One more hurdle for Thomas
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If he wasn’t allowing himself to dream of victory before today, Geraint Thomas must be believing by now. Barring an outright disaster in the 31km time trial on Saturday, Thomas’s lead of 2-05 over Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) should comfortably see him ride into Paris on Sunday to become the third Briton to win the Tour de France.
He rode with the strength and maturity of rider who has won multiple Grand Tours, not panicking or reacting too much when riders went on early attacks.
Thomas has a history of having one really bad during Grand Tours, and today very well could have been that day. The sheer amount of climbing on offer over the Col d’Aspin, Col du Tourmalet, Col de Bordères and the Col d’Aubisque posed a huge threat even with the downhill finish, but Sky continued to effectively marshal the front of the peloton and keep Thomas safe as they have done since he took yellow.
The race leader was even able to sprint in for second behind solo winner Primož Roglič (LottoNL-Jumbo), blowing a sigh of relief as he crossed the line with the knowledge that he’s on the cusp of taking a career defining victory.
Roglič bosses the descent
Summit finishes are great, but they only tend to reward the rider who has the legs on that particular day. But the downhill finishes, which are becoming more and more a staple of the Tour in recent years, can often reward a rider who is both strong and technically astute.
And that’s how today’s finish to Laruns panned out, with Primož Roglič absolutely bossing the 20km descent to the finish with the likes of Tom Dumoulin, Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome on his wheel.
The Slovenian attacked the final climb, looking super strong, but couldn’t establish a gap. But that didn’t matter, as he put in an exceptional and daring descent to distance the GC contenders behind and win the stage with a comfortable 19 seconds in hand.
Roglič deserves it; he’s looked stronger than Froome through most of the mountain stages without the formidable team around him. He’ll now head into the time trial tomorrow confident of not only having a chance of winning the stage, but holding the 13 second gap he now has over four-time winner Froome to take the third step in Paris.
Long range attacks fail to stick
The main concern for the GC contenders was the potential for long range attacks over the Tourmalet, but while some big names did try, it was never really for an overall gain but for the stage win.
Mikel Landa (Movistar) and Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) were the two most notable riders to attack up the Tourmalet, and while they still sit within the top-10 overall, their main ambition would have been to save some face in this Tour with a stage win after failing to match those towards the top of the GC.
But it never looked like Sky were willing to let the stage be decided by those two and the others in their group, closing things down around 1.5km from the top of the Aubisque.
Initially, it looked like Sky would be happy to let a breakaway get away as they had on previous mountain stages, but the inexplicable chasing from Katusha-Alpecin at the start of the day to keep the break within four minutes or so meant any attackers were going to have a real job on their hands to stay away.
In the end, it was down to the GC riders to decide the final mountain stage, and end the hopes of a lot of riders chances at grabbing a late victory at this Tour de France
Alaphilippe wraps up the KOM competition
One of the most impressive riders in this Tour has to be Julian Alaphilippe (Quick-Step Floors). In the opening week over the punchy Classics style stages, the Frenchman was aiming for a potential stint in the yellow jersey, as well as a maiden stage win.
While he was unable to secure time in the maillot jaune, his breakaway victory on stage 10 in the Alps to Le Grand Bornard saw him claim the lead of the king of the mountains jersey, and he hasn’t let it go since.
Whether or not he aimed for the polka dots at the start of the Tour, he’s refocused his aim on it to such an extent it’s never looked like anyone could challenge him. On every mountain day he’s made it into the breakaway to at least claim points on one of the early climbs, and even extending that to a second stage win after going clear of the fallen Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) on the final descent of stage 16.
His closest rival has been last year’s KOM, Warren Barguil (Fortuneo-Samsic), with both riders out in the break today to try and claim points. Barguil had to claim more or less every point going on today’s stage to overhaul Alaphilippe, but didn’t ever really challenge the Quick-Step man, who punched his way to the top of Col d’Aspin to claim enough points to seal the jersey.
It’s been a stunning second Tour de France appearance for Alaphilippe, who at 26-years-old, is a certain superstar in the making.
Sagan struggles in
Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe), with three stage wins to his name in this Tour, had already wrapped up his main aim of the race in mathematically sealing the points competition this week, and just needed to make it through these closing mountain stages and to Paris to win a record-equalling sixth green jersey.
But a crash on the descent of Wednesday’s short stage to Col du Portet saw him struggle through yesterday’s flat stage where he was unable to contest the bunch sprint, and put him in serious danger of not making the time cut today.
The world champion looked in a bad place even as the break tried to form in the early part of the day on the flatter roads, but things looked really worrying for him on the early slopes of the Col d’Aspin.
Sagan was quickly distanced there, but had team-mates in Daniel Oss and Maciej Bodnar around him to try and get him to the finish.
He hovered at 20 minutes down on the leaders for a long time over the Tourmalet, and was over half an hour down over the final climbs with the time cut at 45-47 for the day.
Luckily, he was able to roll in with the gruppetto in second to last place at 38-23, with the only rider behind him Taylor Phinney (EF Education First-Drapac), who came in two minutes later after sustaining what looked like a horrible crash during the stage.