Dave Brailsford says that the strength of teams will be crucial in the two Alpine stages of the Tour de France
Chris Froome goes into the two crucial stages with an 18 second lead over Fabio Aru (Astana) and with Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) and Rigoberto Uran (Cannodale-Drapac) also within 30 seconds of the Sky man.
Stage 17 sees the peloton climb the Croix de Fer and the Col du Galibier before a descent into Serre Chevalier, while stage 18 finishes with a first ever summit finish to Col d’Izoard.
Speaking to Cycling Weekly after stage 16 about what can be expected in the Alps showdown, Brailsford said: “It will depend on the four guys who are very close and how they are feeling, and the strength of their teams and who has teammates.
“I’d like to think we have the advantage at the minute with [Mikel] Landa and Chris in the front group and on GC. We’ll see if we can use that to our advantage tomorrow.
“All things being equal, we should have two guys in the front group which I think on that last descent could really count for something.
“If anyone will have a go, if anyone has the mentality, it will be [Alberto] Contador. But there’ll be others too. It will be gripping and so tactical. It’ll be exciting.”
Watch: Tour de France stage 16 highlights
Asked if he thinks bigger time gaps between the top four riders might emerge in the coming days, he responded: “A lot will depend on Wednesday. It will come down, I think, to the strength of a rider’s team, but also which top guys have the best legs. Whoever will win this Tour de France will really deserve it.”
Many expect Aru, Bardet and Uran to attack Froome in the Alps, given the 22.5km time trial in Marseille on the penultimate day, where logic would suggest that Froome will post a better time than the trio.
But Brailsford is warning against that type of thinking. “You just can’t say that,” he said. “You have three weeks worth of fatigue. All the norms you usually work with, that’s not an appropriate benchmark at this stage of the game.
“We will see where we get to in terms in terms of freshness on the day. A lot of it in time trialling is about the execution of the ride on the day, a bit like in individual or team pursuit. It will come down to that. You can’t get over-excited, or go hard too soon; you’ve got to pace it right. It’s impossible to predict.
“Our job is to try and get to the end of the time trial with either the same situation we are in now, or better than what we’re in.”
So tight is the race at the top of the standings, Brailsford even suggested that the yellow jersey could be decided on the cobbled streets of the Champs-Élysées in Paris on Sunday, an unprecedented situation in modern times.
“Who knows, we might well have a scenario where we’ll be racing on Sunday for the win,” he said. “Everyone thinks Sunday is a done deal [usually], but we might be racing. It’s pretty exciting.
“I don’t know whether it’s the course [that has made the race to close] or a group of riders being on the same level; it’s hard to pin down. But we find ourselves in this positioning.
“We’re in fun territory. Everyone is gripped by it, including ourselves. It’s what sport is all about.
“Winning with a big margin is always fun, but equally I think for everyone involved, for the race, for the sport, for racing and for the fans, this is the dream scenario.”