Stage 17: La Mure to Serre-Chevalier (183 kms)

At first, I was thinking of doing a blow by blow blog today. But a retrospective blog is so much more fun to right. I can make it spicier. The Tour moved into the Alps and with the closest ever tour in its entire 114 year history, with the Top 4 separated by 29 seconds, today promised to be a cracker of a day. Even the green jersey competition was heating up, with just 29 points separating Kittel and Matthews. And today we had the BEST (and one of the hardest and THE most used) mountain: Col Du Galibier(Hórs Categorie), along with Col Du Telégraphe(Cat 1) and Col de la Croix de Fer(Hórs Categorie).

It was going to be a hard day for Kittel having a Cat 2 climb before the intermediate sprint, so it was expected that Matthews would cut down the lead to 9 points in the Intermediate Sprint by taking the 20 points for the Sprint. Plus, Sunweb has been an impressive team in the Tour neatly chopping away the lead in the Green jersey from Kittel while smartly defending their Polka Dot Jersey held by Warren Barguil. Thomas Boudat (Direct Energie), attacked from the gun and the peloton got really strung out within the 1st 10k, but was brought back together. There was a bad crash at 20k: Steve Cummings(British Champion, Dimension Data) mooned the camera as his shorts ripped right from the butt. Also down were Green Jersey, Marcel Kittel and Polka Dot Jersey, Warren Barguil. At the front, Sunweb drove the peloton hard. While Barguil got on the bike without much harm, Kittel was bleeding, his jersey torn and his shoes and bike damaged. He was shown getting a shoe change and getting an ice pack and medical attention on his shoulder. Even Barguil, who was in 12th place before the start of the stage, was given quick medical attention.

Even in the front, Primoz Roglic(Lotto Jumbo NL) fell, but quickly got back on. On the Cat 2, col d'Ornon, Michael Matthews (Sunweb) and Thomas De Gendt(Lotto Soudal, 2nd in the Polka Dot Jersey competition) got into a duel. Sunweb’s smart strategy was to preserve Barguil’s lead over DeGendt, so Matthews attacked and took the major share of points on the Col D’Ornon. 33 riders were in the front of the race: Cyril Gautier and Mathias Frank (AG2R-La Mondiale), Jonathan Castroviejo and Jesus Herrada (Movistar), Michael Gogl, Jarlinson Pantano and Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo), Amaël Moinard, Nicolas Roche and Danilo Wyss (BMC), Darwin Atapuma and Ben Swift (UAE), Rudy Molard (FDJ), Esteban Chaves (Orica-Scott), Serge Pauwels (Dimension Data), Pawel Poljanski (Bora-Hansgrohe), Robert Kiserlovski (Katusha-Alpecin), Thomas De Gendt and Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Soudal), Michael Matthews, Simon Geschke and Albert Timmer (Sunweb), Nicolas Edet and Dani Navarro (Cofidis), Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo), Thomas Voeckler and Sylvain Chavanel (Direct Energie), Alberto Bettiol and Dylan van Baarle (Cannondale-Drapac), Ondrej Cink (Bahrain-Merida), Marco Minnaard (Wanty-Groupe Gobert), Brice Feillu and Pierre-Luc Périchon (Fortuneo-Oscaro). Matthews and De Gendt kept their small lead infront of the 1st group, with Matthews easily taking the Intermediate Sprint at 47.5k and coming within 9 points of Marcel Kittel.

Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) also had a bad crash and as the camera panned to him, he had a nasty gash below his eye and blood on his face.
At km 50, Matthews and De Gendt were 1.10 ahead of the 31 chasers. Peloton was at 5.15. As the ascent started for the peloton on the HC, La Croix-de-Fer, Nairo Quintana attacked! It was hilarious to see him not sucking on anyone’s wheel and going solo, but hey, till he sucks on someone’s wheel he isn’t fast enough. And so, sure enough, he was caught within 5 minutes. And then, like the old days, A gallant Spanish man emerged from the Peloton. His name: Alberto Contador(Trek Segafredo).

