Chris Froome destroyed his rivals once more on stage 18 of the Tour de France, but is this the end of the battle for the yellow jersey?
Did Chris Froome just seal his third Tour victory?
Barring catastrophe, Chris Froome has pretty much ended this race by winning the stage 18 time trial. Then again, we said the same when Steven Kruijswijk had a three minute lead at this stage of the Giro d’Italia and then crashed badly to end his GC hopes.
Some thought that Froome would try and conserve some energy on this time trial for the final two mountain stages. His time trial abilities are so strong that he could probably have gone at 90 per cent and still not lost much time.
On the other hand, going as hard as he did he might have demoralised his rivals enough to force them into long range attacks on stages 19 and 20.
Waiting until the final climb on the short 146km stage to Mont Blanc on Friday won’t be enough and it might be hard to gain much time on the final stage to Morzine given the descent to the finish line.
Tom Dumoulin doesn’t care about the terrain
Be it flat or be it mountainous, Tom Dumoulin isn’t fazed in any time trial setting. The Dutch TT champion did his jersey justice once more on stage 18 of the Tour de France and absolutely smashed the mountain.
He wasn’t the fastest up ‘Mount Hinault’ to the first time split, but once the road got slightly less steep TD upped the gears and powered towards victory. His party was only spoiled by Froome in the final two sectors of the stage, but it was a phenomenal performance nonetheless.
We’ll jump on the bandwagon and say that if Dumoulin targets the Tour de France next year and there’s a couple of decent time trials in the mix he could well put in the same sort of ride as Sir Bradley Wiggins in 2012 to claim a yellow jersey. As long as Froome isn’t riding, though.
If only it wasn’t for Richie Porte’s first week puncture
Other than Froome, the best rider of the past week or so has undoubtedly been Richie Porte, but his unfortunate first week problems have left him an almighty battle to get on the podium.
A rear-wheel puncture on stage two set Porte back the best part of two minutes on Froome – it’s not easy to get that back in the first weeks.
He also lost two more minutes to Froome on the stage 13 time trial in the Ardèche but has steadily been climbing up the leaderboard ever since.
It was the same for Nairo Quintana last year – he lost two minutes in the cross-winds on stage two and then was never able to make that time back on Froome. Without those two minutes lost on stage two, Porte would be in second place overall right now.
He is looking strong heading into the final two mountain stages and could be the one to really light this race up in the short battles we will hopefully see on Friday and Saturday.
With five minutes to make up and Froome looking indestructible, it’s probably only a podium place that’s up for grabs for Porte, but in his first year as a GC contender at BMC I’m sure he’ll be happy with that.
Quintana faces a struggle to hold onto his top-five place
Every day we ask whether Nairo Quintana is going to find the form he needs to challenge for the top spot, but every day that answer continues to be no. Now, with Porte and Romain Bardet hot on his heels he may drop out of the top five altogether if he struggles again in the next mountains stages.
I fear for the Colombian over the next few days. He’s been able to keep hold of Froome’s wheel when the lead group is riding tempo up the climbs, but when the action heats up, Quintana’s been struggling to find a response.
The final climb on stage 17 was the perfect example – Porte attacked and Froome went with him, but after the first 50 metres or so of the chase Quintana had nothing left to give and even got dropped by the rest of the GC leaders.
In the Giro d’Italia this year we saw the two short mountain stages characterised by high pace and long-range attacks. The average speed of 44.2kph on stage 16 in Italy was faster than that of the sprint stage the following day.
If we see such tactics again on Friday and Saturday, Quintana could find himself in a lot of trouble. That’s if he’s not the one laying down the attacks, of course.
Chapeau to the fans
With all the negative press the fans at the side of the road have been receiving in the past week, it was great to see so many people cheering on the riders along the length and, for want of a better word, ‘behaving’ themselves.
We saw no-one running alongside the riders, no-one waving flags in their faces. They swarmed the middle of the road as the riders approached one-by-one but swept back to let them past without incident.
It’s not easy to be a spectator on a time trial route, given that the event goes on for hours, but the enthusiasm shown for every rider to pass was remarkable, especially the French ones.
Let’s hope we see this kind of support in the final two mountain stages – we know there will be big crowds in Paris.