Now the Tour de France really starts
After four days of the 2017 Tour de France the race really started on stage five. The first summit finish at La Planche des Belles Filles gave the general classification contenders a real chance to see who is looking good and who definitely is not.
Race organiser ASO surely wished that the GC men would make a go of this stage despite it being so early on, with two and a half weeks to go. Thankfully we were all treated to a decent climbing battle rather than a dull truce, albeit on a climb shorter than those in the Alps and Pyrenees.
On the evidence of stage five, we’re in for some memorable mountain battles.
Fabio Aru and Daniel Martin look better than some rivals
Foregoing his home Grand Tour, the Giro d’Italia, due to injury seems to have worked wonders for Fabio Aru (Astana). Resplendent in the tricolore jersey of Italian national champion, Aru took his first ever Tour de France stage victory in fine style.
Attacking hard relatively early on La Planche des Belles Filles, the rest of the contenders group failed to follow his move. Perhaps some among their number did not deem him a serious contender, or that his attack would not stick on the steeper, later ramps of the climb. Chances are, they won’t be making that mistake again.
Daniel Martin (Quick-Step Floors) continues his strong start to the 2017 Tour, having already placed third on stage three. In some respects, Martin’s attack to claim second place was more impressive than Aru’s – launched in the final 500 metres and accelerating away from defending champion Chris Froome (Team Sky).
Aru and Martin’s efforts have propelled them up the overall standings, now in third and fourth respectively behind new leader Froome and former leader Geraint Thomas.
Conversely, Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Alberto Contador (Trek-Segafredo) both lost time on a climb that really should have suited them, neither currently looking as strong as Aru or Martin.
Watch: Tour de France 2017 stage five highlights
What’s up with Nairo Quintana?
Nairo Quintana (Movistar) lost 34 seconds to stage winner Fabio Aru, and 14 seconds to arch rival Chris Froome on what ultimately ranks as a short climb among those packed into the Tour’s three weeks.
Quintana is riding both the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France this year, aiming to place highly in both. The Giro ended with him looking some way off his peak climbing form as he finished runner-up to Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb). We thought that perhaps he was saving his best for the Tour, but on stage five he was unable to keep up with key rivals, and looked uncharacteristically uncomfortable.
Perhaps he is already missing the presence of key team-mate Alejandro Valverde (Movistar), who is capable of pulling Quintana up the steepest mountains and launching attacks to soften rivals. With Valverde out of the race after that opening stage time trial crash in Düsseldorf, Quintana’s Movistar team look significantly weakened.
That said, if there’s one thing Quintana excels at, it is getting stronger throughout the course of a three-week race. It really is early days.
Chris Froome in the lead already
As race leader for the first four stages, opening time trial winner Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) has said prior to the stage that he did not expect to still be in the yellow jersey at the end of the day. An ideal situation for Team Sky would perhaps have been for one of the escape group to nick the win and ‘look after’ the yellow jersey for a few days, relieving the pressure.
However, the action among the general classification riders on the final climb meant that Sky leader Chris Froome had no option but to finish ahead of his rivals – and in particular, former Sky team-mate Richie Porte (BMC) – to stamp his authority and ensure no time loses, including via bonus seconds on the finish line.
Now Froome finds himself already in the yellow jersey going into stage six – last year, his first appearance in yellow was after stage eight, and in 2015 it was stage seven. Can he really stay in the race lead for the next two and a half weeks and claim his fourth Tour victory? That would also mean that Sky would lead the race in its entirety.
One thing that was apparent on stage five was that Team Sky are very strong, with good numbers to ride in front of Froome and with superdomestique/Plan B Thomas looking in great shape.
We’ll also mention here the other Briton leading a classification: Simon Yates. The Orica-Scott rider placed sixth on the stage to claim the white jersey, and now sits sixth overall too.
A mixed day for the French
Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) – third overall in the 2014 Tour – dropped out of the lead group on the final climb very early on. Having put so much effort into the Giro in May, where he finished fourth overall and won a stage, Pinot is evidently saving himself for a stage win later in the race rather than a high overall placing.
Last year’s runner-up Romain Bardet (Ag2r) finished fifth behind Aru, and four seconds behind Froome. No great disaster, but he was following wheels rather than attacking. He is now seventh overall and 47 seconds behind Froome.
One cause for celebration for the home nation is Arnaud Démare’s appearance in the green jersey. The FDJ sprinter moved to the top of the points classification after winning the previous day’s stage, and with Peter Sagan’s disqualification from the race, Démare is now one of the leading contenders to claim the green jersey in Paris.