Saturday, 23 July 2016
Yesterday's rain affected stage showed all too clearly why the Tour de France isn't over until the race reaches Paris and can spring surprises. Rain in the last quarter of the short stage made the descents treacherous. Romain Bardet showed how good a descender he is, riding away to become France's first stage winner in this edition. Bardet also moved into second place.
There were a number of crashes including Chris Froome on the last part of the final descent. Fortunately Froome had team mates around him, so was able to borrow Geraint Thomas' bike, ride up the last climb though it was a struggle and only concede a small amount of time on the stage to his rivals. Valverde and Mentjes gained 13 seconds, Quintana 10, Aru and Martin 8.
In contrast to Froome Bauke Mollema also crashed on the last descent but had no team to help him. He lost over four minutes on the stage to fall from 2nd place down to 10th. Astana spent much of the day on the front of the peloton but the tactic wasn't clear, though it may well have been disrupted by the late creashes.
Earlier Tom Dumoulin crashed at the beginning of a climb. It looked innocuous but he injured his wrist and had to abandon.
Due to Mollema's time loss, Froome has actually extended his lead, so now has a 4'11 cushion over Bardet, while Yates and Quintana have swopped places. Yates remains in the White Jersey, although he conceded a little time to Meintjes, who is now 2'16 behind. Rafa Majka ensured that the Polka Dot jersey is his providing he reaches Paris.
Stage 20: Megève to Morzine 146.5 kms
Today is the last chance for the GC contenders to gain or lose time on this short mountain stage. There are four ascents and, equally significantly, four descents and rain is forecast for much of the stage. The final descent from the Col de Joux Plane is tricky. This is where Stephen Roche gained vital seconds on Pedro Delgado in the 1987 Tour, making it easier for him to win the Tour on the final time trial.
There could well be further crashes today. It remains to be seen what affect Froome's crash yesterday will have had on his form. It will surely be a nervous day!
Friday, 22 July 2016
Chris Froome produced a champion's ride yesterday in the mountain time trial beating second placed Tom Dumoulin by 21 second and taking more time on all of his GC rivals. Froome judged his effort perfectly by riding the first part relatively conservatively – down 23 seconds on Tom Dumoulin at the first time check. That reduced to 10 seconds at the 2nd check, while by the 3rd Chris was 13 seconds up. A swift descent into Mégeve extended his advantage to 21 seconds.
Among the other GC contenders Fabio Aru and Romain Bardet rode very good TTs conceding only 33 and 42 seconds respectively. Richie Porte also reclaimed time from his rivals, although he probably started out too fast. Nairo Quintana looked to be losing quite a lot of time initially but limited his losses toward the end of his ride, while closing up a little on Adam Yates and Bauke Mollema. However, Quintana still conceded a further 1'10 to Froome.
Froome now leads Bauke Mollema by 3'52, Adam Yates by 4'16 and Quintana by 4'37. He now has a comfortable lead and short of crashing or falling ill will wrap up his third Tour de France victory in Paris on Sunday. What remains is the fight for a place on the podium and positions within the top 10. Only 2'08 separates Mollema (3'52) in 2nd place from Aru (6'08) in 7th place.
Only two really racing stages remain for the GC contenders – today and tomorrow. Both are short, tough Alpine stages, which I assume will continue to be controlled by Sky making it difficult for the other GC riders to gain time on each other. Today's stage is the race's last mountain top finish, so it may turn out to be a war of attrition as Sky are very unlikely to permit Froome's rivals to escape. Although, nearly four minutes is a reasonable cushion it could still disappear in these two hard days that remain.
Thursday, 21 July 2016
Ilnur Zaharin won yesterday's steep climb to Finaut-Emosson to take his first Tour de France stage, while Rafa Majka strengthened his position in the Polka Dot jersey. Majka has 173 points to Thomas de Gendt on 90 and Zaharin on 78. As usual Peter Sagan got into the break to snaffle maximum points from the intermediate sprint and then did a club run ride to the finish. Sagan has 425 points to Marcel Kittel's 228, so Green is his unless he crashes out.
In the last kilometre Chris Froome gained time on all of his GC rivals apart from Richie Porte when Richie attacked. Of Chris' closest rivals the biggest losers were Nairo Quintana (28 seconds) and Bauke Mollema (40 seconds). Alejandro Valverde and Dan Martin, who made an unsuccessful attack on the final climb, also lost significant time. Adam Yates put in another fine performance coming in just 8 seconds after Froome and Porte.
Once again the Sky train proved to be utterly dominant, although Astana did take to the front for a while with Vincenzo Nibali and Diego Rosa. Was the plan for Fabio Aru to attack? If it was nothing happened apart from first Nibali and then Rosa burning themselves out.
Once again Tejay Van Garderen showed that he doesn't last the three weeks of the Tour when he blew up on the penultimate climb and lost nearly 20 minutes to Froome. This leaves Porte as the undisputed BMC leader.
Stage 18: Sallanches to Megève – 17 km mountain time trial
Today's mountain time trial is a tribute to Bernard Hinault's World Championship win here in 1980. I expect that Chris Froome will put further time into his GC rivals. It is now going to take a real disaster to stop Froome winning his third TDF. He deserves to win as to date he has shown himself to be the dominant rider.