TDF Stage 18: Briancon to Izoard

112 miles: The final mountain stage: rolling hills followed by a cat 3, then the intermediate sprint, then a Cat one and an HC mountain top finish. The first part will probably go relatively quickly then they’ll drag themselves up the final climb.

The GC riders need to claw back some time from Froome today, who will ride defensively, holding them back. At the same time, he hasn’t won a stage this year yet, and he may want this one. The race for time will probably fall at the end of the race. The green jersey will be quiet today, especially with such a large break who will inadvertently take the intermediate sprint points. Ironically, now that Matthews has secured the green jersey, he’s restricted from taking the risks he had been taking lately. Now that the polka-dot jersey, Barguil, has cracked the top 10 of the GC, he’ll have fewer opportunities to break away from the peloton because the other top 10 contenders will chase him down – probably not the guys in the top 5, but the ones above that will start to look over their shoulders to see if he gains on them.

Oh, and it’s Columbian Independence Day today. This could mean something for the Columbians, such as Atapuma. Their experience riding on narrow roads at altitude will serve them well on the last climb.

As happened yesterday, an early break of 54 riders has gone out on a break including four Astana riders, three Cannondale, and two AG2R – perfect for bridging or dropping back to help your leader.

Sky, as usual, leads the peloton at a steady pace. As of 84 miles, the peloton is 4:33 back. The pace remains high, with a long narrow line at the front, but not brutally high as the rest of the peloton looks bunched up behind the leaders, not strung out in a long skinny line.

At 75 miles, De Gendt and a couple of other riders have gone off the front of the break, allowing De Gendt to take two points at the crest of the Cat 3 mountain. They’ve got 15 seconds as they start the descent. Phil and Paul had been saying that, with around five minutes on the peloton, the large breakaway doesn’t have enough of a head start to stay away to the finish, and maybe De Gendt and company hope to generate a smaller break that could manage to stay away. Double mountain points on the finish line would bring De Gendt back into contention for the mountain jersey.

At 61 miles, the De Gendt group grows to seven men and they ride together, taking regular turns at the front. The rest of the initial break hovers a little over 30 seconds behind and the peloton stays at 7 minutes back.

55 miles and the two breaks in front have come back together; the peloton trails at over 8 minutes. Approaching the intermediate sprint and the fourth place in the green jersey race takes the 20 points, moving into third place in that competition.

At 42 miles, about to start the Cat 1, both the break and the peloton have lifted the pace and groups have split off the front while the non-climbers have started to trail off the back. The peloton group lags around 7:17 behind the 25 leaders and then another 29 riders around 15 seconds back.

Bora-Hansgrohe works at the front of the peloton, lifting the pace on Sky. Sky doesn’t care if anyone in the break crosses the line first as long as they stay strong to help Froome up the final climb. Bora-Hansgrohe has a rider in 15th overall and third in the white jersey competition and, if the break gets too far out, that rider is in danger of losing those two things.

By 34 miles the incline sharpens. Bora falls off the front of the peloton and the sprinters drop off the back and into the autobus. On the front of the break, different riders are casting out and getting reeled back.

At around 32 miles, four riders including the Columbian, Atapuma, moved out about 15 seconds in front of the break. Back in the peloton, AG2R moved to the front and raised the pace, almost immediately shelling two Sky domestiques. As the gradient increases, they raise the pace again. Martin, Aru, Uran all still stick in the group. As they approach the top, AG2R looks exhausted and Sky looks comfortable. In fact, they showed Froome sitting up, rummaging through a musette bag that a team helper had handed him from the side of the road, sharing food out with his teammates.

26.4 miles, as the front of the race descends, Gallopin has jumped out of the leading break and struggles to get clear of the other three leaders; the chase group of 24 riders hovers about 30 seconds back, the peloton lags by 6:26 and just crossed the peak, and the sprinters are staggering up the hill. AG2R continues to set the pace in the peloton on the downhill with Sky lined up just behind them.

Within two miles, the front break comes back together and three riders try to bridge to them from the next group but they’re still 45 seconds back. The peloton, at 6:09, descends at over 50 MPH.

Barguil’s competition in the polka-dot jersey race missed the mountain points at the peak and there aren’t enough points left in the Tour for them to make up the difference to him and catch him – so Barguil’s secured the jersey! And, in 10th, he may have his eye on a higher place.

At 18 miles, the front group has swelled to 8 riders, including two from Cofidis. Two more riders hang 15 seconds off the back – including a local rider – followed by the 21-man chase group at one minute, and the peloton at a little under 6 minutes. AG2R remains on the front but they’re down to Bardet and three domestiques. They had a couple of riders in the break and one of them has dropped off the front group, took on a bunch of water bottles, and waited for the peloton so he could replenish the rest of the team.

14.4 miles three riders have just gone clear of the lead group, leaving Gallopin and Atapuma chasing; the original break is 1:26 back and the peloton is at 5 minutes, as they are approaching the final climb. It’s a brute of a climb, and it’s possible that a (much diminished) yellow jersey group will catch the break before the top. AG2R now has five riders with Bardet.

