Fabio Aru looking sharper than Chris Froome
Chris Froome (Team Sky) really looked like he was struggling in the finale of stage 12 of the Tour de France on Thursday. Italian Fabio Aru (Astana) bided his time to attack on the steep slope of Peyragudes, and Froome simply could not match his acceleration – ultimately leading to Aru coming in 20 seconds ahead of Froome, and earning the right to the yellow jersey.
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Froome may or may not be overly concerned at losing the yellow jersey at this juncture, having spent seven days in it, but he may be concerned that so many of his other rivals also joined Aru in distancing him as he looked vulnerable for the first time.
Stage winner Romain Bardet (Ag2r), Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale-Drapac), Louis Meintjes (UAE Team Emirates), Dan Martin (Quick-Step Floors) and even his own team-mate Mikel Landa all placed ahead of him as he weaved across the road.
Aru’s taking of the race lead is final confirmation that he is Froome’s biggest rival in this Tour de France.
Are Team Sky too strong?
Once again, Team Sky put in a collective perfectly-paced performance. Each team member has a clearly defined position in a mountains stage. Christian Knees and Luke Rowe are the power men to sit at the front of the bunch to maintain a tempo on the first half. Once they swing off, it is Vasil Kiryienka and Michal Kwiatkowski who nail it on the front, keeping a high pace and shepherding leader Chris Froome in the bunch.
Then it is the two Mikels – Landa and Nieve – who ride ahead of Froome on the final steep inclines. Their blistering speed serves to dissuade anyone trying to attack. A GC rival wishing to attempt to break free would have to put themselves into the red and risk blowing – only to get caught again within a few hundred metres.
Froome may have faded in the finale, but Landa – having towed his leader up the climb – managed to finish fifth on the stage.
There is no other team that even comes close to being as strong as Sky at this year’s Tour. But are they too strong? Much has been made of the fact that the majority of the team are of Tour-winning quality themselves. With that much firepower engaged in battle, they may need to throttle their effort back so that they don’t burn out their leader.
Watch: Tour de France stage 12 highlights
Nairo Quintana waves goodbye to a Tour de France podium place?
There were questions over Nairo Quintana‘s form going into the Tour de France after he attempted the Giro d’Italia as the first part of a Grand Tour double. However, the Movistar leader looked off-peak in the Giro and, sadly, he now looks off-peak in the Tour, too.
Under normal circumstances, the Colombian climber would have used a stage such as this to put his rivals under the hammer. But with no team-mates to support him, he appeared completely isolated and was the first big name to be dropped from the contenders group on the Col de Peyresourde.
He looked even more isolated riding solo behind the contenders group, dropping further and further back, and finished in 11th place, two minutes and four seconds behind stage winner Bardet.
Although the salvaged second place overall at the Giro in May, it will take a huge turnaround in form for Quintana to get near the Tour podium in Paris on Sunday, July 23.
Another Pyrenean showdown on Friday
With his rivals witnessing a potential chink in Froome’s armour, will they capitalise in Friday’s short, punchy climbing stage? The 101-kilometre stage from Saint-Girons to Foix features three first-category climbs in its central section.
There’s no summit finish, meaning that Froome’s rivals will have to attack him over the Mur de Péguère and manage to keep him at bay on the descent. It has to be said this seems an unlikely scenario.
Perhaps we will see the tables turned, with Froome launching an attack on the descent – as he did on stage eight of the 2016 Tour – and gaining himself some time back on arch-rival Aru?
Aru cannot simply sit on Froome’s wheel for the rest of the race – and he probably won’t – mindful of the British rider’s ability to regain time in stage 20’s time trial. Either way, the race is on.
Green jersey fight… at last
No matter your opinion on the circumstances surrounding Peter Sagan’s ejection from the Tour de France earlier in the race, his absence has caused a reinvigoration of the green jersey competition.
Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step Floors) currently leads the points classification, but Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb) evidently has designs on relieving the five-stage winner of his green outfit. Well, probably not literally his green outfit as that would be a bit gross and would have the wrong sponsors…
Anyway, the two riders put themselves into the day’s early escape group and put in a hard-fought battle to claim the maximum points at the intermediate sprint point. Matthews came out on top, with Kittel Second.
It shows how serious the two riders are in fighting it out for green, despite Kittel currently leading Matthews by a large margin of 130 points. This is what the points classification should be about.