A decisive battle? No. A day of attrition? Absolutely. The ‘Royal’ group at the head of affairs at Serre-Chevalier behind winning LottoNL ski jumper turned cyclist, Slovenian Primož Roglič speaks for itself.
Christopher Froome (Sky & GB) is back in his usual position, at the front with a hugely strong team to back him and a time trial ‘buffer’ if he needs it; Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale & Colombia) has won a stage in the race, shadowed all the moves that matter and seems set for a podium finish in Paris, the man has won a Giro TT in the past and is back to that sort of level.
Romain Bardet (AG2R & France) is strong, determined and his team is good but he’s not yet at the level of Froome – and finally, Warren Barguil (Sunweb & France) who for all his denials looks like a future Tour podium contender to us.
Losers on the day were: Green Jersey, Marcel Kittel (QuickStep & Germany) whose retiral may have been as much a mental as a physical problem – with all those climbs on the day and the next it was just too much for him to cope with; especially with his opponent Michael Matthews (Sunweb & Australia) soaring on the early climbs and Hoovering up intermediate points.
Nairo Quintana (Movistar & Colombia) cracked again after trying to salvage some sort of honour in attempting to get away with Alberto Contador (Trek & Spain) – of whom, more in a moment – but simply didn’t have the legs.
Can this be the same man who’s won the Giro and Vuelta and seemed entirely plausible when speaking of a Giro/Tour ‘double’ earlier this year?
Dumoulin scotched his Giro ambitions and it’s unlikely he’ll make the top 10 in this race.
Fabio Aru (Astana & Italy) faltered and that was enough to put Froome, Uran and Bardet on the offensive.
In these days when the strongest thing that should be in the chill boxes is isotonic drink then his chances of recovery on the Izoard stage are slim and he’s no ‘chronoman’ so he’ll drop more time around the streets of Marseille on Saturday.
Romain Bardet (AG2R & France) despite finishing with the ‘Heads’ and riding an aggressive race, he made no impact on the GC and losing that time bonus on the line may well prove costly in a race this tight.
Simon Yates (Orica & GB) lost time and surrendered some of his lead in the young rider competition to Louis Mentjies (UAE & RSA), who fortunately for Yates, also stumbled.
Their battle on the Izoard should be an interesting one.
Dan Martin (QuickStep & Ireland) lost time too, unable to stay with the Heads; such a pity he came down with Porte all those stages ago.
In the ‘Full Marks For Trying’ file goes Bardet but we wonder if his efforts of Thursday would have been better saved for a an ‘all or nothing’ bid on the final mountain stage?
Joining him is Dan Martin who couldn’t hold the ‘Royal Group’ but enlivened the stage, again.
But the main man in this category has to be Alberto Contador (Trek & Spain), he may not have the legs he once had but he rode a beautiful stage to help make this another day of good racing.
Roglič was the big winner on the day, that rare combination of climber and time trial specialist; this year there’s been a GC win in the Tour of the Algarve, two stage wins in the Basque Country and stages in Romandie and the ZLM Tour.
He’ll be on the Sky radar for sure.
And whilst some may say that Michael Matthews is going to win the green jersey by default, he’s proved himself fast, versatile, mentally strong and possessed of a real ‘never say die’ attitude.
His team too, Sunweb have ridden a superb Tour in support of Matthews and King of the Mountains, Barguil logging big kilometres on the front of the peloton.
Stage 18 is a monster, it’s not far as the cow flies from Briancon to the top of the Izoard but the stage describes a 179.5 kilometre loop over tough terrain which includes a third category climb to start with then a climb to the top of the 1e cat. Col de Vars on roads which drag upwards steadily for around 50 kilometres before the final nine kilometres to the summit.
And the final insult is the 14.1 kilometre @ 7.3% Izoard which starts straight off the descent of the Vars with no valley road for recovery.
If Bardet is to win and secure even second spot on the podium he must see off Froome and Uran.
‘Bon chance,’ Romain.
And just to remind us all that there is life outside Le Tour, one of Belgium’s big hopes for the future, 22 year-old World Cyclo-Cross Champion, Wout Van Aert (Verandas Willems-Crelan-Charles) added victory in the GP Pino Cerami to those in the recent Ride Bruges Classic and Ronde van Limburg.
We know what he has to avoid – fast cars and women, night clubs, designer clothes shops and an agent who signs him for big bucks for the wrong team.
We hope it doesn’t work out that way.
Ciao, ciao and enjoy the Izoard.