Boasson Hagen gets to celebrate at last
Having finished a very close second on stages seven and 16, Edvald Boasson Hagen left nothing to chance on stage 19 of the 2017 Tour de France to take a fine solo victory in Salon-de-Provence from the day’s escape group.
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The Norwegian and his Dimension Data team must have been wondering what they could do to win a stage, before Boasson Hagen played the long game and produced victory. Stage seven’s near-miss was particularly cruel, as he crossed the line virtually simultaneously with Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step Floors). However, the jury awarded the win to Kittel after the two riders’ front tyres were separated by just one pixel in the finish-line image.
Boasson Hagen has had a varied career, during which the 30-year-old has been touted as a possible Grand Tour contender, Classics champion, time triallist and sprinter. If the truth be told, he’s never quite fitted in to any of those moulds, and stage 19 showed what he absolutely does best: Out-riding everyone else on a gruelling day at the end of an even more gruelling three weeks of racing.
Having taken the ‘right’ way around a roundabout into the finale and gapping all but Nikias Arndt (Team Sunweb) from the break, he then simply out-paced the German and time-trialled to the line to secure an emphatic win – his first Tour stage win since claiming two in 2011. No photo finish needed this time.
Team Sky happy to let the break go
With Chris Froome in the yellow jersey, it fell on Team Sky’s collective shoulders to sit at the front of the peloton during the longest stage of the 2017 Tour de France.
When a large 20-rider escape group finally formed, and with the confirmation that no-one in the break posed even the remotest threat overall, Sky were very happy to let them go and not chase too hard. It was all about keeping Froome safe from harm prior to the following day’s decisive time trial in Marseille.
At one point, the gap between the break and peloton started decreasing – which Sky sports director Nicolas Portal was not happy about.
“We’ve let the gap to the breakaway increase to eight minutes but it has decreased against our will,” Portal told FranceTelevisions during the stage. “We want it to go up again. We certainly don’t want a bunch sprint finish. It would be a risky finale.”
Portal got his wish. The finish was contested from the break, and the bunch rolled home well over 12 minutes behind them, with no stress and no danger.
Watch: Tour de France 2017 stage 19 highlights
Matthews takes green all the way to Paris
Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb) started the Tour de France as an outside favourite to prevent world champion Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) from taking a sixth consecutive green jersey.
What neither Matthews or anyone else could have predicted is how his fight for the points classification could have panned out.
First, Sagan was disqualified from the race after clashing with Mark Cavendish on stage four, also seeing the latter leave the race due to injury. Then Frenchman Arnaud Démare (FDJ) dropped out with illness. And then Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step Floors) left the race while wearing the green jersey after crashing on stage 17.
However, it does the Australian a great disservice to suggest that he’s only in the green jersey because Sagan, Cavendish, Démare and Kittel are out. He has ridden consistently throughout the race and to his strengths, with two stage wins. He’s also employed the tactic often used by Sagan of scooping up intermediate sprint points on hilly stages that don’t suit pure sprinters.
Whatever the result on Sunday in Paris, no one can now surpass Matthews in the green jersey. It’s his, and he definitely earned it.
Thomas De Gendt, breakaway king
Another stage, another escape group featuring Thomas De Gendt. The 30-year-old Lotto-Soudal Belgian was once again in the day’s break, having spent over 1,000km of the 2017 Tour’s total 3,540km in an escape.
Along the way, he tried his luck collecting mountains and sprints points, and had a final flourish on stage 19 by winning the intermediate sprint in Banon. For his efforts, he sits third in the mountains classification and sixth in the points classification. Slim reward for such a feat.
Sadly, it now looks highly likely that he will come away from the 2017 Tour without a stage win – no repeat of last year’s victory on stage 12. Although, who would discount the possibility of him joining in an escape on the final stage into Paris and giving it everything? Perhaps he will get the overall combativity award.
All in for Saturday’s time trial
With the last categorised climb now passed, the only remaining realistic chance that Chris Froome’s rivals have of unseating him from the overall race lead will be Saturday’s individual time trial around Marseille.
Froome goes into the TT as one of the favourites for the stage victory – and surely he would love to seal his fourth overall Tour win with a stage win, which has so far eluded him in the race.
Of course, the top three is still tight and it won’t be plain sailing. Froome is only 23 seconds ahead of second-placed Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) and 29 ahead of third-placed Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale-Drapac). That’s the sort of time advantage that could be wiped out by a puncture or mechanical problem, or even just a bad day.
Colombian Uran looks most likely to provide the biggest challenge for Froome in the TT, with a better pedigree against the clock than Frenchman Bardet. Froome’s advantage as last man off is that he’ll know the times to beat on the course, a luxury that Uran will not have over either Froome or Bardet.
One way or another, race organiser ASO looks set to have its wish fulfilled, as the final time trial really could cause a major upset at the eleventh hour and provide a nail-biting finale.