Froome will lose his lead before the second rest day
Eighteen seconds. That is all that currently separates Chris Froome from Fabio Aru.
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Before the second rest day, there are two mountain days – of which stage 12 is a summit finish – and a medium mountain stage.
There are, then, ample opportunities for the riders closest to Froome – Aru, Romain Bardet, Rigoberto Uran, Jakob Fuglsang and Dan Martin – to eat into his slender lead.
The summit finish to Peyragudes is the obvious stage where if Aru shows his attacking instincts and power like he did on stage five, Froome could lose his lead.
For Bardet, it is stage 13 that he will be eyeing. After cresting the category one Mur de Peguere, the final 27km is downhill. And few riders in the peloton are as good as Bardet at descending; Froome, though, can rightfully point to his daring stage eight move last year.
But even stage 14 to Rodez could have a factor: it kicks up at the end similar to stage three, and Ardennes Classics specialist Martin has to be in with a shout of stage victory, if the sprinters don’t beat him to it.
Considering a stage winner gets a 10 second bonus, too, in theory Aru would only need to win a stage by nine seconds from Froome (and hope the Brit finishes fourth or below) to seize ownership of the yellow jersey.
After the rest day, there are two mountain stages and a time trial around Marseille. Froome could well lose the lead, but the smart money remains on him winning in Paris.
Landa to ride into podium contention
Despite Chris Froome losing his key helper Geraint Thomas to injury, much has been made about Sky having four riders in the general classification top-15. Sitting the highest after Froome is Mikel Landa, in ninth.
Landa was meant to have been riding for GC at the Giro d’Italia until a motorbike got in his way of his dreams. But he rode strongly to win the mountains jersey and it is clear that he has entered the Tour in form, not fatigued.
Ahead of stages 12 and 13, the next mountain days, he is 2-15 off a podium spot.
Riding for Astana two years ago at the Giro, on stage 14 he was 1-19 off third place. Two successive stage victories later and as a result of his wins and those above him collapsing, he had propelled himself to second place. He went on to finish third overall.
If he can continue to climb as well, he may be given permission by Froome to aid his own aspirations and win a stage.(Although, Froome will be wary of Landa: in 2015, there was internal conflict between his Astana team-mate and leader Fabio Aru, and at the Giro this year he suggested that he wouldn’t pay attention to the co-leadership with Thomas).
Don’t bet against him overhauling a number of riders above him in the next week and becoming a real contender for a podium spot in Paris.
Contador will win a stage
More than five minutes adrift of Chris Froome, it would appear that you can say with some certainty that Alberto Contador won’t win the race, and probably won’t ever win another Tour overall.
But the Spaniard doesn’t give in easily and he will be eyeing two things: as high an overall placing as possible, and a first Tour stage win since 2009.
There are five likely chances for the Trek-Segafredo man. Being the high-profile rider that he is, he will want maximum profile for a stage victory and stage 18’s inaugural summit finish on the Col d’Izoard is the perfect setting.
Wherever he looks to grab his stage victory, he can do so knowing that the GC rivals can permit him a few minutes.
As an aside, five minutes is a monumental time deficit to bridge, but Contador thrives in coming back from a distance and jumping up the classification in big bites. It’s unlikely, but a top-five isn’t out of the question.
Quintana to ride into form and to a podium finish
He’s been largely unnoticeable so far, but Nairo Quintana hasn’t ridden as badly as what many people think – he’s only 2-13 behind Chris Froome, and 82 seconds off Romain Bardet in third.
The Colombian has form for improving as the Tour wears on, and as alluded to above, there are chances for GC riders to make their move across a number of stages.
He may well not be on top form after the Giro d’Italia, but it could be that he has been hiding something back, ready to strike in the race’s second and third week.
It looks as if he has too much to do to catch Froome, but in the three Tours the Movistar rider has ridden before, he has always finished on the podium. Can he make it four out of four?
Greipel’s drought continue
In terms of the number of races he was won so far this season, André Greipel is having his worst campaign since 2007.
He has failed to win a Tour stage, but has recorded a hat-trick of third-places as his countryman Marcel Kittel (Quick-Step Floors) dominates the sprints.
There are two probable sprints remaining before the next rest day, and Saturday’s ride into Rodez could also end in with the fast men doing battle. After that, there are three stages seemingly earmarked for the sprinters. So plenty of chances, Andre.
He won’t be too concerned with his winless form, for he endured a similar barren run at the 2016 Tour, only to win in Paris on the final stage.
But with Kittel looking unstoppable, Greipel’s drought could be set to persist.
Michael Matthews to win the green jersey – but not a stage
With Peter Sagan disqualified, we have an unexpected but welcome, genuine fight for the green jersey.
Marcel Kittel is the current incumbent, and Michael Matthews (Team Sunweb) is the closest to him, 102 points in arrears. Andre Greipel and Katusha-Alpecin’s Alexander Kristoff are also in contention.
Kittel may well be leading, and looking certain to win more stages, but Matthews is surely the prime favourite to overhaul him, even more so with Arnaud Demare and Mark Cavendish also out of the race.
Like Sagan, Matthews can climb, as well as sprint. As he has already done in the race, he can go up the road early in the stage and collect intermediate sprint points, which he can then add to at the stage’s finish.
There are faster sprinters than him, and despite two podium spots so far, it remains unlikely that he will win a stage.
But by continuing with a high placings in the finale, and winning intermediate sprints – especially on hillier days when Kittel struggles over climbs – the man known as ‘Bling’ could be the next Australian to win the maillot vert.
Note: This post was updated to clarify that Michael Matthews would not be the first Australian to win the green jersey. Robbie McEwan and Baden Cooke have both won the Tour de France points classification.