Chris Froome finishes safely on stage 20 of the Tour de France to set up another overall win as Ion Izagirre wins a thrilling finish
Froome all but seals yellow
With such a large lead going into today, it was always likely that a mixture of the weather, misfortune and some dodgy downhills was going to be more of a threat to Chris Froome (Team Sky) than attacks from his rivals.
And indeed while no attacks were forthcoming from the other GC riders, the heavens did open and made for some nervous descending.
Froome negotiated the wet roads in a visibly cautious manner, eager not to succumb to another fall like on stage 19, and was as ever surrounded brilliantly by his teammates, four of whom – Wout Poels, Geraint Thomas, Sergio Henao and Mikel Nieve – remained at his side by the finish.
Once the hazardous final downhill to Joux Plane was finally conquered, Froome could finally crack a smile as he crossed the finish line, the Tour all but wrapped up.
Ion Izagirre wins thrilling battle for the stage win
What stage 20 lacked for GC action in made up in the battle of the stage, which was unpredictable, constantly fluctuating and featured some great mano-a-mano battles.
Ion Izagirre (Movistar) was ultimately successful, but with 25km to go at the bottom of the Col de Joux Plane he looked out of contention. Jarlinson Pantano (IAM Cycling) and Julian Alaphilippe (Etixx-Quick Step) had torn down the previous descent and opened up a lead over the rest of the breakaway group of over a minute, and went on to battle it out on the early slopes of the climb.
Even when on the Joux Plane he and Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) had caught up to the pair and Alaphilippe was dropped, Izagirre still looked up against it, with another descent to the finish that Nibali and Pantano seemed much better suited to.
But it was the Spaniard who took to the front of the downhill and dropped the others, while Pantano botched a few corners and Nibali rode with the caution of a man whose main target – the Olympics – awaits in a few weeks’ time.
With Quintana hanging on for a consolation podium overall and Izagirre landing them their first stage win of the race, it’s no longer looking like such a bad Tour de France for Movistar after all.
Watch: Tour de France 2016 stage 20 highlights
Battle for the podium fails to ignite
After Friday’s eventful stage shook up the GC and left the podium contenders so close together, we had expected a hard-fought battle today for the hallowed second and third-place slots on the leaderboard.
But instead the contenders rode defensively, with those within striking distance of Romain Bardet’s (Ag2r La Mondiale) second place and Quintana’s third apparently happy with their lot. For Adam Yates (Orica-BikeExchange), fourth place is an extraordinary achievement for one so young and with so little experience, and evidently not something he was willing to throw away in pursuit of a possible podium place.
Similarly for Richie Porte (BMC), who was also not far behind at 50 seconds behind Quintana, fifth place was too good a result to risk for someone who has never finished higher than nineteenth overall at the Tour.
Meanwhile Fabio Aru (Astana), an outside bet to top the others, was in clear discomfort at the bottom of the Joux Plane and ultimately lost enough time to drop out of the top ten completely.
Movement lower down the GC
The race for the podium may have been a damp squib, but there were attacks from riders further down the GC, however.
Roman Kreuziger (Tinkoff) got into the day’s break, and, despite not contesting for the stage win, did gain enough time over the GC group to move up from twelfth overall into the top ten.
And later on, on the climb of the Joux Plane, Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) attacked the bunch, catching up to his teammate Ilnur Zakarin who had been in the day’s break, and reached the finish line nearly a minute ahead of the chasing bunch – taking him from eleventh to seventh overall.
Their moves might not have shaken up the race completely, but does demonstrate the potential rewards for imaginative thinking and aggressive riding.
Sagan awarded the super-combativity award
It seems it’s impossible to go a day without talking about what Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) has done, and stage 20 he was again at the front of the race, this time in service of his teammate Kreuziger.
The Slovakian put in a huge stint at the start of the day, riding at the front of the breakaway over the huge Col de la Colombiere, and flying down the descents to almost single-handedly cause splits in the group, and open up a lead over the peloton that at one point was over seven minutes. He finally peeled off with 62km to go, after around 80km of hard work.
The ride was typical of Sagan, who is just as full of panache riding for teammates as he is for himself, and for his efforts he was awarded the super-combatity award as the most aggressive rider of the whole Tour.