During the first rest day, we looked back on a chaotic first week and contemplated the racing we’d seen. With less than a week to go and the Pyrenees and Massif Central joining the Jura in the broom wagon’s rear view mirror, we take this opportunity to look forward to the six stages that remain, and contemplate which prizes are still available for the cyclists fighting onwards towards Paris.
The remaining parcours
There are six stages still to be covered. The final stage is a procession to Paris, complete with shots of champagne-swilling team members of the yellow jersey team, and handshakes from all the jersey winners. The racing will get serious when we reach the Champs-Elysees but only the sprinters will have any chance.
The day before that, stage 20 is a mostly (but not entirely) flat time trial around Marseille. We have two stages in the Alps, 17 and 18, the former including two haut-categorie climbs, and the latter finishing at the top of the HC Izoard. Stage 19 is a mostly downhill run into Provence which will be a sprint or a breakaway, and Tuesday’s stage 16 is a tough hilly stage with a slightly uphill finish in Romans-sur-Isere.
Nothing at stake, barring accidents
Simon Yates hasn’t come close to winning a stage, hasn’t looked spectacular, and won’t trouble the podium in a race weakened by injuries. Still, his main objective was a white jersey, and it’ll be a big surprise from now if he doesn’t go home with one. Of his main rivals, Meitntjes lost a little time on the Planche des Belles Filles and lots on Mont du Chat, and is now over three minutes back, and none of the others have stayed within ten minutes of Yates. Of the remaining riders, Buchmann and Latour in particular will be disappointed with their classification at the moment. We can expect to see Simon continuing to ride at or near the front of the race through the remaining mountain stages, and his time trialling should be good enough for him to hold white into Paris.
This one never really got close.
Polka dot jersey
When I wrote the offseason capsule for Sunweb I wasn’t sure if Barguil was ready for another crack at team leadership in a Grand Tour. Well, haven’t the German team planned this one nicely? After Tom Dumoulin won the Giro, they’ve sent Barguil out to hunt for King of the Mountain points, and stage wins. He’s delivered both – after his assault on the jersey so far, nobody is taking the spots off him now. Sunweb have done nicely in the points competition, too. Speaking of which…
Probably nothing at stake, but keep half an eye on it
Marcel Kittel has seen two things go his way so far. First, he’s dominated the flat sprints, picking up points everywhere you’d expect him to. As I write this he’s won five stages, and I don’t think he’s finished winning yet. He’s also seen the two form riders who were suited to fighting him with consistency in both flat and hilly sprints, Demare and Sagan, leave the Tour early, the former missing the cut on a difficult jura stage after injury, and the latter thrown out for throwing an elbow (apparently).
The competition that remains is Michael Matthews, as Sunweb bid for another jersey. Bling has ridden himself into form through this tour, picking up his second career stage win on the steep sprint into Rodez. He’s obviously a superior climber to Kittel and has a chance to pick up points from intermediate and steep finishes. He has been on a bit of a tear in the last few days but a lack of consistent finishes in the 4th-8th range on the flat stages has left him with a gap of 79 points still to make up. Despite a few opportunities, including Tuesday’s uphill sprint, he probably needs Kittel to miss a time cut in the Alps, as overtaking him on points looks awfully tough.
Still something at stake - keep watching
On paper, this one is still close. Froome lost time unexpectedly in the final kick into Peyragudes on stage 12, with Aru vaulting into yellow. Aru reciprocated by losing time into Rodez on stage 14 and Froome is back in the lead. The gaps back to Bardet and Uran have been reduced significantly and the current GC looks like this:
2. Aru +0.18
3. Bardet +0.23
4. Uran +0.29
5. Martin +1.12
6. Landa +1.19
Nobody else is within 2 minutes of Froome.
There are still two mountain stages to go where the climbers could attack each other, but the racing to date suggests that there really isn’t much between the top few on current form. Gaps are likely, big gaps are unlikely. A huge time swing could happen, of course, but it would be more about a bad day than a dominant display. The final time trial lurks as a far more significant test and the stage where there is a clear gap between the top four.
Of the group, you’d be confident that Froome is the best time-triallist (multiple Olympic medallist, to say nothing of his previous Tour successes) and is proven in his ability to perform after three weeks of hard work. Aru is very likely to be better than Bardet, but for both of them the sample size is smaller, especially at the end of a GT (and in Aru’s case, after an injury). The wildcard is Uran. At his best he’s very good, but in recent times (this year’s Pais Vasco, last year’s Giro) he’s been below that level. A ride to the standard he prodcued in the 2015 Giro would put him into second place, probably.
This competition isn’t over yet, but if Aru and Bardet can’t put serious time into Froome, it’ll probably be over when the three of them cross the line in Izoard. The remainder of the podium is definitely up for grabs and I could see Uran, Bardet and Aru finishing in any order – but I’d be surprised if any of them pass Froome, who has been made to work but should have enough to wrap up a fourth victory.
Martin’s 5th place must be under threat from Landa, who is climbing well and is the superior time-trialler.
There’s always stage wins
This all feels very negative, and that isn’t the point of this post. It is true that the majority of the jerseys look pretty wrapped up, but it is also true that there’s a lot of racing left to happen – indeed, many would say that we have the Queen stage into Izoard, as well as the longer of the Tour’s two chrono stages still to come. Most importantly of all, we still don’t know who is going to finish 1st, 2nd or 3rd in the overall competition. It is a rare Tour when you can reach the last rest day and have that degree of uncertainty.
On top of than that, there are several riders, and teams, who will be disappointed with their Tours so far and will want to get some measure of glory. Expect to see quality breaks up the road all week and serious competition for the stages. Kittel will want to put a bow on his domination with a win on stage 21 in Paris, the defining stage for any sprinter. Quintana, Contador, van Avermaet and many more big names will want to demonstrate their quality on cycling’s biggest stage.
There’s something at stake every day. Enjoy the last week of the Tour; you’ll miss it when it’s gone.