Froome becomes one of the all-time Tour de France greats
By finishing third in Saturday’s stage 20 individual time trial, Chris Froome (Team Sky) all but sealed the overall win in the 2017 Tour de France to take his fourth victory in the race. There’s just Sunday’s processional stage to Paris until he can claim his prize.
The British rider started the day 23 seconds ahead of Frenchman Romain Bardet (Ag2r) and 29 seconds ahead of Colombian Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale-Drapac). Both of Froome’s rivals knew that it would be a very tall order to overhaul Froome in his favoured discipline over the technical, hilly 22.5km course – and so it turned out to be.
Although this will be Froome’s first Tour win without also taking a stage – it’s unlikely that we’ll see the yellow jersey sprinting to victory on the Champs Élysées – his dominance in the race has barely been in doubt.
Only a brief wobble on the Col de Peyresourde at the end of stage 12 saw Froome relinquish the race lead for two days to Italian rival Fabio Aru (Astana). But as the race went on and into the Alps, Froome got stronger.
Uran was billed as the rider most likely to unseat Froome – something that Froome himself said – but with the benefit of knowing Uran’s times on the course, Froome put in a trademark perfectly-measured performance to finish 25 seconds quicker than Uran.
Froome may be disappointed to end the race without the kudos of a stage victory, but the overall win is ultimately what counts. When he stands on the top step of the podium in Paris on Sunday, he will join the all-time cycling greats, with only four riders having taken more Tour victories than him: The ‘five’ club of Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain.
Bardet just saves Tour podium spot
Romain Bardet and his Ag2r-La Mondiale team have certainly enlivened this edition of the Tour de France. Having placed second in last year’s edition, the Frenchman wanted to go all-out to take the victory this year.
It couldn’t really have been closer after 19 days of racing through the Pyrenees, Alps and beyond. Bardet started the day just 23 seconds adrift of defending champion Froome.
However, you could feasibly argue that the lack of time trial kilometres in this year’s race up until Saturday has hidden Bardet’s greatest weakness as a Grand Tour contender: he is not strong against the clock.
Everyone knew that Froome would gain time on his rivals in the TT, so first spot was out of touch for Bardet (barring Froome suffering a disaster). Of more immediate concern for Bardet was not only losing his second spot overall to stronger time triallist Uran, but also slipping off the podium completely as Sky’s Mikel Landa could move up to third.
Landa put in a strong time in the TT, and as we awaited the arrival of Bardet in the Marseille Velodrome it became clear that it was going to be close. As Bardet crossed the line to cheers in the stadium, he managed to beat Landa by just a single second to keep this third place.
Bardet has proven that he can climb and descend as well as anyone – perhaps better. Ag2r, too, have established themselves as having possibly the only team to rival Sky. But now Bardet must focus to improve his ride against the clock if he wants to take the top step in Paris next year.
Bodnar’s biggest win
Up against an array of the best time trialling talent in the world – including world champion Tony Martin (Katusha-Alpecin) – few were expecting Maciej Bodnar (Bora-Hansgrohe) to scoop a sensational win in Marseille.
The Polish rider set a relatively early fast time on the course and waited patiently in the hot seat as a succession of riders came across the finish line. None could match his time.
It’s the 32-year-old’s biggest victory to date by some margin, with only a handful of victories in a 10-year professional career to indicate what he was capable of.
The route of the time trial evidently suited his talents: an unusual mix of fast flats, very tight turns and a vicious ascent and descent. He absolutely nailed it to take his first individual Grand Tour stage win in his 11th appearance in a Grand Tour.
Best young brothers – but can we see them together at the Tour now, please?
Simon Yates (Orica-Scott) has all but sealed the best young rider classification of the 2017 Tour, following his brother Adam just 12 months earlier. It’s the first time that two brothers have won the prize since it was introduced in 1975.
Simon Yates had been drafted into the Tour having originally been told that he wouldn’t take part in favour of Colombian Esteban Chaves. With Chaves injured in the Tour build-up, Yates was given the nod to ride as co-leader, but it quickly transpired that he was the only GC contender for Orica-Scott.
The 24-year-old took the white jersey after stage five, and has been engaged in a battle with South African Louis Meintjes (UAE Team Emirates) for the coveted prize of the highest-placed under-26 rider in the general classification.
Amazingly, the two rivals finished the TT with exactly the same finish time: 29 minutes and 49 seconds, but Yates’ advantage of over two minutes going into the day meant he safely kept the white jersey.
Surely both the Yates brothers have now booked themselves a place in next year’s Tour, when we can finally see them riding together for a podium place, or perhaps podium places. With the rumoured signing of Mikel Nieve from Sky for next season, Orica-Scott could be a formidable force for the 2018 Tour.
A great Tour de France for the French, but…
It has been a wonderful Tour de France for the French. Arnaud Démare (FDJ), Lilian Calmejane (Direct Energie), Romain Bardet (Ag2r) and Warren Barguil (Team Sunweb) all won stages. Démare wore the green jersey of points classification leader for a spell, and Barguil has sewn up the King of the Mountains competition by some margin. Plus Bardet is third overall and Barguil 10th.
It is therefore quite natural that there is some celebration and bias towards things French in France’s biggest race. However…
Watching television coverage of the top-seeded riders during the time trial, you could could have been forgiven for thinking that Froome wasn’t taking part. There were plenty of images of Bardet and rival Uran, but scant few of the race leader. The TV pictures are provided around the world via the host broadcaster – so what they transmit is what everyone has to use.
When we did see Froome, sadly he was once again accompanied by audible booing and jeers from the crowd in the stadium and from roadside spectators. It’s something that has followed Froome – and other members of Team Sky – throughout the race, even to the point that Bardet apologised and said that Froome “is a champion and he deserves respect. I respect him as a rival and he does not deserve this sort of treatment”.
There was also dismay during the time trial when the overall super-combativity prize was announced as being awarded to Barguil. Sure, Barguil chased for KOM points in breaks, but that’s why he won the KOM classification, plus he has the spoils of two great stage wins.
It’s almost beyond dispute that the rider who spent more kilometres attacking and in an escape than anyone else is Belgian Thomas De Gendt (Lotto-Soudal). By that performance, he should have taken the overall combativity prize, which is decided by a jury rather than a clear points system.
After receiving plenty of messages of support on social media from fans, De Gendt himself said via Twitter: “The public vote is worth more to me than the vote of six jury members.”
A little bit of bias towards the French is part of the Tour, but on occasion this year it has started to interfere with the race – not least when Bardet escaped a time penalty for taking an ‘illegal’ drink during the finale of stage 12 when others were penalised.
After complaints were lodged, there was farce when instead of imposing a penalty on Bardet, all of the penalties were scrapped by the jury.