Rafal Majka rode away from everyone to take his second solo stage win of the Tour, tightening his grip on the polka dot jersey, while Jean-Christophe Peraud took a giant step nearer a podium spot.
The second day in the Pyrenees, the shortest stage of Le Tour, three cat 1 climbs, and a hors categorie summit finish. Oh yes! As predicted, this was a day for plans and action.
The man with a stage-winning polka dot plan
With one win already under his belt, Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) lined up on the start line in Saint Gaudens hoping to strengthen his grip on the polka dot jersey and look for another stage win for his team.
With one point separating Majka from Joaquim Rodriguez (Katusha) in second place and a hatful of points to be won on the four climbs, the two riders battled it out on the early ascents. Rodriguez sailed away to claim points over his rival and looked to be in fine form, but faded badly on the last climb. With teammate Nicolas Roche to help him, Majka powered away on the final climb to the summit of Pla d’Adet, taking the stage and the maximum 50 points available.
The winner said: “I didn’t go for the first GPM [mountain points] with Rodriguez because Bjarne [Riis] told me ‘Wait, wait Rafal, we need to win the stage. When we win the stage, we have the jersey.’ I won the stage and now I have the jersey.” If that’s not delivering on a plan, I don’t know what is.
The team with a GC podium plan
Tinkoff-Saxo were not the only team with a successful game plan today. Ag2r La Mondiale started the day with Jean-Christophe Peraud and Romain Bardet fourth and fifth on GC. Both riders were over a minute behind Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) in third place, and over two minutes behind Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) in second. With opportunities to take time on their rivals running out, the team really needed to put in a strong ride today.
The GC contenders more or less rode together until the summit of the second to last climb of the day, the Col de Val Louron Azet. As they started the descent Bardet jumped away and opened a gap of 30 seconds. If Ag2r hoped to put pressure on Pinot it didn’t work. The FDJ rider was superb on the downward swooping roads again. Bardet kept riding hard on the valley approaching the final climb, and we all wondered why because he was now only 16 seconds in front of Pinot. However, as they hit the slopes of the Pla d’Adet the attacks behind him started.
Peraud jumped first, and was immediately joined by Vincenzo Nibali. As the pair quickly bridged up to and passed Bardet, it looked like the Ag2r plan was working as significantly neither Pinot or Valverde were able to follow. By the time they reached the steepest middle sections of the climb, Valverde was in real trouble and it looked like Peraud might gain enough time over both his rivals to grab a podium place. Peraud was flying and even managed to hang onto the tail of the Shark when he attacked.
The slightly less steep gradients at the finish allowed both Valverde and Pinot to pull back some of their disadvantage. Although there was no change in the top five positions on GC, Ag2r ended the day with Peraud only eight seconds away from the third step of the podium and 42 seconds from the second step. And that is nothing at all when you consider the Hautacam is still to come tomorrow.
VeloVoices rider of the day
Sometimes I like to look for the unsung hero when choosing my rider of the day and, don’t get me wrong, there were many riders who fell into that category on this stage. But today I am going to go with the obvious call of Rafal Majka.
For a rider who came in as a late replacement for Roman Kreuziger, he has ridden into fine form exactly when the team needed him. His attacking panache and sheer joie de vivre have been wonderful to watch.
One small note of warning though, it is rumoured that he might add pox spot shorts to the spotted jersey and helmet. Arghhh, my eyes!
Stage 17 result
1. Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) 3:35:23
2. Giovanni Visconti (Movistar) +0:29
3. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) +0:46
4. Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r La Mondiale) same time
5. Alessandro De Marchi (Cannondale) +0:49
1. Vincenzo Nibali (Astana) 76:41:25
2. Alejandro Valverde (Movistar) +5:26
3. Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) +6:00
4. Jean-Christophe Peraud (Ag2r La Mondiale) +6:08
5. Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) +7:34
6. Tejay van Garderen (BMC) +10:19
7. Bauke Mollema (Belkin) +11:59
8. Laurens Ten Dam (Belkin) +12:16
9. Leopold Konig (Netapp-Endura) +12:40
10. Pierre Rolland (Europcar) +13:15
Points leader: Peter Sagan (Cannondale).
King of the Mountains leader: Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo).
Best young rider: Thibaut Pinot (FDJ).
Team classification: Ag2r La Mondiale.