Rider of the Race
I was going to go for two riders of the race but then thought, no, only one really animated the race for me and that was Baby Blackbird himself, Alberto Contador. With a time trial on the penultimate stage and less than a minute between 1st and 4th GC places at the start of the day, we were anticipating an attackity stage – perhaps an Ag2r Gallic assault like last weekend or Mick Jagger finally showing all his cards on the final climb. But that didn’t materialise.
What did happen, however, was Contador never saying die and never settling for being a passenger on Sky’s mountain train by attacking on the Croix de Fer, bridging the gap of 4min solo, until he was met by Michael Gogl who rode himself to a standstill to deliver his captain to the other two Trek riders in the day’s break, Jarlinson Pantano and Bauke Mollema. One after the other took long, draining pulls on the front until they too rode themselves to a standstill, to make sure their captain was in the best place to tilt for victory.
Contador stayed out in front of the race until he was finally distanced by the day’s stage winner, Roglic, 6.5km from the summit of Galibier. Bertie’s quest for a stage win on an iconic stage might not have come true today but he was riding better than he had at any other time in this Tour and with that trademark ‘all or nothing’ attitude. An attitude that will be sorely missed when the Spaniard hangs up his Grand Tour wheels for good.
I feel sorry for the team that has been extraordinary with [Michael] Gogl, [Jarlinson] Pantano, Bauke [Mollema] who has been impressive. In the last part of Galibier, I paid for this big effort I made on la Croix-de-Fer. It was a long stage in the mountains. To ride a nice stage at the front is always important.
The superest of super domestiques
Today’s stage was the very definition of the belief that, although glory is an individual pursuit in pro cycling, it is accomplished best through unselfish teammates. Midge already gave the Sunweb team proper love in yesterday’s review, we saw Trek riders burying themselves for Contador today, but my tip of a hat is to the superest of super domestiques, whose sacrifice throughout this Tour has meant his leader has hardly ever been out of yellow.
That man would be Michal Kwiatkowski. I’ve been a fan of KwiatKrush for years and loved that his 2017 season began so auspiciously with his photofinish win at Milan-SanRemo. Of course, the Tour was always going to be something else, where he was riding in the service of Chris Froome, and while I would have rather seen him going for stage wins himself, his performance this three weeks has been a revelation.
Every stage, he goes back for bottles, picks up the musettes at every opportunity, sorts through them then rides around to his teammates distributing the goods. He reminds me of one of those little utility boats that nip around a fleet of ships, carrying out repairs quickly and efficiently before racing off to help another one. While others take to the pace-setting, he makes sure they’re all fed and watered.
His racecraft is second to none: he always keeps track of his man – he was alert to the fact that Aru was badly placed on stage 14 and made sure Froome got the time gap to put him back in yellow. A brilliant descender, he picks the best lines for his leader; he stays with him as long as he can, riding himself to a standstill on the big mountains.
He also spends evenings doing Facebook Live chats with his Polish fans. And he has a sense of humour. Michal Kwiatkowski really is something quite special.
Marcel Kittel will not have his day on the Champs this Tour – after a nasty crash today and looking worse for wear most of this week – the ArgoSunGod called it a day in today’s stage. His closest rival in the points competition, Michael Matthews, and his entire Sunweb team have been working hard to take the green jersey off Kittel’s back for the past seven days or so and it looked like it was going to come down to the Champs. A shame that they won’t be able to have Paris this year …
Marcel Kittel wasn’t the only big name that abandoned on the road today. Thibaut Pinot called it a day as well, leaving the FDJ team with only three riders left in the Tour. Not sure what they’re going to do with themselves (maybe tag onto the Ag2r train to help France take the yellow?), but they sure have a lot of room on their bus now.
Next up …
The attacks on the GC just didn’t really materialise today – much to the chagrin of a lot of fans. Tomorrow is the final summit finish, the final mountain stage, very likely the very last chance to put some serious time into Chris Froome before Saturday’s TT. It is less than 30sec between 1st and 2/3. Will Rigoberto Uran and Bedhead Bardet fight for second best or will one or both of them get down to racing and attacking and racing and attacking to have a chance to win the whole damn thing? I’m praying for the latter.
Top 5 stage
1 Primoz Roglic (LottoNL-Jumbo) 5:07:41
2 Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale-Drapac) +1.13
3 Christopher Froome (Sky) same time
4 Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) s/t
5 Warren Barguil (Sunweb) s/t
Top 5 GC
1 Chris Froome (Sky) 73:27:26
2 Rigoberto Uran (Cannondale-Drapac) +0:27
3 Romain Bardet (Ag2r La Mondiale) +0:27
4 Fabio Aru (Astana) +0:53
5 Mikel Landa (Sky) +1:24
All the jerseys
Leader: Chris Froome (Sky)
Points: Michael Matthews (Sunweb)
KOM: Warren Barguil (Sunweb)
Best Young Rider: Simon Yates (Orica-Scott)
Team Classification: Sky
Most Aggressive Rider: Alberto Contador (Trek Segafredo)
Header image: Roglic makes his landing ©GETTY / Chris Graythen