Primoz Roglic takes one step closer to victory
Primož Roglič (Jumbo-Visma) passed his biggest test yet at the Tour de France, defending his yellow jersey over the brutal Col de la Loze mountain and putting more time in Tadej Pogačar (UAE Team Emirates).
He was aided by another exceptional performance by his Jumbo-Visma team-mates. Although Bahrain-McLaren took it upon themselves to set the pace in the peloton, Jumbo-Visma still boasted the numerical advantage as the summit neared. Sepp Kuss in particular did sterling work, and even managed a fourth-place finish on the stage having helped Roglič near the summit after Pogačar had been dropped.
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Kuss at last ran out of legs with just less than 2km to ride until the summit, leaving Roglič and Pogačar in a mano y mano battle. It was agonising for Pogačar, who could see his fellow Slovenian just metres up the road, but couldn’t quite close the gaps on the impossibly steep gradients. Eventually he reached the line 15 seconds behind the yellow jersey, losing another two seconds due to the bonuses at the line.
Pogačar has the consolation prize of the polka-dot jersey to add to his white jersey, having gone out of his way to gain some points over the top of the Col de la Madeleine. But the colour he really wants to wear, yellow, is slipping away from him.
Miguel Ángel López wins the stage, and throws a potential spanner in the works
Ahead of the Slovenian showdown for the yellow jersey, Miguel Ángel López (Astana) was flying to a stage victory.
The Colombian, who began the stage in fourth overall, was the first of the GC candidates to attack, whittling the group down to just himself, Pogačar, Roglič and Kuss with 3.5km left to ride.
Lopez was then the only rider able to follow Kuss when the American moved up the road, and proved himself to be the strongest rider on the climb when Kuss dropped back 2.5km from the summit, leaving him to solo to victory.
Although some of the hype that surrounded López when he first burst onto the scene cooled somewhat after a couple of under-par Grand Tour showings last year, the rider nicknamed ‘Superman’ is still young, and appears to have matured and developed this year. Whereas in past Grand Tours he had a tendency of perhaps tiring himself with too many attacks, he spent the opening two weeks of this year’s Tour preserving energy, energy that he is now unleashing over the most important mountainous stages.
With an advantage of 1-39 over Richie Porte (Trek-Segafredo), third place overall is now his to lose; but if he can climb like this again tomorrow, might a surprise bid for the yellow jersey even be on the cards? It’s a long shot, with a time trial to come and 1-26 still to make up on Roglič, but there’s enough climbs on stage 18 to make it a possibility. Maybe the 2020 Tour de France will crown a Colombian winner after all.
Adam Yates and the other podium contenders lose time
Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) was one of four riders who saw their hopes for a podium take a huge knock by Miguel Angel Lopez.
One by one they were dropped as the summit neared. First Mikel Landa (Bahrain-McLaren) and Rigoberto Urán (EF Pro Cycling) were dropped, which perhaps prompted López into making his attack 3.5km from the top. That move then did for Yates, and though Richie Porte hung on for a little longer, he too soon found himself distanced.
All five had appeared very evenly-matched throughout the Tour so far, but on a climb as difficult as the Col de la Loze, the fine margins separating them were at last exposed. Now, López boasts a lead of 1-39 over Porte in fourth, with the other three all within another 22 seconds off Porte.
Still, hope is not yet lost. López has traditionally been a relatively poor time triallist, especially compared with Porte and Urán, and Yates and Landa are both still capable of a big ride tomorrow, if they can recover well.
With a podium finish still on the cards, expect a battle between all of these riders to be one of the most intriguing subplot of the next few days as the race comes closer and closer to Paris.
Bahrain-McLaren’s efforts backfire
By taking control of the race on the Col de la Madeleine, and remaining at the front of the peloton for almost all of the rest of the stage made no secret of their hopes for today. With Sonny Colbrelli, Matej Mohorič, Wout Poels and Pello Bilbao all putting in huge turns, it was clear to everyone that they fancied their leader Mikel Landa’s chances for a stage victory today, and intended to make this a hard race for everyone.
Unfortunately, the plan backfired when one of the riders for whom the relentless pace-setting proved to be too much was, in fact, Landa himself.
The Spaniard looked to be suffering during the monster turn set by Bilbao, which reduced the peloton to a mere 13 riders. But having committed so much throughout the stage already, you felt the team were already in too deep to back off now. The pace notably decreased when Bilbao swung off and Landa’s last remaining domestique, Damiano Caruso, took over, but still the Bahrain-McLaren rider remained at the front, and still Landa sat in his wheel.
The plan completely unravelled when Pogačar’s last remaining UAE Team Emirates domestique, David de la Cruz, took over from Caruso 4km from the finish, increasing the tempo to one which neither Caruso nor Landa could match. Landa finished the stage in seventh, and remained in that position in the overall classification.
It was an embarrassing end to what was an enormous effort, but Bahrain-McLaren should be at least applauded for giving it a go. They clearly have a very strong team, but perhaps need to utilise them a little more subtly and inventively than simply doing Jumbo-Visma’s pace-setting for them.
Richard Carapaz has another go for Ineos Grenadiers
With Egan Bernal unsurprisingly abandoning from the race following the end of his yellow jersey hopes, it was up to his remaining teammates to go out on the attack to try to win a stage for Ineos Grenadiers.
Just like yesterday, it was Richard Caparaz who took responsibility. Having finished second place yesterday, he again went up the road on stage 17 and got into the day’s break. Despite being given little chance of survival due to the pace set by Bahrain-McLaren, he continued to dig deep on the Col de la Loze, and was the last survivor of the day’s break after Gorka Izagirre (Astana) and Julian Alaphilippe (Deceuninck – Quick-Step), only eventually being caught with 3km left to ride.
Carapaz’s very presence in this race is an act of self-sacrifice. The Ecuadorian had been pencilled in as the team’s leader for the Giro d’Italia, but the lack of form shown by both Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome in the run-up to the Tour prompted Ineos Grenadiers to draught him in as Bernal’s main super-domestique at the last minute.
Even though his efforts as a domestique have come to nothing, with Bernal dropping out of contention at the end of last week, and even though Thomas is now set to be the team’s leader at the Giro, Carapaz is not sulking at all, and has put in a huge shift to attack on two consecutive days.
To survive out in front for so long today despite the speed of the peloton today, and to still have the legs to finish eleventh, indicates that he has superb form. He must be tired after two successive days on the attacks, but a stage win could yet come his way on stage 18.