Geraint Thomas dominates first summit finish
One month ago and Geraint Thomas was taking a big leap towards the Critérium du Dauphiné title at La Rosière, and today he stood atop the same climb pulling on the yellow jersey of the Tour de France.
Thomas put in a virtuoso performance on the final climb, attacking as soon as Michal Kwiatkowski pulled off the front with 5.5km to go, riding across to Tom Dumoulin like he was standing still, and then going on the attack with a kilometre to go to catch and pass Mikel Nieve to take the stage victory.
The result puts Thomas into the yellow jersey by 1-25 ahead of team-mate Chris Froome, and more than two minutes ahead of everyone else with the exception of Dumoulin.
With that margin and performance Thomas looks a strong favourite to hold yellow beyond Alpe d’Huez tomorrow, and also a serious threat to Chris Froome’s hopes of winning a fifth Tour de France. The only uncertainty is Thomas’s ability to keep things together for another week-and-a-half.
Chris Froome forced to play second fiddle
At the start of the race it looked as if the likes of Nairo Quintana and Romain Bardet would be the biggest threats to Chris Froome‘s search for a historic Giro/Tour double, but the 33-year-old instead found himself stranded with these riders as he watched Thomas ride up the road to La Rosière.
The good news for Froome is that he wasn’t stranded for long, eventually being able to shed Quintana, Bardet, Vincenzo Nibali, and Primoz Roglic, and was able to combine with Dan Martin to ride up to Thomas and Dumoulin.
However before he got there, Thomas was on the attack again, leaving Froome to unsuccessful try to get rid of Dumoulin in the final kilometre before the Dutchman pipped him on the line for a couple of bonus seconds.
Inevitably there will now be questions over who is really Team Sky’s Tour de France leader, with answers potentially emerging on Alpe d’Huez tomorrow.
Dumoulin plays things to perfection
While Thomas and Froome lit up the stage with displays of brute force, Tom Dumoulin‘s second place on the stage and consequent leap up the general classification was as much a case of wits as watts.
We didn’t quite see what happened on the descent of the Cormet de Roselend, but Dumoulin and team-mate Søren Kragh Andersen were able to distance the the rest of the GC group to give the Dutchman a 30-second advantage going onto the final climb and link up with Alejandro Valverde and Marc Soler.
And Dumoulin really needed that advantage as despite dropping Valverde he ended up climbing to the finish slower than Froome and Thomas, and would doubtless have struggled to match their accelerations in the final five kilometres had he been sitting in the group.
Being able to finish with Froome meant that Dumoulin moved up to third place in the general classification, but he’s certain to come under more pressure on Alpe d’Huez on Thursday.
Movistar’s tactical manoeuvre enlivens the race but ultimately falls flat
After Team Sky took complete control of yesterday’s stage, Movistar seized stage 11 by the horns to put Marc Soler in the break, send Alejandro Valverde on the attack with 54km to go, and join up with his team-mate to hold a lead of 1-15 over the Team Sky peloton by the top of the Col du Pré with 57.5km remaining.
That descent had slimmed to 30 seconds by the base of the finishing climb, and disappeared altogether as cracks began to show in the Valverde armour after he was joined and then dropped by Dumoulin, quickly falling back to and out of the back of the main GC group.
Meanwhile Mikel Landa didn’t last much longer as he was also dropped from the GC group, eventually finishing 1-47 behind Thomas, while Nairo Quintana could do nothing to resist Chris Froome’s counter-attacks, finishing alongside Bardet, Nibali, and Roglic at 59 seconds.
That means that Movistar’s three leaders now sit seventh, ninth, and 11th in the GC, with all needing a quick turnaround in form if they are to pose the same tactical threat that they posed early in this stage later in the race.
Sprinters suffer in short mountain stage
While the GC contenders were battling it out on the short mountain stage, stage 11 was simply a matter of survival for those at the back of the race, with not everyone surviving the day.
Having battled to stay inside the time cut by just 28 seconds on stage 10, there was no repeat miracle for Mark Cavendish, Marcel Kittel, and Mark Renshaw, all of whom were eliminated from the race after failing to finish within the time cut of 31-27, and Cavendish finishing more than an hour down.
However the commissaires took mercy on Kittel’s Katusha-Alpecin team-mate Rick Zabel, who put in a last gasp sprint to cross the line just four seconds outside the limit, but will be allowed to start tomorrow and go though another day of agony in the mountains.