Predicting a break away victory on Stage 17 is about as close to a sure bet in cycling as they come. Picking the actual winner, on the other hand, is like playing the lotto.
This will be the 24th time that Gap has been used as a finishing city in the Tour. In recent history, it’s been a guaranteed stage for the break. The last time Gap was used in 2015, Ruben Plaza won from a large break, after Peter Sagan grew tired of shutting down every attack from the group and let him get away. In 2013, Rui Costa took the solo win after escaping from a large breakaway group. Thor Hushovd won in 2011 over his Norweigan compatriot and breakaway companion Edvald Boasson Hagen. More importantly, in the GC battle behind in 2011, Cadel Evans took a minute and nine seconds from Andy Schleck, which would prove to be one of the decisive moves that helped Cuddles win his only Tour.
This year, however, although the profile looks very similar to the past stages, ASO has switched out the Col de Manse, which was 8.9 kilometers at 5.6%, for the gentler Col de la Sentinelle, which is a shorter 5.2 kilometers at 5.4%. More importantly, the steep descent into Gap has been replaced with a much more subdued and undulating finish.
Anyway, let’s turn it over to Amy, who has a suggestion for the sprinters who may need a bit of French courage before the upcoming mountains.
Amy’s Wine of the Day
The wine: Domaine Hauvette Les Baux
This is one to seek out! From the importer: Not far from Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, a tourist town known for Roman ruins and as the place where Van Gogh painted “The Starry Night,” you’ll find Domaine Hauvette. Nestled among the foothills of Les Alpilles, the vines are surrounded by a rocky and wild landscape—the clay and limestone soil retains moisture for the arid summer months, the Mistral blows half the year, and garrigue is seemingly everywhere. It is here that in the early 1980s Dominique Hauvette, seeking more sunshine, left her job as a lawyer in the Savoie, re-discovered her passion for raising horses, and began studying oenology. Thirty-some years later and Dominique now has 17 hectares of vines and an international reputation for making benchmark natural wines.
There are a lot of teams that still haven’t gotten anything out of this Tour for whom this stage represents their last chance for a stage victory. Team Ozymandias... I mean Sunweb... have been a colossal wreck, boundless and bare and look back to last year’s work by Tom Dumoulin and despair. Yet even if nothing of former year’s success remains besides decay, perhaps redemption can be found in a victory from a break away. This stage would be the last opportunity for on-again, off-again green jersey competitor Michael Matthews to get a stage win, so look for him to be fighting to be part of the break.
Golden Greg’s color swap to Orange Greg has not gone so well this year. However, Van Avermaet has won in very similar Tour stages in the past— in 2015 on Stage 13 to Rodez and in 2016 on Stage 5 to Le Lioran. A victory would give something for his team to scream “yes, yes, yes” about.
It’s been rumored that Matteo Trentin will be joining the orange yeasayers next year. But until then, he could use a victory after having a season that’s been marked by consistency but not success. His team has now been freed from supporting the Wrong Yates and this break away stage favors a sprinter who can climb.
In that sprinter-that-can-climb category, we also have Sonny Colbrelli, Magnus Cort, Jasper Stuyven, and Eddy Boss, any of which would be dangerous if they make it into the break.
While the final climb this year is not as hard as in the past stages to Gap, several kilometers of 5% gradient can still provide a springboard to victory for a break away rider with some strong climbing legs. Rui Costa won in Gap in 2013 and may be still able to surprise even if he doesn’t have the same legs as his rainbow year. AG2R have a wealth of options now that their GC plans have been scrapped. Oliver Naesen, Tony Gallopin, or Alexis Vuillermoz all could do well on this finish. Perhaps even Romain Bardet, now almost 30 minutes down on GC, will try to pull out a stage victory here where the high mountains in the Alps might be too hard to do so considering his current form. You’d also expect a bevy of Stanis to be in the break with Fuglsang now
over five minutes askew out of the race. Leaving aside their token Canadian, Hugo Houle, you wouldn’t be surprised to see any of the other Stanis taking a victory— whether it’s Pello Bilbao, Omar Fraile, Gorka Izagirre, Alexei Lutsenko, or Lulu Sanchez.
The more interesting question than who wins is whether we see any GC action on this stage. With three very hard mountain stages ahead, the answer would normally be “no,” but this hasn’t been a normal Tour. Moreover, in the 2011 Tour, Contador and Cadel Evans, both attacked in a similar stage to Gap with a similarly difficult triptych of mountain stages (and an individual time trial) to come. This year’s finish would normally suit Alaphilippe, if he wasn’t donning yellow. Perhaps, though, offense is the best defense for Alaphilippe and a late attack may be able to give him a much needed additional buffer for the upcoming mountains. Nonetheless, we shouldn’t see any of the jerseys changing torsos on this stage as it will all be to play for on the upcoming Alpine slopes.
I, for one, have never anticipated the last stages of the Tour more than this year as there’s still so many questions left unanswered. If I had to hazard a guess at an outcome, I’d pick Bernal to be wearing yellow in Paris. On paper, he’s the best climber in the race and there are many high altitude mountains to come that will suit the young Colombian who was born above 9,000 feet. It would be ironic if at the end of the race we are calling this the most exciting Tour in decades, yet the winner is the pre-race favorite, riding for the strongest team, which has won 6 out of the last 7 Tours. But that just goes to show you that for cycling fans the results matter less than the way we get there.