Sunday, 24 July 2016
A brave ride by Ion Izaguirre in horribly wet conditions won him his first Tour de France stage win. The day's exciting racing came from the breakaway as the GC contenders rode conservatively in the very wet, slippery conditions keen to conserve their positions rather than taking any risks.
There was an exciting duel on the Col de Joux Plane involving Izaguirre, Jarlinson Pantano, Vincenzo Nibali and Julian Alaphilippe. When Izaguirre, Nibali and Pantano crested the summit together I thought Nibali would be the fastest on the descent but he was cautious, perhaps affected by his crash on the descent yesterday. Instead Izaguirre descended brilliantly and finished a comfortable 19 seconds ahead of Pantano with Nibali a distant third.
Earlier in the stage Romain Kreuziger, who had managed to get into the big breakaway group, became for a while the virtual second on the road. He was assisted by a long, herculean pull by his team mate Peter Sagan until Sagan inevitably blew up on the third mountain climb of the day. Nevertheless it was another impressive show of strength by Sagan. We will have to see whether he will pay for this in today's likely sprint finish in Paris. Kreuziger moved himself up to 10th pushing Mollema out of the top 10.
Chris Froome finished safely in Morzine after a careful descent shepherded by his team down the last dangerous slopes. He faced no serious attacks and providing he finishes today's short stage into Paris will have won his third Tour de France. He joins the select band of three time winners – Louison Bobet, Greg LeMond and Philippe Thys, while Jacques Anquetil, Bernard Hinault, Miguel Induráin and Eddy Merckx won the Tour five times.
Apart from Kreuziger moving into the top 10, the only other change saw Joaquin Rodriguez Oliver move into 7th place with a successful late attack on the Col de Joux Plane. He replaced Fabio Aru, who blew up horribly on the lower slopes of the Col, finishing 17'38 behind Izaguirre and more than 13 minutes Froome and the other GC riders. Ironically his Astana team had been setting a fierce pace to control Kreuziger and perhaps set up Aru for an attack.
Stage 21: Chantilly to Paris Champs-Élysées 113 kms
Much of this stage will be a celebratory procession until the centre of Paris is reached when the racing will start with eight circuits of the Champs-Élysées to finish in a likely bunch sprint. I am going for a win by Marcel Kittel with André Griepel second.
Saturday, 23 July 2016
Yesterday's rain affected stage showed all too clearly why the Tour de France isn't over until the race reaches Paris and can spring surprises. Rain in the last quarter of the short stage made the descents treacherous. Romain Bardet showed how good a descender he is, riding away to become France's first stage winner in this edition. Bardet also moved into second place.
There were a number of crashes including Chris Froome on the last part of the final descent. Fortunately Froome had team mates around him, so was able to borrow Geraint Thomas' bike, ride up the last climb though it was a struggle and only concede a small amount of time on the stage to his rivals. Valverde and Mentjes gained 13 seconds, Quintana 10, Aru and Martin 8.
In contrast to Froome Bauke Mollema also crashed on the last descent but had no team to help him. He lost over four minutes on the stage to fall from 2nd place down to 10th. Astana spent much of the day on the front of the peloton but the tactic wasn't clear, though it may well have been disrupted by the late creashes.
Earlier Tom Dumoulin crashed at the beginning of a climb. It looked innocuous but he injured his wrist and had to abandon.
Due to Mollema's time loss, Froome has actually extended his lead, so now has a 4'11 cushion over Bardet, while Yates and Quintana have swopped places. Yates remains in the White Jersey, although he conceded a little time to Meintjes, who is now 2'16 behind. Rafa Majka ensured that the Polka Dot jersey is his providing he reaches Paris.
Stage 20: Megève to Morzine 146.5 kms
Today is the last chance for the GC contenders to gain or lose time on this short mountain stage. There are four ascents and, equally significantly, four descents and rain is forecast for much of the stage. The final descent from the Col de Joux Plane is tricky. This is where Stephen Roche gained vital seconds on Pedro Delgado in the 1987 Tour, making it easier for him to win the Tour on the final time trial.
There could well be further crashes today. It remains to be seen what affect Froome's crash yesterday will have had on his form. It will surely be a nervous day!
Friday, 22 July 2016
Chris Froome produced a champion's ride yesterday in the mountain time trial beating second placed Tom Dumoulin by 21 second and taking more time on all of his GC rivals. Froome judged his effort perfectly by riding the first part relatively conservatively – down 23 seconds on Tom Dumoulin at the first time check. That reduced to 10 seconds at the 2nd check, while by the 3rd Chris was 13 seconds up. A swift descent into Mégeve extended his advantage to 21 seconds.
Among the other GC contenders Fabio Aru and Romain Bardet rode very good TTs conceding only 33 and 42 seconds respectively. Richie Porte also reclaimed time from his rivals, although he probably started out too fast. Nairo Quintana looked to be losing quite a lot of time initially but limited his losses toward the end of his ride, while closing up a little on Adam Yates and Bauke Mollema. However, Quintana still conceded a further 1'10 to Froome.
Froome now leads Bauke Mollema by 3'52, Adam Yates by 4'16 and Quintana by 4'37. He now has a comfortable lead and short of crashing or falling ill will wrap up his third Tour de France victory in Paris on Sunday. What remains is the fight for a place on the podium and positions within the top 10. Only 2'08 separates Mollema (3'52) in 2nd place from Aru (6'08) in 7th place.
Only two really racing stages remain for the GC contenders – today and tomorrow. Both are short, tough Alpine stages, which I assume will continue to be controlled by Sky making it difficult for the other GC riders to gain time on each other. Today's stage is the race's last mountain top finish, so it may turn out to be a war of attrition as Sky are very unlikely to permit Froome's rivals to escape. Although, nearly four minutes is a reasonable cushion it could still disappear in these two hard days that remain.