Having fallen out of the Top 10, today was a day when he wanted to make a mark and it was vintage Contador as he drove the pace. Quintana sucked on his wheel and followed and the 2 riders formed a 100 meter gap with the Peloton. Funnily enough, this happened:

The screenshot doesn’t show it, my timing was bad, but Quintana got dropped by the pace being set by Contador. As Contador needed company, he slowed down and gestured by hand asking Quintana to catchup. And 2 minutes later, Quintana dropped again. And this time Contador said bye bye. Meanwhile, the pace set was so hard that even Team Sky;s Luke Rowe dropped from the front, but Vasil Kiriyenka took on the pacing duties.

15km before the top of la Croix-de-Fer, Matthews and De Gendt were 1.50 ahead of the 31 chasers, 3.30 ahead of Contador and 4.50 ahead of the peloton. Quintana was reined in Michael Gogl(Trek) waited for Contador and helped him ride across to the Mollema-Roglic group. Contador really looked in fine form today. Dani Navarro(Cofidis) attacked from the second group, joining Matthews and De Gendt just before the summit. In some bad news, Thibaut Pinot(FDJ, 4th this year in Giro D’Italia) retired from the race due to sickness. 1 km from the summit of the col de la Croix-de-Fer, Matthews was dropped but he had done his job. De Gendt and Primoz Roglic summited 1st, getting 20 points each. In the 2nd group, Jarlison Pantano(Trek) started to push the pace for Alberto Contador, bridging the gap to 20 seconds between them and the leaders.

This is where the race was happening today. I mean, not only was the racing breathtaking but the views were just jaw dropping. De Gendt and Navarro were reeled in by the Contador group with 89km to go. And then in heartbreaking news, Kittel withdrew from the Tour De France. Which meant, Matthews got the virtual green jersey. 24 riders: Cyril Gautier and Mathias Frank (AG2R-La Mondiale), Jonathan Castroviejo and Jesus Herrada (Movistar), Alberto Contador, Jarlinson Pantano and Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo), Amaël Moinard and Nicolas Roche (BMC), Darwin Atapuma (UAE), Rudy Molard (FDJ), Serge Pauwels (Dimension Data), Pawel Poljanski (Bora-Hansgrohe), Robert Kiserlovski (Katusha-Alpecin), Thomas De Gendt and Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Soudal), Dani Navarro (Cofidis), Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo), Thomas Voeckler (Direct Energie), Alberto Bettiol (Cannondale-Drapac), Ondrej Cink (Bahrain-Merida), Marco Minnaard (Wanty-Groupe Gobert), Brice Feillu and Pierre-Luc Périchon (Fortuneo-Oscaro) had a 3 minutes lead over the yellow jersey group with 81km to go. Trek was pushing the pace, making the inroads today. And then (I’m nobody to comment on this), Contador stopped and got a bike change. I mean, he stopped. And stood there. And I don’t understand why. But anyways. And then, the 2nd monster appeared: Col du Télégraphe (11.9km climb at 7.1%)

