After the monotony of stage ten about which I will now shut my mouth, stage eleven did not disappoint. Before the stage started I was planning to be home to see the Bisanne, but my lateness was not something I would regret as I scrolled through Twitter to see reports of Luke Rowe, yet again able to pull the peloton the whole way as a large break pulled clear. I won’t say I lost hope. I will say I deflated a little. The race came to life, however, with fifty-four kilometres left as Alejandro Valverde attacked on the Col du Pré.
I can’t say I had any problems with the action the stage offered up — drama was there in spades. Again, however, this stage leaves me disappointed, if for a different reason than yesterday. Mainly, it’s with Movistar that I’m disappointed. Valverde gave it a go, but he was never going to make it stick from there and the display put on by his team mates was not worthy of anyone who wish to win the Tour de France. Landa I assume is still recovering from his crash on stage nine — I was surprised he continued the race after it given how long it took him to get up. If that’s not the case I have no idea where his form has gone. And now we come to Quintana.
You know, I actually believed we might get a different story from Quintana this year. I was actually close to picking him for the win — his ride in the Tour de Suisse impressed me, as had the whispers of him being in better form than ever before. As it turned out, if I had to sum up Quintana (Or Quintana in the Tour de France if you’re being generous) I would simply show you his ride today — not taking his opportunities when they were there, not having the legs to impact the race and ultimately giving up to race for minor placings. Oh yes, I know it is unfair to blame a rider for tactical choices when they didn’t have the legs, but the fact that he never has the legs is just as - no, more - relevant. Since 2015 Nairo Quintana has come to the Tour saying he’d win it. Since 2015 Nairo Quintana has never come even close to delivering on that promise. Since 2015 Quintana has never even given Sky pause, getting himself too far back to win without a huge attack, and proving unwilling or unable to make it. I do not think he will ever win the Tour de France.
Will Geraint Thomas? Now, that’s the story of the day. The idea that he’s going to be burned for Froome is not one I’d embrace wholeheartedly, simply because it’d be a pointless thing to do. Thomas is capable of equalling or bettering Froome in the ITT. He’s so far climbed flawlessly. They are unlikely to encounter a situation where they are isolated far from the finish as attacks are flying off the front, as this stage showed very clearly that those attacks will be either non-existent or very easy to deal with. Sky rode flat-out for sixty kilometres today with a Poels as cold as the one in Antarctica and a Bernal on a bad day. When they were down to Thomas and Froome, that was no longer anything approaching a problem. No, if Thomas has the legs to win this race, he will win it. He will not submit, any more than he will actively try to bury Froome. Simply, however, if he has the legs to stay with his team-mate in the mountains, he will win this race.
Froome, however, remains the big favourite. Thomas has never before gotten all the way through a Grand Tour at the front, while Froome has proved an expert in simply winning. There will be no gifts. This isn’t the same sort of team battle as 2012, where it was common sense to ride for Wiggins, 1985, where it was common sense to ride for Hinault, or 1986, where common sense didn’t enter much into it. At what point does a guy win one of the princess stages to go into yellow and think “I should ride for someone else?” They don’t. Thomas will not be leashed. Then again, nor will Froome. Is another attack on the cards? It’s more likely than I would have originally expected. My main qualm with Froome was that he had ridden the Giro and not looked too convincing — today he looked like he had had an entirely normal build-up. He looks even stronger than he was last year, somehow.
As for the rest of the GC guys, I think an exam rating is in order:
Dumoulin is of course the day’s other winner — he’d be very close to yellow if not for his mishap back in Brittany and while he was tactically very astute he needed the legs to back it up, which clearly he had in spades. Wait now for the “the Giro is the best TDF prep race” hot takes. Obviously that’s nonsense, but currently two of the three best riders spent three weeks in Italy. How important was that extra week? Oh, and extra points also for the little sprint to nick Froome’s bonus seconds.
Dan Martin’s day looked better than it was — he wasn’t able to stick with the attacks on La Rosière but his racer’s sense and GC disadvantage saw him profit more from the stage than his perhaps stronger competitors. Mind you, if Bardet, Quintana and co. race to a standstill Martin’s attacking riding will stand to him. Roglic was extremely impressive, looking untroubled in the second GC group. Oh, and Nibali is keeping himself well in contact. Be ready for him in the third week. He also made the best effort in the Quintana group.
Final words go to the day’s unfortunates — Mikel Nieve must have thought the stage was his, even though there are few better sights in cycling than an attacker getting caught late on.
And right at the end, appropriately, I must mention Marcel Kittel and Mark Cavendish. Kittel isn’t done, he’s just as inconsistent as Julian Alaphilippe’s facial hair. Cavendish...oh no Mark. It doesn’t look good.