Chris Froome reached the top of the Peyresourde in third place in the peloton, two team mates in front of him. It had been a textbook day for the British team. A non-threatening break had gotten away early on, but its only survivor, Steven Cummings, was in range of the Sky train, who had contained the peloton all day, managing to lose two rivals — Nairo Quintana and Jakob Fuglsang were both detached, the Colombian suffering a bad day and Fuglsang a worse one, thanks in no small part to the cracked elbow he suffered yesterday. Only a Fortuneo pair, along with the mountain-points-seeking Warren Barguil, had dared make attempts at attacking, the GC riders subdued enough to wait for Froome and Aru after they had a narrow off-road escape, nearly crashing into some roadside camper vans. The usual workhorses of Knees and Rowe had ridden tempo for most of the stage, Vasil Kiryienka had punished the peloton on Port du Balés and Michal Kwiatkowski had pulled his group up most of the Col de Peyresourde, before dropping off and leaving the work to Sky’s other two mountain Michaels, Landa and Nieve. It was Nieve who finished the job of the Peyresourde, leaving ten riders to fight out the stage on Peyragudes.
This was Sky 101, bullying the other teams into submission until they are the only ones left with domestiques. In 2012, this was met with dominance from their leader. As it was in 2013, 2015 and indeed last year. In each of those years, Sky held yellow from the first mountain stage to Paris. This year, that will not happen. After Nieve took the peloton over the top of the Peyresourde and headed into the descent that led to the short climb ending at the mountain’s ski station, taking the sweeping bend with two and a half kilometres to go and soon dropping off, leaving the head of the group to Mikel Landa as the uphill sprint threatened. Fabio Aru rode out of the saddle in his customary style, hands on the hoods and pushing a big gear, he looked to be straining at the leash with the desire to attack Froome, but still no attack came. George Bennett, tenth on GC going into the day, was the first to make a move, throwing everything into a tortured-looking attack with eight hundred metres to go, but Landa’s stern tempo, delivered with a placid look on his face, was enough to reel the Kiwi in rather quickly. The Basque rider dragged the group for five hundred more metres, until just outside three hundred to go, Fabio Aru finally made his move, drawing out Froome immediately, but the Brit’s charge seemed to falter quickly, as he fell through the wheels to fifth in the group.
Then it looked like Dan Martin who could hold onto Aru’s charge, but with a downward glance and loss of cadence, the Quick-Step man seemed to crack, himself losing much ground to Aru. Just as he began to lose out, however, Romain Bardet made his move, latching onto the Italian’s wheel, Rigoberto Úran behind him. Aru, perhaps paying now for moving earlier than the rest, was soon overtaken by the Frenchman and Colombian, as they moved ahead to fight for the stage. Bardet possessed just that little bit move punch than his rival, however, and he crested the final steep patch of Peyragudes to take victory.
That was not the end of the day’s drama, however, as Aru followed the Frenchman home in third just two seconds later, as Froome still had much of the mountain to climb. The yellow jersey could only manage seventh, twenty seconds behind Aru, who with bonus seconds takes hold of the jersey by six seconds, the first time Sky have ever lost it in the mountains.
It is clear here that Froome’s team is his big advantage over the rest of the GC contenders, but now that Astana are forced to take control of the race, the dynamic will greatly change, with everyone in the knowledge that there is blood in the water. At the same time, Astana are not strong enough to put any kind of damper on the race. Cataldo is out, Fuglsang is injured, and the rest of the squad simply aren’t among the top climbers of the peloton. This, with tomorrow’s 100 kilometre stage to come, will really make the race far more unpredictable. Perhaps Froome will try to defend, holding out for the stage twenty time-trial, or perhaps he will try to get the yellow jersey back from his rival somehow. This combined with a Bardet and Úran who may be as strong as Aru in the mountains, will leave us with a Bastille Day to remember tomorrow.
- Romain Bardet (FRA), AG2R La Mondiale - 5:49:38
- Rigoberto Úran (COL), Cannondale-Drapac - 0:02
- Fabio Aru (ITA), Astana - st
- Mikel Landa (ESP), Team Sky - 0:05
- Louis Meintjes (RSA), UAE Team Emirates - 0:07
- Daniel Martin (IRE), Quick-Step Floors - 0:13
- Chris Froome (UK), Team Sky - 0:22
- George Bennett (NZL), Team LottoNL-Jumbo - 0:27
- Simon Yates (UK), Orica-Scott - st
- Mikel Nieve (ESP), Team Sky - 1:28
- Fabio Aru (ITA), Astana - 52:51:49
- Chris Froome (UK), Team Sky - 0:06
- Romain Bardet (FRA), AG2R La Mondiale - 0:25
- Rigoberto Úran (COL), Cannondale-Drapac - 0:35
- Daniel Martin (IRE), Quick-Step Floors - 1:41
- Simon Yates (UK), Orica-Scott - 2:13
- Mikel Landa (ESP), Team Sky - 2:55
- Nairo Quintana (COL), Movistar - 4:01
- George Bennett (NZL), Team LottoNL-Jumbo - 4:04
- Louis Meintjes (RSA), UAE Team Emirates - 4:51
Kittel keeps green, polka dots stay with Barguil and Yates is still in white.