12 miles and the front group dwindles to 2 men, followed by the Gallopin pursuit group at 15 seconds, twenty men at 1:24 being paced by Steve Cummings, then the peloton at 4:37. One of the two in front is from Astana, Lutsenko. If I were Aru, I’d ask Lutsenko why, if his legs were this good, he wasn’t helping me over the last couple of days. Atapuma lifts the speed in the group pursuing the men on the front and that group falls into pieces.

At about nine miles, Lutsenko moves out in front by himself. Phil and Paul just said that, in June, he set a record for ascending this climb at the fastest time; fifth fastest time by Bardet, whose AG2R team still drives the pace of the peloton. The peloton is just 4 minutes behind the front group.

Atapuma and another rider jumped from the pursuit group to Lutsenko, the rest of the group at around 48 seconds; 30 riders are 2:04; and the peloton at 3:54. The front group must work together to have any hope of staying away. Gallopin jumped out the pursuit group, passed the two men trying to bridge to Lutsenko, and disappeared into the distance, looking to catch the Astana rider.

Atapuma has gone off the front of the pursuit group and he can see the cars supporting Lutsenko.

AG2R, Cannondale, and QuickStep domestiques have dropped back to the yellow group from the original break to support their leaders. In that group, AG2R has three domestiques (by the time I finished typing this, they were down to one), Froome has two, and Uran has three. I don’t think Aru has any, with Lutsenko out in front – just getting caught by Atapuma – and AG2R lifts the pace. Martin dropped off the back of the group and is being paced back by his teammate. Then Landa moves to the front and lifts the pace and Barguil shoots out of the pack and takes off up the mountain. Contador chases him down, desperate to keep his place in the top 10. Aru, bouncing up and down, looks troubled.

In the front, Atapuma passes Lutsenko and races up to the top.

Barguil and Contador pass members of the original break and Contador has found a domestique to help.

In the peloton, Sky has three domestiques, Bardet, Uran, Quinata, Martin, Yates, and Meintjes are all isolated from their domestiques unless there are people dropping back from the front group – for a moment an Astana rider drops back to the group from up front but disappears quickly.

Barguil has gapped Contador, who struggles to keep up.

Martin attacks from the yellow jersey group and Sky follows, Aru falls just off the back of the group but the other contenders stay with the group. Aru has company – Quintana just dropped back to join him. They’re coming back… Yesterday, the commentators said that the winds were playing with the riders because every time they turned a switch back, the wind shifted from headwind to tailwind, and I wonder if that is happening again today, and could explain the yo-yo’ing off the back of the group.

Contador returns to the yellow group. Landa elevates the pace, leaving Froome back with the rest of the group, isolated. Landa is in fifth in the GC race and could take a podium spot from Bardet or Uran.

Atapuma leads 30 seconds ahead of Barguil and the yellow group by 1:13.

Riders dart out of the yellow jersey group trying to catch Landa, and Froome rides them all back into the group. The group has dwindled to Martin, Froome, Uran, Meintjes, Bardet, and Contador. Yates and Quinta follow, regaining the group, then falling off again.

At 1.7 miles, Atapuma has less than a minute on Barguil; two on Landa; 1:03 on the yellow jersey group.

Bardet attacks but Froom and Uran chase and catch him.

On a slight downhill, Froome goes, Bardet counters with Uran but can’t cross the gap. Uran leads Bardet back to Froome, and the whole catches Landa.

The Finish

At 1.2 miles, Atapuma leads Barguil by 11 seconds, Landa by 36, and the yellow jersey group by 55.

1 mile and Barguil catches and passes Atapuma who grabs his rear wheel.

Landa, Froome, Uran, and Bardet hang together, 27 seconds back from the leaders.

Barguil and Atapuma are into the crowds, crazed Frenchmen and Columbians cheering them on, then passes into the safety of the barriers. Atapuma falls off by 20 seconds almost immediately.

Now the leaders enter the barriers. Dan Martin appears on the horizon, Yates and Contador a few seconds back. Quintana and Aru trail another few seconds back. Now Yates has left Contador and is on his way.

Bardet jumps ahead looking for a time bonus. Barguil is riding to the finish, racing to stay ahead of the group.

Barguil wins! Atapuma is hanging on for the six seconds but Bardet, Froome, and Uran are racing up behind him. Atapuma gets second and Bardet gets the four-second bonus, Uran is gapped by 2 seconds, then Landa comes in. Meintjes comes in, followed by Martin, and eventually Yates, and Contador… and Quintana. Aru is the big loser, finishing 1:03 behind Uran.


Yellow: Froome, Bardet, Uran, Landa, Aru, Martin, Yates, Meintjes, Barguil, and Contador in that order. Bardet is 23 seconds off Froome and Uran is another six seconds back. Then there’s a one-minute gap to Landa. Martin is almost three minutes off the podium.

Green is unchanged.

Polka Dot is sewed up – all Barguil has to do is survive to the finish line in Paris.

White: Meintjes will need to make up almost three minutes to take the white jersey away from Yates.

Atapuma gets the red numbers for most aggressive rider today.

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