As with last year when he was jousting with the pave specialists in the first week, Chris Froome again confounded his critics, descending like a man possessed, leaving the demon descenders glued to the macadam, taking all the risks – but more importantly taking the stage and maillot jaune.
A terrific ride, no question, no caveats.
But the dreams end for GVA, Bert and Pinot; no jaune for Yates but he consolidates blanc – whilst our friend Michael Mørkøv climbs into the team car.
What a day…
51 – grammatically you’re not meant to start sentences with numbers but that’s a very impressive one – the number of kilometres the peloton covered in the first hour today.
Ironic that the flat stages are run off like sportivs and this mountain stage starts like an hour long city centre crit.
And there’s the break, just as we start the climb of the HC monster Tourmalet: Wout Poels (Sky), Jesus Herrada (Movistar), Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana), Mikaël Chérel (AG2R-La Mondiale), Jasper Stuyven (Trek-Segafredo), Stef Clement (IAM), Dylan van Baarle (Cannondale-Drapac), Tom Dumoulin (Giant), Paul Voss (Bora), Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha), Romain Sicard (Direct Energie), Dani Navarro (Cofidis) and Michael Matthews (Orica-BikeExchange).
As the break starts to splinter on the Giant, GVA slides backwards from the peloton, no shame – the man rode with panache.
As the top of the Tourmalet nears the pack has been re-shuffled and yesterday’s ‘victim’ Thibaut Pinot (F des J), Tinkoff’s Polish champion, Rafa Majka and former World Time Trial Champion, Tony Martin (Etixx) are clear – with 100 K to go.
Is Majka a ‘springboard’ for Bert ? – we have three hours to find out.
As we near the summit – and all those HC points, 25 on offer – Martin slips back as Majka and Pinot spare for the points.
If Pinot can take the K of M jersey it makes some sort of amends for yesterday’s debacle – he takes it along with that big Henri Desgranges prime.
Sky and Movistar push at the front of the peloton as Majka and Pinot drop off the mountain past the bars of La Mongie – where Dave, Martin and I have enjoyed a beer or two over the years.
The big descent off the Tourmalet goes straight into the second cat. Houquette d’Arcizan – no rest for the wicked.
Tony Martin makes it back up so three on the decent now before the Houquette with the gap at 2:11 … but slipping back to Sky and Movistar fueled peloton.
There are five kilometres for the peloton to ride, the Houquette is a grind of a climb – the kind that creeps up and drains away the energy.
Pinot takes the summit points, he’s well in the lead in the Mountains competition 30 to Majka’s 25 – a 10 K descent will now follow on a narrow strip of road.
Martin leads Majka on the drop, Pinot lays off a little until they reach the valley floor – 52 K to go and two first cats.
Still to tackle – the Col de Val Louron-Azet and Col de Peyresourde.
The break’s lead is now under one minute and Adam Yates is in yellow on paper with GVA way back; as Sky and Movistar grind away at the front of the peloton – one by one men are slipping out of the rear door.
Pinot and Martin are caught, no more points for Thibaut today as he engages reverse and exits aforementioned rear exit and slows to walking pace – oh dear.
Majka is shredded now as Sky and Movistar continue to grind the meat ever upwards – all of the favourites are in the Sky/Movistar group.
Froome, Quintana, Contador, van Garderen, Porte, Bardet and Yates is still there, too.
The bad news is that Michael Mørkøv has abandoned – a great shame, all that pain to no end.
The top – Majka tries for the points but ‘No !’ says Froome as he and Poels nick them – on to the descent and Rafal asks Christopher why he didn’t let him take the points?
Answers on a postcard, please.
But third place on that cat. one should just about give Majka the lead in the King of the Mountains – more heartbreak for Pinot.
Sky lead on the descent as Jumbo Lotto’s Kelderman goes down, Bennett stops to help him – bike change for Kelderman, looks like he rolled a front tubular (or is that ‘sew up?’)
I wouldn’t want to be the mechanic…
The Valley floor – briefly.
And now, the Peyresourde, seven K at nearly 8% – that’s not a fun climb.
Sky churn onwards and upwards as a UCI Technical Officer on the back of a moto checks for hidden motors – none for Majka, he’s going backwards.
Astana mountain ace Kangert goes backwards – that tells a tale.
Poels pops, nothing left to give.
Caruso (BMC) pops too.
Froome looks as horrible as on his bike as ever – but comfortable in his own way; Quintana is inscrutable.
Nieve it is, relentless, doing the damage for Sky, they still have Henao and Thomas, too.
The group is thinning, one by one – Barguil is toiling, so too is Van Den Broucke.
Nieve is impressive, very impressive – and now Henao goes, they bring him back but it’s popped Barguil.
Froome takes it up, Quintana is on him, Dan Martin closes and counters – Kelderman has gone, Rolland, Thomas too.
Contador slides out of it.
A royal group now; Henao, Froome, Bardet, Aru – and Kreuziger has his freedom, Bert is abandoned.
Henao drives on to the top; Froome!
The Sky leader attacks right off the top, he’s full on off the mountain at 84 kph in the tuck – and pedalling in that position; if it’s possible, he looks even worse than usual.
Horrible but effective.
Froome has 10 then 12 seconds, he’s taking all the risks – 10 K to go with Valverde, Quintana, Kreuziger, Yates chasing . . and now it’s a 24 seconds gap.
Rolland has been on the deck, well torn up.
Porte and Tejay take it up but Froome only has two K to ride.
Flame rouge for Froome, he’s driving all the way, cornering like a kermis king in the last K.
Hands high, he crosses the line, a great win – with the stage, the bonus seconds and yellow as his reward.
Dan Martin is second @ 13 seconds with Rodriguez third.
Contador is tailed off – no podium for Bert we fear.
And plenty for Quintana to think about – is the Tour won already?
It looks that way…