Three days in the Alps to look forward to
Battered and bruised contenders
Sunday’s incident-packed stage nine might not have produced the expected substantial time gaps, with the majority of GC contenders all finishing together in the same group, but the impact of its many crashes may well shape how the second week of the Tour unfolds.
Richie Porte (BMC Racing) might have been the only major contender whose injuries were serious enough to abandon the race, but many others who crashed will be feeling aches and pain.
Chris Froome (Team Sky), Mikel Landa (Movistar), Rigoberto Uran (EF Education First-Drapac) and Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) were among those to hit the deck, and we won’t find out for sure how damaged each of them are until racing begins again in Annecy.
Similarly, there were others who managed to stay upright but still had to endure plenty of stress and use up plenty of energy – chiefly Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale), who spent a large portion of the stage chasing to get back into the peloton.
With the race immediately heading to the Alps for three consecutive days of climbing, there will be no period of recuperation for any riders struggling – any lingering pain or fatigue might be enough to end a GC bid.
Rest day legs
There won’t have been a rider in the peloton who didn’t welcome Monday’s rest day, which gave the riders a chance to go out for an easy spin with a coffee stop, take a quick dip in Lake Annecy, and spend a lot of time with their legs up in bed watching Netflix.
However although the riders will be nicely rested after a relaxed day, that doesn’t mean they’ll all be on top form for Tuesday’s testing mountain stage.
These are riders who have been racing for four or five hours per day for the last nine days, and giving the body a really easy day after those exertions can have a strange effect with riders struggling when it’s time to put their legs to the test again today.
For this reason there could be real damage on the first climb of stage 10, the Col de la Croix Fry, with anyone in trouble early on having a long day of chasing to limit their losses.
After one week of racing, we’re not really much the wiser as to who will win the yellow jersey as we were at the start of the race.
Will Tom Dumoulin (Team Sunweb) be fresh enough after his efforts at the Giro? Does Vincenzo Nibali (Bahrain-Merida) still have what it takes to compete for yellow? Are the likes of Romain Bardet, Dan Martin (UAE Emirates) and Adam Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) capable of jumping to the next level? Can someone like Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo) upset the more established names and compete for yellow?
In fact, we’re not even sure yet of which rider will be designated leader for the race’s two strongest teams. Is Chris Froome’s status as leader under any threat from Geraint Thomas, especially now the Welshman is sitting pretty at 59 seconds ahead of him? And which of Nairo Quintana, Mikel Landa and Alejandro Valverde will prove the strongest of Movistar’s starry trident?
These questions have intrigued for months, and at last we’ll get some answers at the start of week two. The GC race will begin in earnest as the race reaches the Alps, the hallowed mountain range that has served as one of the Tour’s major battlegrounds for a century.
First up is stage ten, consisting of three of the climbs featured in La Course plus the category one Col de la Croix Fry and Hors category Plateau des Glieres. A downhill finish may temper the impact of all these huge mountains, but there will be no hiding the following day when the stage finishes atop La Rosiere for the race’s first summit finish.
By the time the region’s most famous climb, Alpe d’Huez, has been summited at the end of Thursday’s stage twelve, we’ll have a far clearer picture of which riders are in contention to win the overall.
An Alpe d’Huez summit finish
The highlight of the second week is likely to be the ascent of Alpe d’Huez.
This is the climb that will attract the most crowds, media attention, and focus from the GC contenders, and has been the setting for innumerable drama throughout the history of the Tour de France.
The Alpe features much earlier this year than in recent Tours, having featured as part of the final week in each of its previous six appearances stretching back to 2004.
Don’t expect that to limit its impact on the race, however. With a week and a half of racing to come, it won’t be a final showdown for the overall classification, but will perhaps produce the large time gaps that ultimately decides the winner of the race.
Also, with two hors-categorie climbs preceding it in the shape of the Cols de la Madeleine and Croix de Fer, the riders will be suitably softened up for the main event.
The old adage of whoever is in yellow at the top of Alpe d’Huez goes on to retain it until Paris may well hold true once again.
There haven’t been many breakaways of note so far this Tour, with most occupied by riders from small teams as specialists steered clear in the knowledge that chances of success were negligible.
That will change this week, starting in the three Alpine stages with climbers who are now far enough down on GC to be given licence to attack, some of whom will also have their eye on the polka-dot jersey.
It’s the two stages at the end of the week that will really interest the specialists, however. Stage fourteen features exactly the kind of rolling terrain that is perfect for successful escapees, and a finish in Mende that often hosts a breakaway winner, while the long descent to the finish in Carcassonne that follows the Pic de Nore summit on stage fifteen will likely deter GC teams and instead again play into the hands of the day’s break.
The break probably won’t be allowed to succeed on stage thirteen, however, as sprinters’ teams will be desperate to make the most of a rare opportunity to compete for victory – particularly Fernando Gaviria (Quick-Step Floords), if, as is likely, Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) makes a move for extra green jersey points in the hillier terrain that the Colombian will likely be dropped in.