20km descent sees the riders home and those willing to take risks could gain a fair bit of time as there some very technical sections on the downhill.
With this being the last open road stage that decides the General Classification then plenty of riders will want to try to vault their way up the standings. We’ll start to see teams ride for someone’s 10th place finish which is quite infuriating to watch at times but I guess it is understandable. Then there is the team classification to consider as well which Movistar currently lead by a fairly comfortable margin (24’20) but they can’t exactly let a large break get up the road that includes three Bahrain riders so they will probably try to get someone ahead for their own gain too.
That then leads to their race plan, because with Quintana strong when winning the other day it would make sense for him to give it a go at some point tomorrow, however, how bad are his injuries from today? The Tourmalet looks to be the place where he can make the biggest difference but he will definitely need team-mates up ahead who can pace him up at least some of the following ascents. Valverde again? If that becomes the case then Astana might ride to defend Fuglsang’s 10th. See, things can get very tactical tomorrow with many riders focussed on different objectives.
We then have the Team Sky conundrum, although after stage 17 is it really a conundrum? Thomas looks the strongest but one thing I have learnt over the past few years is to never discount Froome. I would like to see him attacking to put Dumoulin and Roglic into trouble while the current race leader can just follow the wheels then attack himself if he feels he needs to.
Break or no break?
That depends again on who makes the morning move and who then has to defend what behind. I think we’ll definitely see a few riders in the 10-18th GC placings try to make the move so that they can chase both chase a stage win but move up a few places in the standings.
Team Sky will be happy to let most of them go as they pose no real threat and they would be able to keep the gap controlled reasonably well. Therefore, it is over to the team’s of Dumoulin and Roglic that will decide if the break makes it all the way to the line or not. If they have some riders up the road and attack early on the Tourmalet then it will be a GC winner come the end of the stage. However, I think with Team Sky’s dominance they won’t want to risk it – finishing on the podium of the Tour is a great achievement after all. I would like to see a rogue Froome repeat his Giro antics though, just for the patter. It is stage 19 after all…
I think we’ll see a breakaway win tomorrow but it will have to be a strong climber who stays away. There are two riders I want to highlight as possible contenders and this is certainly not an extensive list, but I think they might have a good chance.
The Liege-Bastogne-Liege winner has kind of floated his way through the race, just being in the background almost, but he finds himself sitting in 13th place on GC, 14’20 down on Thomas. I’m sure he would be happy with that result at the end of the race but it’s not exactly as memorable as a stage win would be. He’s obviously going quite well if he is up in the GC standings and there would only be a few that could beat him from a break. Could we see an aggressive Quick Step tomorrow as they send the two room-mates up the road, with Alaphilippe working for Jungels while also securing the KOM competition at the same time? Jungels is a competent descender so he won’t fear the end of the day.
I’ve had this stage circled for this rider for a while now though and I’m sticking to my guns. Mikel Nieve was very close to his first Tour stage win back on stage 11 but was cruelly caught in the last kilometre. At the Giro he was one of the strongest climbers in the final week and I expect the same from him tomorrow.
He’s been quiet the past few stages, not making the break on a couple of days that might have suited him. Has he targeted this day all along?
2pts WIN Nieve @ 20/1
1pt WIN Jungels @ 66/1
Thanks as always for reading and apologies if some of this doesn’t make a great deal of sense, think the heat is getting to me. Who do you think is going to win tomorrow? Anyway,
Those were My Two Spokes Worth.