Men were dropped left and right and with less than 5k to go only Mathias Frank (AG2R-La Mondiale), Jesus Herrada (Movistar), Alberto Contador and Bauke Mollema (Trek-Segafredo), Amaël Moinard (BMC), Darwin Atapuma (UAE), Serge Pauwels (Dimension Data), Tony Gallopin (Lotto-Soudal), Dani Navarro (Cofidis), Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo), Ondrej Cink (Bahrain-Merida) and Brice Feillu (Fortuneo-Oscaro) were left. Roglic was the 1st one to ascend Col De Télégraph with the peloton 3:35 behind as the Tour headed to the Galibier for the 59th time in history. Roglic attacked at Valloire (See map above), Alberto Contador and Serge Pauwels followed. Michal Kwiatkowski was frantically pacing the yellow jersey group ahead of Nieve, Landa and Froome. He really had impressed in this year’s tour. Quintana was dropped. HAHAHAHAHAHA! I actually got a message today from a legendary athlete I know, a World Class racer and legend saying “Quintana is such a fraud”. I had tears of laughter rolling from my eyes. 11km before the top of the Galibier, Roglic, Pauwels, Contador, Atapuma and Frank were together with 3.15 advantage over the yellow jersey group. And they were joined later by Navarro. With 6k to go, Roglic went solo. I’ve seen the guy TT in Lausanne during the Tour De Romandie, where he won the TT and finished 3rd overall and he is a former Ski jumper, so a break at this stage meant that he might get the 1st Slovenian win at the Tour De France. Dan Martin tried to attack and make up for the time he lost yesterday. Atapuma attacked from the Contador group to try to come across to Roglic. Dan Martin meanwhile was reeeled in by the yellow jersey group. Warren Barguil then attacked from the yellow jersey group, trying to make it into the Top 10 overall. And then, as per my discussion with the great man, who said “either laurels or the ambulance”, Frenchman Romain Bardet(Ag2R La Mondaile, 3rd overall) attacked! Froome and Uran went with him. Fabio Aru was in trouble but managed to catch up. The group caught Barguil. Roglic forged his path ahead among a sea of supporters with Colombians shoving their flag in his face, cheering the 2nd placed guy Atapuma who is a Colombian

And then again, Bardet attacked but he was being blocked by the motorbikes. Still Bardet, Froome, Uran, Landa, Barguil created a small gap from Aru, who literally looked like he was crying. After Bardet's second attack, White Jersey Simon Yates was in trouble even as Louis Meintjes, his rival for the white jersey, was following the Bardet group. Roglic meanwhile created history, becoming the first Slovenian to win an HC climb of the Tour de France. He took 20 KOM points and a 5000 euros prize(5000 euros for literally dying, useless cricket players make more standing on the field with their paunches hanging out, that rant is for another day). Contador was caught by the yellow jersey group just before the col du Galibier. Warren Barguil, attacked and finished 3rd on the mountain. Mathematically speaking, Barguil has an advantage of 49 KOM points over Roglic and 58 points remain up for grabs, so another BIG competition. With 20km to go in the downhill to the Col du Lautaret, Roglic was ahead with an advantage of 1.30 over the yellow jersey group, with four riders: Bardet, Uran, Froome and Barguil. Aru and Meintjes were a bit behind which increased as the descent wore on. Bikes were going down at 76 kmph.

Roglic was in full TT mode, tucking in and going all aero. He had a nice 1:15 lead over the 2nd group with 10k to go. Fabio Aru continued to suffer falling 35 seconds behind the Froome group. And then, Roglic realised a dream. Becoming the 1st Slovenian to win a stage of the Tour De France.

With time bonuses on offer, the 2nd group too began to sprint as the finish approached, and Rigoberto Uran(Cannondale Drapac, 4th before today’s finish, 29 seconds behind Froome) sprinted getting 6 bonus seconds and Froome finished 3rd getting 4 bonus seconds.

Romain Bardet, who could have gone to take the yellow today, missed out even on the bonus seconds. Aru trailed in 31 seconds behind, losing his podium spot in the process. Today’s results:

Overall Standings( Warren Barguil moves to 10th place, Uran moves to 2nd, 1/10000 seconds ahead of Romain Bardet in 3rd.)

Jersey wearers after Stage 17:

So, with another tough mountain stage tomorrow, it will boil down to the wire. Tomorrow is Colombia’s national day, Uran will have fireworks in his store. What will he bring to the table? Can Roglic steal the Polka Dot jersey from Warren Barguil? While Michael Matthews has a nice 140 point lead over Andre Greipel, will he be able to make it to Paris without crashing? Can Simon Yates hold off Louis Meintjes for the white jersey after faltering today? We’ll find it all out soon. Just a few days to go. PS: Today Emmanuel Macron was at the Tour De France and he met the Polka Dot jersey holder, Frenchman Warren Barguil and hugged him. Quite a moment.


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