By Nigel Wynn
The expected attacks on 2016 Tour de France race leader Chris Froome (Sky) largely failed to materialise during stage 17 of the race in the Swiss Alps on Wednesday. Nairo Quintana (Movistar) faded in the stage's summit finale, losing more time to Froome.
Froome strengthened his overall grip on the general classification after the stage to Finhaut-Emosson, and now sits 2-27 ahead of Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo), who was dropped by the pace of the GC group in the final kilometres.
Adam Yates (Orica-BikeExchange) put in another strong performance to finish the stage only a few seconds behind Froome. Yates sits in third overall at 2-53, with Quintana losing ground in fourth, now at 3-27 behind Froome. Quintana lost 28 seconds to Froome on the stage.
Prior to the GC riders crossing the line, Russian Ilnur Zakarin (Katusha) had taken the stage victory after attacking from the day's escape group.
After a very fast start to the stage, and a selection of failed attempts to form an escape group, a 14-rider break managed to get away. The lead group contained some of the Tour's most aggressive riders: points classification leader Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) and King of the Mountains Rafal Majka (Tinkoff) among them.
Sagan scooped up the maximum intermediate sprint points to increase his lead even further in the points classification, and Majka did the same on the day's first two classified climbs.
The group gained an 11-minute lead over the Sky-led peloton. Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) had also tried to bridge to the escape group, but was swallowed back up by the bunch.
Alexey Lutsenko (Astana) attacked from the break as they hit the slopes of the day's penultimate climb of Col de la Forclaz with 24km to go but was caught 4km later.
Movistar took a turn at the front of the peloton and turned up the pace, but only succeeded in burning through some of Quintana's team-mates. Subsequently, Astana took to the front to put the pressure on Fabio Aru's GC rivals.
As the break hit the base of the final climb, Majka and Jarlinson Pantano (IAM) attacked, with Zakarin in pursuit. Zakarin then accelerated, first dropping Majka and then Pantano.
Zakarin continued to push on to take the stage victory, nearly losing control of his bike with fatigue as he attempted to do up his jersey for the victory celebration. Pantano came in for second, with Majka third.
Meanwhile, Richie Porte (BMC) attacked from the dwindling GC group and was joined by Froome. Quintana could not keep pace, and started to drop backwards as Yates accelerated to almost catch Porte and Froome on the line.
Porte benefitted from his move, rising to sixth overall. His BMC team-mate Tejay van Garderen fared less well, being dropped from the GC group early on and finishing in 64th place. Geraint Thomas (Sky) was another to get distanced, finishing in 37th place.
Thursday holds one of the key stages of the entire 2016 Tour de France: the stage 18 mountain time trial. The 17km route runs from Sallanches to Megève, tackling the Côte de Domancy and then on to the Côte des Chozeaux before a two-kilometre descent to the finish.
Tour de France 2016, stage 17: Bern to Finhaut-Emosson, 184.5km
1. Ilnur Zakarin (Rus) Katusha in 4-36-33
2. Jarlinson Pantano (Col) IAM Cycling at 55 secs
3. Rafal Majka (Pol) Tinkoff at 1-26
4. Kristijan Durasek (Cro) Lampre-Merida
5. Brice Feillu (Fra) Fortuneo-Vital Concept at 2-33
6. Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Direct Energie at 2-46
7. Domenico Pozzovivo (Ita) Ag2r La Mondiale
8. Stef Clement (Ned) IAM Cycling
9. Steve Morabito (Sui) FDJ at 4-38
10. Richie Porte (Aus) BMC Racing at 7-59
11. Chris Froome (GBr) Team Sky at 7-59
12. Adam Yates (GBr) Orica-BikeExchange at 8-07
14. Fabio Aru (Ita) Astana at 8-18
16. Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar at 8-27
General classification after stage 17
1. Chris Froome (GBr) Team Sky in 77-25-10
2. Bauke Mollema (Ned) Trek-Segafredo at 2-27
3. Adam Yates (GBr) Orica-BikeExchange at 2-53
4. Nairo Quintana (Col) Movistar at 3-27
5. Romain Bardet (Fra) Ag2r La Mondiale at 4-15
6. Richie Porte (Aus) BMC Racing at 4-27
7. Alejandro Valverde (Esp) Movistar at 5-19
8. Fabio Aru (Ita) Astana at 5-35
9. Daniel Martin (Irl) Etixx-QuickStep at 5-50
10. Louis Meintjes (RSA) Lampre-Merida at 6-07
15. Geraint Thomas (GBr) Team Sky at 20-15
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