ON THE toughest day of the race, the Slovenian pacesetters turn on a battle royal, says JOHN TREVORROW:
STAGE 17 was the Queen stage of this Tour de France. This title is given to,what organisers believe, is the most demanding stage of the race – the one that will have the biggest effect on the overall results.
Cycling is often referred to as “chess on wheels” and the Queen is the dominant figure in the game, the most powerful piece which typically can have the biggest effect on the game.
And Wednesday’s 170 km journey from Grenoble to Meribal certainly lived up to the title. With two HC monsters heading into the stratosphere, the Col de la Madeleine at 2000m and the summit finish at Col de la Loze at 2300m, this stage delivered the no holds barred battle we had all being hoping for.
The early breakaway of thirteen hopefuls contained many of the usual suspects but were never given quite enough rope, although Ecuadorian climber Richard Carapaz (Ineos) gave it a serious go and was only caught on the final crazy slopes.
But this was always going to be the stage that the two Slovenians would really go head to head. Would Primoz Roglic (Jumbo Visma) the pre-race favourite with the strongest team be able to distance his exciting young compatriot Tadej Pogacar (Team UAE Emitates) and grab a much needed time buffer?
Surprisingly Team Bahrain Merida went to the front on the penultimate climb and it looked like they believed their leader Spaniard Mikel Landa could take time in the chase for the final podium spot. But on the ferocious ramps of up to 28% on the final climb he was found wanting.
The finish at Col de la Loze at 2,300 metres was the highest peak in this year’s tour. This is getting into very thin air and Colombian Miguel Angel Lopez (Astana) had a distinct advantage as his home town of Pesca is at an even higher altitude of 2550 metres. Lopez was magnificent and although he was not really a threat to the Slovenian duo his ferocious attack inside the final two kms gave him an impressive 15 second gap to Roglic with Pogacar a further 15 seconds down. But the gloves were off in the fight for the Maillot Jaune between the two Slovenians.
Roglic saved his best chess move until last. Interesting tactics from the leader to allow Jumbo Visma teammate Sepp Kuss to go clear inside the final three km. The plan here was to then try to distance Podacar and for Kuss to drop back and help him cement any time gap. And that’s exactly how it panned out. In the end that may be crucial come Saturday’s final test.
After the stage, Roglic told reporters that he had told Kuss to attack. The strategic move, while improvised, came after the two Jumbo-Visma riders briefly spoke during the action.
“We talked just before it,” Roglic said. “I said to him he should go. In that case, the others have to chase him, and I can have a better view of what is happening.” Roglic said Kuss’s acceleration blew up the front group. “Lopez jumped to chase, but Pogacar could not respond. It created the ideal situation for me,” the Slovenian said.
Richie Porte hung on grimly but could not go with the big three in the final brutal attacks. A gallant fifth on the stage saw him actually move up two spots on GC and he’s now fourth behind Roglic, Pogacar and Lopez. But one and half minutes may be a bridge just too far to make up on the diminutive Colombian to grab that final podium spot.
“To be honest, this was absolutely brutal. I could barely pedal my bike, and with 500 metres to go, I couldn’t stand up,” Porte said. “Everybody went super deep. It was a hard day, but I’m happy with the way it turned out. Tomorrow is another hard day; we’ll see how the legs back up,” Porte said.
The intriguing battle for the Green points jersey is far from over. Irishman Sam Bennet (Decueninck Quickstep) may have a commanding lead over Peter Sagan (Bora Hansgrohe) and Matteo Trentin (Team CCC) but stage 19 is very lumpy and better suits the talents of the two challenges and Bennett’s lead could be wiped out in one fell swoop.Embed from Getty Images
This has been one of the best editions of the great race in recent years. The final GC will be decided in Saturday’s 36.2.km individual time trial finishing on the steep slopes of La Planche des Belles Filles.
It will be interesting to watch how the main protagonists play this. With 30 kms of flat most if not all will ride a specific time trial machine but it’s the final six kms at 8.5% that should see most swap to their lightest climbing machines. With the final places on the podium likely to go right down to the wire, they will need to be quick with that!!
|1||Miguel Angel Lopez Moreno (Col) Astana Pro Team||04:49:08|
|2||Primoz Roglic (Slo) Team Jumbo-Visma||00:00:15|
|3||Tadej Pogacar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates||00:00:30|
|4||Sepp Kuss (USA) Team Jumbo-Visma||00:00:56|
|5||Richie Porte (Aus) Trek-Segafredo||00:01:01|
|6||Enric Mas Nicolau (Spa) Movistar Team||00:01:12|
|7||Mikel Landa Meana (Spa) Bahrain McLaren||00:01:20|
|8||Adam Yates (GBr) Mitchelton-Scott||00:01:20|
|9||Rigoberto Uran (Col) EF Pro Cycling||00:01:59|
|10||Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Team Jumbo-Visma||00:02:13|
|11||Richard Carapaz (Ecu) Ineos Grenadiers||00:02:41|
|12||Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team||00:02:48|
|13||Damiano Caruso (Ita) Bahrain McLaren||00:03:30|
|14||Guillaume Martin (Fra) Cofidis||00:03:59|
|15||Valentin Madouas (Fra) Groupama-FDJ||00:04:09|
|16||Kenny Elissonde (Fra) Trek-Segafredo||00:06:12|
|17||Carlos Verona Quintanilla (Spa) Movistar Team||00:06:53|
|18||David De la Cruz Melgarejo (Spa) UAE Team Emirates||00:07:15|
|19||Wout van Aert (Bel) Team Jumbo-Visma||00:07:15|
|20||Warren Barguil (Fra) Team Arkea-Samsic||00:07:15|
GC after stage 17
|1||Primoz Roglic (Slo) Team Jumbo-Visma||74:56:04|
|2||Tadej Pogacar (Slo) UAE Team Emirates||00:00:57|
|3||Miguel Angel Lopez Moreno (Col) Astana Pro Team||00:01:26|
|4||Richie Porte (Aus) Trek-Segafredo||00:03:05|
|5||Adam Yates (GBr) Mitchelton-Scott||00:03:14|
|6||Rigoberto Uran (Col) EF Pro Cycling||00:03:24|
|7||Mikel Landa Meana (Spa) Bahrain McLaren||00:03:27|
|8||Enric Mas Nicolau (Spa) Movistar Team||00:04:18|
|9||Tom Dumoulin (Ned) Team Jumbo-Visma||00:07:23|
|10||Alejandro Valverde (Spa) Movistar Team||00:09:31|
|11||Guillaume Martin (Fra) Cofidis||00:10:35|
|12||Damiano Caruso (Ita) Bahrain McLaren||00:12:30|
|13||Richard Carapaz (Ecu) Ineos Grenadiers||00:19:55|
|14||Warren Barguil (Fra) Team Arkea-Samsic||00:25:22|
|15||Nairo Quintana (Col) Team Arkea-Samsic||00:30:51|
|16||Sepp Kuss (USA) Team Jumbo-Visma||00:35:53|
|17||Pello Bilbao (Spa) Bahrain McLaren||00:53:24|
|18||Pierre Rolland (Fra) B&B Hotels-Vital Concept||00:55:11|
|19||Carlos Verona Quintanilla (Spa) Movistar Team||01:08:42|